Departures editors share the most dazzling spots to sip a cocktail in the US.Less
Behind the unassuming entrance you’ll find a cocktail bar, dance club, restaurant, gallery, live music venue, and record label. “Something’s going on every night,” says head bartender Alex Barbatsis. And drink orders shift as the mood of the room changes. “The first half of the night is generally cocktail focused. Lots of regulars, lots of dates, nice and chill,” he says. “Nine p.m. it starts picking up and it’s a dance bar. ... Midnight comes around and it’s vodka sodas and Malört shots.”
Le Chalet, the birthplace of the Tom Cruz, is one floor below the restaurant L'Avenue. Both restaurant and bar are tucked inside New York’s flagship Saks Fifth Avenue department store. L'Avenue’s terrace overlooks Rockefeller Center, but it’s removed from the Midtown chaos, and the Philippe Starck–designed interiors make you forget that you’re inside a store. It’s a fitting background for a transportive drink.
Takoi works with a local farm two miles away to source most of its ingredients, a feat for a Thai-inspired restaurant and for a city once described as a food desert. Takoi took a unique approach to DIY, when its beverage program began using a unique draft system to serve cocktails. The bar clarifies the drink’s components multiple times to avoid separation, then applies a little science to make sure everything tastes as intended when the cocktails come through the taps.
Joseph Stinchcomb, head bartender at Saint Leo thinks that blended cocktails get a bad rap. But he understands why. His Frozen Watermelon Cooler makes up for the faults of traditional blended drinks by using real fruit and balancing it with mezcal and Campari. Smoke, fruit, and bitter impart a complexity to this cocktail that most frozen drinks lack. In addition to their inventive cocktails, wood-fired Italian cooking, beer, and natural wine is offered on their menu.
NR serves classic cocktails, of course, but its creative, entertaining cocktails are what truly captivate their patrons. You can order the cocktail you see here, the Nightcap, only after 9 p.m., and NR owner Shigefumi (Shige) Kabashima often recommends it as your last cocktail of the night. He is a veteran of New York speakeasy Angel’s Share, a pioneer in the cocktail revival and the bar that introduced Japanese bartending to New York in 1993.
Walking into San Francisco’s Moongate Lounge, the best date spot in the city, is like finding yourself in a movie. The lush colors and rich pink lighting of the high-ceilinged room are reminiscent of the film “In the Mood for Love.” The bar serves superior lunar calendar–inspired cocktails, and the lounge is named for the circular moon gates popular in traditional Chinese architecture — it’s a motif repeated in the banquet room doors and behind the bar, and it lends the space a nostalgic drama.
Often referred to as the living room of Memphis, the Lobby Bar of the Peabody Hotel is best known for the march of the peabody ducks. Each morning at 11 a.m., the hotel’s resident ducks, followed by the hotel’s duckmaster (which is a real job), descend by elevator from their rooftop mansion. On a red carpet, the ducks promenade across the lobby to a marble fountain, where they frolic until cocktail hour. Sip a Ducky Sunshine, the bar's famed whiskey beverage, and enjoy.
The view here is unparalleled, and the textures inside bring both comfort and awe: velvets, brass, and buffed leathers all soft and rounded. The bartender, Gian, whipped up a light, aromatic Gyokuro martini (vodka, Gyokuro green tea, vermouth) and asked questions like an old friend. A couple more standouts: the rich, round, and deep 212 (whiskey, vermouth, cocoa nib, amaro, black pear); and the tropics-in-a-glass Yucateco (mezcal, gin, banana, hoja santa, chile, lime).
Serenata is Spanish for serenade, and drawing on that idea, the Washington, D.C. bar makes authentic Latin cocktails, but with their own signature style. “You come in, you ask for a margarita,” AJ Johnson, beverage director and co-owner, says. “We're going to ask you, ‘Do you just want a classic margarita or do you want to try our best-ever margarita?’”
Walking into Bemelmans Bar is like stepping through a portal to the past. Located inside the historic Carlyle Hotel in the heart of the Upper East Side, the bar has remained virtually unchanged since the 1940s, when it first opened. It offers a dreamy ascension into an old-school era of decadence and delight, something that’s increasingly difficult to find in Manhattan. Tucked away on the first floor of the hotel, Bemelmans Bar offers a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city outside.