Helluva year my friends, helluva year! I started this blog in May as a simple way to record my initial, clumsy forays into mixing cocktails. Since then, it’s become an increasingly enjoyable platform for recounting fun trips to 49 cocktails bars in seven states and two countries. So many great experiences sipping amazing drinks, meeting colorful folks on both sides of the bar, and shaking my own rudimentary cocktails. Concerning the dozens of bars I’ve visited, almost all of them provided exceptional service, memorable decor, and superb drinks, so it was quite the challenge to narrow it down to five favorites. But without further ado, here are my top five bars of 2015:
Situated off of historic King street in Alexandria, Magnolia’s elegant and stately Southern restaurant hosts a marvelous cocktail program. Magnolia’s upstairs Palm Lounge features some of the more adventurous and sophisticated drinks I’ve ever had, with multiple new flavors and a half-dozen standout drinks including the “Bourbon Smash” and “Bananas Foster.” Even better, the bar is manned by true cocktails fans who provide customers with friendly service and good conversation.
4. Corner Club
I am an ardent fan of Allan Furst’s pre-WWII European spy novels. Furst’s beautiful, transformative prose came to mind as I strolled the cobblestoned streets of Stockholm’s Old Town and entered the Corner Club. The Club’s style is enchanting, with low-light revealing pretty furnishings and friendly locals. The Club’s attraction does not reside solely on its ascetic, however, as its drinks are sublime and utilize uber-fresh ingredients including citrus squeezed at the bar. No trip to Stockholm would be complete without a stop at the Corner Club.
I first caught the cocktail bug at Arlington’s Copperwood Tavern – you can read my fawning reviews of its seasonally-adjusted cocktails here, here, and here. Copperwood proves you can provide engaging and fun cocktails in a casual dining establishment. The drinks aren’t wildly complex but are consistently amazing, using fun and often local ingredients to provide a pleasurable and memorable drinking experience. I’m hard-pressed to think of another bar I’d rather hang out in, as the Tavern perfectly combines a good-time casual atmosphere with the tastes of the haughtiest craft cocktail hub.
2. Franklin Bar
Disguised as a brick and mortar financial institution of much renown, Philadelphia’s Franklin Bar offers enchanting surroundings, great drinks, and unparalleled service. Franklin’s cocktail list is adventurous, with house-made ingredients like peanut-butter infused bourbon and orange liqueur fortifying amazing drinks like the banana-flavored “Joy Spring” and “…With a Baseball Bat.” The type of bar you never want to leave, my only regret visiting Franklin was that I only had one night to enjoy it.
Speakeasies are breeding at an impressive rate these days, but I’ve never been to one quite like Captain Gregory. Cleverly ensconced behind the walls of a donut shop, the other-wordly surroundings of Captain Gregory do little to distract you from the first-class cocktail list. Populated by some of the best drinks I’ve ever had including the “Kitchen Sink Julep,” “Mayan Trade Routes,” and the “Abandoned Apartment in London,” Captain Gregory’s drink list effortlessly balances daring, sophisticated, and drinkability. A must-see.
On to the honorable mentions! First up, my favorite literary series at Petworth Citizen’s Reading Room, a perfect synthesis of my two great loves, alcohol and books. Shout out to Roofer’s Union for several awesome drinks including “I Yam What I Yam,” the best (and only) yam cocktail I’ve ever had. Kudos to the Murray Hill Club for superb drinks and the best party I’ve ever attended at a distillery (Jos. A. Magnus).
So much fun at Chicago Athletic Association and their stunning architectural tribute to late-19th century American club life. Props to the amazing bartenders at Drink in Boston for taking me on a tour of some great self-actualized cocktails. Level in Annapolis for a sublime cocktail list including the superb and hilarious “Shot and a Beer.” Thanks to Southern Efficiency for a nice, chill setting to enjoy some marvelous drinks.
Hank’s Oyster Bar for the best incorporation of Cheerios into a cocktail. B Side in Mosaic for a great cocktail list on a rainy day. And Side Door in California for the best use of a tea cup in a cocktail.