The Most Eye-Catching Cocktails from Coast to Coast
Even science says we eat with our eyes, so why not drink with them, too? Across the country, bars are working on presentation that grabs your attention with stunning handcrafted barware, tableside theatrics or a dose of whimsy.
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The Pineapple at Matador Room, Miami
The pineapple was once a symbol of hospitality, used by colonial innkeepers to signal that rooms were available. At the Matador Room, the pineapple beckons with another message: upscale food and drinks by Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Copper pineapples custom made by Absolut hold a cocktail as luxurious as the vessel: The vodka maker's Elyx is mixed with salted caramel and rosemary syrups, and dehydrated pineapples that perfume the cocktail with the fruit.
Brown Derby at 189 by Dominique Ansel Los Angeles
If you've ever wondered what it'd be like to have a drink with Dominique Ansel, wonder no more. At his palatial LA restaurant and bakery in The Grove, the Cronut creator brings his whimsical touch to classic cocktails such as margaritas and sazeracs. In a play on the brown derby, Ansel infuses whole California grapefruits with Eagle Rare Bourbon, brulees the fruit tableside, then juices it over ice. In true Ansel fashion, it's familiar flavors packaged in a novel way.
Zen Garden at RedFarm and Decoy, New York City
To match the inventive dim sum and Peking duck feast at RedFarm and Decoy, bartender Shawn Chen calls upon his Chinese-American heritage to shake up drinks such as the visually stunning Zen Garden. Mezcal and Génépy Des Alpes (a Swiss aperitif) add an intoxicating boost to honey-sweetened oolong tea. Poured into a transparent gaiwan cup, the drink arrives at the table with a pot of tea "smoke" and two small pieces of pineapple cake.
Pourover Cocktails at Quality Eats, New York City
It turns out a Hario V60 can make more than just coffee. At the trendy steakhouse Quality Eats (with locations in the West Village, Upper East Side and NoMad), beverage pro Bryan Schneider offers up two morning-inspired cocktails poured over cold-brew ice: the Ryes and Shine, with rye whiskey, demerara syrup, and orange and angostura bitters; and the Breakfast Negroni, featuring aged rum, calvados, banana liqueur, amaro and Campari. Proceeds from the drinks will benefit Fairtrade America.
Smoke & Rosemary at Beau Nash, Dallas
Beau Nash is billed as a champagne bar, but the bubbly isn't quite as head-turning as the Smoke & Rosemary. It starts like any other cocktail, as bartenders mix together Tequila Avión, Aperol and rosemary syrup, but the glass has one more destination before it hits your table: a bar-top smoker that imparts the scent of applewood chips. Once it emerges from the haze, it's ready for consumption.
Tea Cocktails at The Bar at Hotel Kabuki, San Francisco
An extensive renovation breathed new life into the rooms and also the lobby bar at this Japantown hotel. Armed with inspiration from the neighborhood and her stints at Boston's Hojoko and Chicago's Three Dots and a Dash, Stephanie Ann Wheeler crafted an impressive visual impact with two cocktails, the Hello Amanojaku and Golden Milk Tea Punch. Both use tea as a base — the former combines chai with Suntory Toki whiskey, and the latter combines green tea with turmeric and Beefeater gin — and are aptly served tableside in beautiful vintage pots with sake cups. The Hello Amanojaku even comes with a melonpan pastry to complete the full teatime experience.
Diablo's Inferno at Here's Looking at You, Los Angeles
The six rum bowls at Here's Looking at You aren't some island-vacation tchotchkes — the containers, each branded with the bar's initials, were a gift from tiki-mug maker Danny Gallardo, also known as Tiki Diablo. To fill the handcrafted bowls, lead bartender Harry Chin concocted a complex punch using mezcal, cognac and two types of rum. Pineapple, orange and lime juices add a bright burst of tropical flavor, and no drink called Diablo's Inferno would be complete without a flame.
Polar Bear Club at Sunday in Brooklyn, New York
Don't be fooled by its name — the flavors of the Polar Bear Club at this Williamsburg brunch hotspot are more likely to conjure up images of a tropical island than the Arctic Circle. Barman Brian Evans combines cachaca, aquavit, coconut, pineapple, lime and pandan into a bright frozen sipper that's whimsically served in a honey-bear bottle.
Matador Red Sangria at Barton G., Los Angeles
Tired of seeing sangria served in buckets, Barton G. Weiss of Barton G. looked for a way to tie the drink back to its Spanish origins and settled on a matador. The housemade beverage — a blend of red wine with fresh local grapes, apples, citrus, and fresh and dried cranberries — comes streaming out of a figure constructed from pipes and dressed up to resemble a bullfighter.
Duck Bath Punch at Bitter & Twisted, Phoenix
The team at this Downtown cocktail parlor has given the term "bathtub gin" a whole new meaning. The Duck Bath Punch is a playful ode to the creative spirits making of the Prohibition era, but there's nothing makeshift about the shareable sipper. A mini ceramic tub is filled with Hendrick's gin (of course), amaro, Grand Poppy liqueur, Earl Grey tea and grapefruit oleo. To mimic a true bath, the tub is topped with cucumber air that looks just like soaking bubbles.
Pressed Cocktails at Stoke, Charlotte, North Carolina
"Pressed" is an entire category of its own at Stoke, the stylish restaurant inside Charlotte's Marriott Hotel. Served in individual French presses, the concoctions allow guests to play around with the strength and flavor of their elixir of choice. Let the South by Southwest (tequila, lime, basil, grapefruit and habanero bitters) steep longer and it gets spicier; leave the In-Cider Trading's ingredients (rye, ginger, cinnamon and apple cider) to mingle and the fall flavors grow stronger.
