Just as bartenders have evolved to become more knowledgeable and engaged with their craft, so too have bar patrons. But not every bar—nor every barkeep—can keep up. Pay attention and you might spot a few surefire signs: If your bartender mixes a classic daiquiri with bottled sour mix, or shakes a Manhattan (a drink that should invariably be stirred) it’s an indication you ought to stick to the basics. We talked to a few cocktail industry vets to suss out other harbingers of doom behind the bar. Read more >
Instead of turning customers away, chefs are opening bars—to handle the overflow from their flagship restaurants, to try something more casual or to explore different cuisines. Here's where to visit next.
Diners waiting to eat at The Walrus and the Carpenter in Seattle can pass the time with charcuterie and cocktails at Barnacle bar. thebarnaclebar.com
In Portland, OR, Gabrielle and Greg Denton own the restaurant Ox, and now also The Whey Bar, which serves drinks like The Whey We Were. oxpdx.com
Customers can drink whiskey sours and eat wings at Whiskey Soda Lounge NY while waiting for a table at Brooklyn's Pok Pok NY. pokpokpdx.com
Cambridge, MA's Hungry Mother books up far in advance, but diners can try chef Barry Maiden's Southern food at his dive bar, State Park. stateparkcambridge.com
Chef Kelly English shows his love of New Orleans cuisine at The Second Line in Memphis, which he calls Restaurant Iris's "rowdy cousin." His recommended midnight snack: Louisiana Cheese Fries to go with a crisp pilsner. secondlinememphis.com
Mead may call to mind Friar Tuck in that Kevin Costner version of Robin Hood, or something sipped only by Renaissance fair–goers for the sake of historical accuracy. But the honey wine is worth drinking even when smoked turkey legs and jousts aren’t involved. Ranging from dry to sweet, floral to earthy, mead can pair with anything from buttery desserts to spicy Sichuan. At Distilled NY, a Tribeca tavern inspired by the American public houses of yore, bartender Benjamin Wood features four meads and one mead-based cocktail. “Mead is the grandfather of all fermented beverages,” he says. “It’s the OG.”
Here, a mead primer from this honey wine lover:
What is Mead?
“Mead is fermented honey and water,” Wood says. “It can be sparkling, still, sweet, semisweet, dry, flavored with spices, and served like a mulled wine during the winter: warmed with cinnamon, nutmeg, orange and clove. The variations are limitless.” In terms of body, Wood compares it to a Riesling but heavier. “Expect it to have a more viscous texture than a typical dry white wine,” he says.
“Mead predates cultivated soil,” Wood says. “From what I understand, that began around 2000 BC. Some historians have used it as a marker to indicate the change in humanity from nature to culture.” Mead also is connected to the origination of the term honeymoon: “It is derived from a historical tradition where newlyweds were given honey wine (mead) to drink every day for one full moon after their wedding to enhance fertility,” Wood says. “Mead is considered a natural aphrodisiac.”
How to Serve Mead
“It’s made from honey, so there are particles that could coagulate when mead gets too cold, so a lot of people recommend serving it at room temperature,” Wood says. “But the response from the public is that they want it cooler, so we chill it. It’s just a matter of finding the right temperature so that it’s not cold enough to coagulate but chilled enough that it’s pleasing to a palate.”
4 Meads to Try
All of Distilled NY’s meads are still and come from New York: two from Earle Estates—the traditional, which is sweeter due to more residual sugar, and the semisweet contemporary. Rounding out the selection is a traditional, floral style from Carroll’s Mead, and one from Mystic Mead, which is made with a blend of wildflower honeys to achieve a “more herbaceous, earthy quality.”
How to Make a Mead Cocktail
At the bar, Wood uses Carroll’s Mead in the Mead Americano, his take on the classic bittersweet cocktail made with Campari, vermouth and club soda. “It’s a spirit-on-spirit, all-booze cocktail,” he says. He mixes Aperol with juniper-heavy Spring 44 gin and the lightly sweet mead, and then carbonates the drink in-house for fizz. It’s served on the rocks with a dash of grapefruit bitters and grapefruit oil.
Written off as tequila’s smoky brother, mezcal is a lot more than just something for Scotch drinkers to enjoy when in a Mexican restaurant. “Every mezcal will influence your mood in a different way. They have these different energies,” says Lucas Ranzuglia, the bar manager at San Francisco’s forthcoming La Urbana. “It sounds like B.S., but it’s true.”
When the restaurant and mezcaleria opens August 28, it will feature 46 mezcals—Ranzuglia hopes to eventually carry 80 different bottles—and a tasting room for mezcal classes. “When it comes to mezcal, you have huge differences because it is being produced all over Mexico,” Ranzuglia says. “The character of the mezcal comes from three factors: terroir (the soil and weather conditions of the land where the agave is grown), the type of agave plant, and the local knowledge and traditions that were passed from generation to generation.”
I'm not saying I went to Cuba. But if I had gone, I probably would have spent most of the time eating lots of grilled lobster (the stripey Caribbean kind, not the red Maine kind) in paladares (restaurants run out of magnificent family homes) and over-consuming exceptional rum-based cocktails. As the birthplace of the mojito and the spot where Ernest Hemingway popularized the Papa Doble (a double frozen daiquiri), Havana would inspire any non-heretics to drink copious amounts of each. Again, I'm not saying that I went there, but if I had, these would probably have been my most memorable brushes with alcohol. MORE >
Lafayette's Ouest Daisy © Noah Fecks
Historically consumed in Europe as a shot before or after a round of golf, kümmel, a caraway- and cumin-infused spirit that originated in Holland, has found its place in America as a sweet-savory addition to cocktails. At chef Andrew Carmellini’s newest New York hot spot, Lafayette, beverage manager Megan Mina uses Combier kümmel in a refreshing tequila cocktail.»
House Fermented Shandy Courtesy of Son of a Gun
One of the simplest summer cocktails, the shandy is a refreshing blend of beer and lemonade—or citrus soda or ginger ale depending on where you're ordering one. But since "simple" isn't American bartenders' M.O., shandy upgrades are popping up around the country that use seasonal syrups, spices, hard liquor and, in the case of Son of a Gun in Los Angeles, re-fermentation. MORE »
Donna's Strawberry Sky © Craig Cavallo / Serious Eats
Bartenders who love in-season strawberries for their bright, floral flavor and gorgeous color, are now debuting complex spring cocktails with contrasting ingredients like chilies, egg whites and vinegar. At Donna in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, bar manager Jeremy Oertel pairs the springy fruit with tequila and serrano peppers in the Strawberry Sky. MORE >