The 5 Most Creative Bars in the U.S.

For unexpected cocktails, check out these boundary-pushing bars that were voted the most creative in the country by Food & Wine readers.

Most Creative Bars in US The Aviary

Courtesy of The Aviary

Global Tastemakers is our first-ever reader’s choice awards, celebrating the best culinary destinations in the U.S. and abroad. F&W readers voted based on travel completed within the past three years, on categories including restaurants and bars, cities, hotels, airports, airlines, and cruises. Due to the limitations of pandemic travel, this year’s Global Tastemakers winners reflect a smaller portion of the globe. In many categories, we’re including an editor’s pick to shout out some more culinary destinations in places you can’t miss. See all the winners at

Food & Wine readers voted on the most creative bars in the U.S. for our inaugural Global Tastemakers awards, and it’s quite clear from the results that they’re fond of industry icons — as well as watering holes in Chicago. The Windy City nabbed the one and two spots on the list with a pair of perennial standouts. Rounding out the top five are a trio of all-stars from New York, Nashville, and New Orleans, all of which have racked up accolades over the past few years. But in this case, these bars aren’t just crafting great cocktails. They’re also stirring up the sort of liquid alchemy you cannot find anywhere else. Whether it’s bourbon wrapped in a pillow of oatmeal air, or a shochu cocktail backed by fried shrimp heads, these bars are hardly content simply serving up Manhattans, Martinis, and Margaritas — though they’ll gladly knock those out of the park as well, when asked. 

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The Violet Hour: Chicago, Illinois

Most Creative Bars in US The Violet Hour

Kelly Sandos

This Wicker Park wonderland deserves every heaping portion of praise it has amassed over the past 15 years. It was early onto the craft cocktail scene and has demonstrated significant staying power. Walk in today, and you can choose from brandy-based arrangements shaken with riesling and black walnuts (Snow Bird) or blended scotch stirred soulfully with squash tincture (Hanz & Franz). Better yet, don’t choose; just order them both. There are nearly two dozen preparations on heavy rotation here, and it’s hard to call out an uninspired offering from the bunch.

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The Aviary: Chicago, Illinois

Most Creative Bars in US The Aviary

Courtesy of The Aviary

The bar was set rather high when three-star Michelin maestro Grant Achatz decided to open a drink outpost. But his lofty space has been meeting those outsized expectations since its debut in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood over a decade ago. Two years in, its unique brand of molecular mixology had already earned a James Beard Award for “Outstanding Bar Program.” And today, it stays ahead of the curve on creativity, assembling layered Jungle Birds and Pisco slushies from a designated cocktail kitchen. Certain standouts remain as fresh and exciting today as they were when they debuted, such as the In The Rocks — a spin on a Sazerac, which is built into an ice sphere and requires a slingshot to unleash.

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Katana Kitten: New York, New York

Most Creative Bars in US Katana Kitten

Noah Fecks

Masa Urushido is among the biggest names in American bartending today thanks to his playful take on a classic Japanese izakaya. His menu holds Martinis spiked with sake and hinoki tree essence, vodka fizzes infused with pandan, garnished with lava salt, and an expertly arranged assortment of funky flavored highballs. But if you want to get truly funky here, you’ll have to go off menu with the Umami Situation: sake with citrus and the fresh pressed juice of a fried prawn, chased by a shooter of Shochu.

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The Fox: Nashville, Tennessee

The most creative bars, The Fox Nashville

Lindsay Rushton

Given her preternatural penchant for creativity, it’s no wonder head bartender Laura Unterberg is living her best life at this stellar East Nashville speakeasy. As an obvious example, look at the liquids she deftly weaves together in the Cat Dad: genever, piney amaro, blueberry, cinnamon, and grapefruit extract. Maybe She’s Born With It is a turquoise-tinged drink of bourbon, pistachio, apricot, ginger, and rose. It might look like cacophony on paper, but in the glass, it’s nothing short of alchemy.

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Cane and Table: New Orleans, Louisiana

Most Creative Bars in US Cane and Table

Randy Schmidt

If you think tropical drinks can’t carry mixological merit, you’ve obviously never sampled the goods at Cane and Table. Standout selections balance out banana, pineapple, and coconut water with unlikely foils such as fresh dill, baking spice, and cardamom. What comes together in the glass — or Tiki mug — is bound to be refreshing yet complex. The program here proves that those two elements don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And if you’re looking for inventive renderings of the classics, look no further than the Mai Tai section. Even the Hurricane here has been craft-ified thanks to the addition of a house-made fassionola syrup. 

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