LN2 Caipirinha at The Bazaar by Jose Andres, Miami
Be prepared for a show when you place an order at this South Beach tapas bar, where spherified olives and smoking cocktails are the norm. One such drink is the LN2 Caipirinha, inspired by a similar option offered at Spain's Michelin-starred El Bulli, where José Andrés once trained. Instead of ice, liquid nitrogen is used to chill the Brazilian rum-based drink into a boozy slushie, and it's all done from a cart that wanders across the posh chandelier-decked dining room.
Spamtastic Bloody Mary at Hula Girl Bar & Grill, Arlington, Virginia
Spam often gets a bad rap, one that Hawaii native Mikala Brennan is out to dispel at her island-themed restaurant, where the umami pork product makes its way into several menu items. Diners can wash down plain or tempura-fried Spam musubi with the house Bloody Mary, a brunch special of vodka infused with both bacon and the canned lunchmeat. The spicy drink — amped up with Sriracha, Tabasco, chile water and passion fruit chile salt imported from Kauai — arrives in the signature blue tin with a spear of Spam-stuffed olives.
Rumluck at The Spare Room, Los Angeles
This is no stuffy hotel cocktail lounge. Situated on the second floor of the Roosevelt Hotel, The Spare Room is a drinks den and bowling alley in one. Inside a room that almost feels like a Great Gatsby movie set, guests can challenge each other to assorted games while sipping sophisticated cocktails separated into categories like Sparklers and Dynamite. The Rumluck, however, is in a league of its own. Perched on a striking gold chalice filled with ice and flower petals, the glass holds rhum agricole, white rum, coconut, lime and Peychaud's Bitters, in what beverage director Yael Vengroff describes as a "gussied-up Ti Punch for two."
The Whaf at ArtScience Culture Lab & Cafe, Cambridge, Massachusetts
As its name suggests, there's a lot of experimenting going on at this Massachusetts restaurant, where oysters come topped with coconut snow and there's peach gel on the chicken liver mousse. One of the signature drinks has even been dubbed the "cloud cocktail" for its vaporlike state. Using a contraption called the Whaf, barman Tenzin Samdo evaporizes spirits into a fog that's trapped by a fanciful sugar tuile. The latest incarnation — there have been negronis and pina coladas in the past — is a minty play on the industry nightcap of whiskey and Fernet Branca that you can slowly "sip" and enjoy.
The Modernist Herbal Negroni at Grant Grill, San Diego
In a setup that resembles a science experiment, this bubbling siphon turns Campari sugar crystals, Bols Genever gin, citrus peel, rosemary and sage into a negroni base. As in the Italian apertif that inspired it, there's also vermouth — but, true to Grant Grill's complex delivery, the fortified wine comes in the form of a massive ice ball.
Peppermint Snuggler at Sun Valley Resort, Sun Valley, Idaho
Sun Valley Resort's Duchin Lounge ups the cozy factor by serving its boozy hot chocolate in a massive glass stocking. A simple, warming mix of peppermint schnapps, housemade hot cocoa and whipped cream, the off-menu sip is best enjoyed in front of a cozy fireplace.
Hooch Punch at SoBou, New Orleans
The Hooch Punch at SoBou may be the classiest way to drink from a flask. No two days' offerings are the same, with the drink changed daily to include different fruits and alcoholic bases: One day may bring a tropical rum-spiked iced tea with rhubarb bitters, while another will go low-alcohol to spotlight local kombucha with strawberry, sage and honey. All are served in an oversized metal carafe with dainty glass teacups.
Pack a Cooler at Little Buddy, Asbury Park, New Jersey
No beach town is complete without a tiki bar, and in Asbury Park it comes in the form of Little Buddy. Hidden behind the Brickwall Tavern, the boozy bungalow pours tropical elixirs that boast a potent punch. The Pack a Cooler, a bubbling blend of rum, pineapple, passion fruit and an entire bottle of Chandon, comes with a warning: It's meant for "five to six brave souls."
Treasure Chest at Three Dots and a Dash, Chicago
When the Treasure Chest hits the floor, all eyes are on it. It's impossible not to stare as the massive alcohol-filled trunk makes its way around Three Dots and a Dash — which is exactly what beverage director Kevin Beary intended. A blend of fresh fruit juices, three types of rum and a whole bottle of Dom Perignon, the group cocktail is garnished with loads of tropical fruit, orchids and — because it is a treasure, after all — shiny gold coins.
Puff Puff Pass at Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, Austin, Texas
Austin's famed Ramen Tatsu-Ya spun off this James Beard-nominated izakaya, where Japanese drinks and drinking food are the focus. Like its noodle house sibling, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya draws on Chef Tatsu Aikawa's Japanese-Texan background, offering culture-crossing fare like sticky-rice tamales and chili-cheese takoyaki. On the drinks front, there are classics like highballs and sake, but the house favorite is the Puff Puff Pass. Beverage director Michael Phillips spotted the adorable fish-shaped cup at Portland, Oregon, tiki bar Hale Pele and brought one back to Texas, filling it with a meld of sweet potato shochu, aged rum, grapefruit and five-spice bitters.
First Call at The Lobby Bar at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Florida
For bourbon lovers, it pays to arrive early at The Lobby Bar. Each morning, the head bartender starts a new infusion of the American whiskey, adding his spirit of choice with fruits and spices — and occasionally even bacon — to a 4-foot-tall contraption that sits at the bar's entrance. The liquor steeps for six to eight hours, and once the lounge opens, it's served on a first-come, first-served basis. Guests can enjoy the infused bourbon on the rocks or in any of the bar's signature cocktails.