Not all cocktails are created equally, but these craft concoctions are overflowing with both style and substance.
From craft to draft and hyperlocal to insanely international, today’s cocktail landscape is vast. With so many options at every turn, there’s absolutely no excuse for wasting time or money on a subpar drink, but the sheer volume of quality beverage programs in the United States can make planning your next night out a task worthy of a stiff drink. To set themselves apart in the sea of superb sips available during the current cocktail renaissance, savvy bars, restaurants, and hotels are turning to excess in both volume and presentation, dazzling drinkers with over-the-top concoctions almost too beautiful and exciting to taste. Almost. From beachfront Bloodies to presidential pours, here are the ten most perfectly outrageous cocktail programs in the United States today.
Deer Path Inn
WHERE: Lake Forest, Illinois
It may be the combination of top-quality ingredients and nearly scientific precision that make Deer Path Inn’s cocktails so delicious, but the presentation is pure art and passion, and it’s this creativity that’ll knock your socks off. The inn is devoted to thoughtful materials, sourcing a combination of foraged items and upcycled materials for its masterful presentations that will find you sipping spirits from oyster shells topped with caviar foam and drinking gin out of cereal boxes without a second thought. They’re chic with a side of cheek, and you won’t find them on any menus. Just ask for something spectacular and prepare for edible flowers and gold leaf, teacup delights, shots served in chocolate-lined ice cream cones, vodka fountains, and other FOMO-inducing spectacles that will draw stares from every corner of this chic boutique property.
WHERE: San Diego, California
Naturally, you’ll need to head to Southern California to taste the clever NOLA-inspired cocktails at Louisiana Purchase. Here, typical Big Easy bevs like sugary hurricanes and hand grenades take a back seat to culinary-minded creations like La Vaca, featuring short rib-washed Azuñia reposado tequila with carrot and turmeric cordial, fresh lime, vanilla agave, and Hellfire shrub, all strained over ice in a smoked glass. If you feel compelled to hop a plane to taste one of these treats, don’t feel guilty: Louisiana Purchase has already had thirsty travelers books flights after seeing the Weezyana Sizzurp featured on License to Distill (it’s served in a skull suspended over a bed of dry ice).
WHERE: Miami, Florida
If the word “spirit” makes you think first of alcohol, you’re in sync with the minds behind Miami’s upscale Asian eatery, KYU, where a Spiritual Advisor leads the program of drinkable art showcasing Asian ingredients like lychee, Japanese whiskey, and shiso. KYU’s cuisine was lauded from the start, with Chef Michael Lewis achieving James Beard Award Semifinalist status for Best New Restaurant in 2017, but the cocktails have since made a splash of their own, competing with the kitchen for top billing. Look for the It’s 4:20 Somewhere, topped with a flaming joint garnish (be cool, it’s actually sage brush) and The Rain Drop, Drop Top, served in a bowl as a clear vodka and saffron falernum cake. Think of it as the swankiest Jell-O shot you’ll ever find (minus the Jell-O and morning-after-regrets).
WHERE: Phoenix, Arizona
This boozy breakfast spot features its alcohol as prominently as its omelets and pancakes, making it especially perfect for brunch, especially if you want to Instagram it. Shock your followers with an electrifying Lights Out Mimosa, served inside a light bulb and garnished with both cotton candy and strawberry shortcake. Or, relive Saturday mornings with your favorite childhood cereals served in a flight of juiced-up jugs and topped with whipped cream and the colorful crumbs you used to find at the bottom of the box. If, for some reason, you’re not at Hash Kitchen for the sugar rush, indulge in Arizona’s largest Bloody Mary bar, offering more than seventy toppings.
PigDog Beach Bar
WHERE: Wildwood, New Jersey
If you’re the type who loves to pile your Thanksgiving plate high with all of your favorite dishes heaped together in one mega mountain of deliciousness, you’ll salivate over the Bloody Mary at PigDog Beach Bar at the Jersey shore. Affectionately called the Mother of All Bloody Marys, the MOAB is a 32-ounce personal-size pitcher simultaneously supporting skewers of barbecue brisket, pickled shrimp, chicken tenders, chicken wings, pigs in a blanket, french fries, cheese cubes, olives, cucumbers, celery, and tomatoes (you’ll be grateful for the sturdy handle). It wouldn’t hurt to bring a friend or two along for the tasty task of conquering a MOAB.
Sundry and Vice
WHERE: Cincinnati, Ohio
At Sundry and Vice, your first choice won’t be which drink to order, but which menu to try (first) because this popular Ohio haunt has not one or even two cocktail menus, but at least three most days, and four during brunch. Choose from the house cocktail menu, where each drink is labeled with intriguing triple-word descriptors like “juice, smoky, bright” for the Crooked But Charismatic, and “spiced, funky, boozy” for the Saint Lucy. You’ll find an homage to the (relatively recent) past with a handful of beloved S&V creations on the Sundry classics menu, as well as a draft cocktail menu keeping up with one of the latest trends in cocktail prep. The highlight of this program, though, may be the boozy milkshakes and ice cream floats that bring out the over-21 child in every brunch devotee. From the Blueberry Yum Yum with fermented blueberry syrup to the El Segundo’s mezcal, chili, and strawberry soda combo, these shakes and floats are impossible to ignore.
Juniper Cocktail Lounge
WHERE: Las Vegas, Nevada
From the casinos and theaters to the streets and beyond, you expect a show wherever you go in Vegas, and Juniper Cocktail Lounge at Park MGM delivers one at the bar. Unlike much of Vegas, though, you can expect plenty of substance behind the style here, with the largest gin collection in Sin City and housemade juices and syrups spicing up the impressive beverage program. But do enjoy the show, too. While plenty of drinks are photo worthy, including elements like herb feathers and flaming pipe glasses, the most fun you’ll have may be with a simple Gin & Tonic, choose-your-own-adventure-style. A true blast from the past, consult the paper-folded fortuneteller game from those long summer afternoons of childhood to discover which gin and flavor profile your G&T will contain.
WHERE: Washington, D.C.
On the roof of the W Washington D.C., the closest hotel to the White House, presidential cocktails are not just tongue-in-cheek in name, but also in presentation at POV. The Yes We Can, featuring ginger kombucha, limoncello, and honey basil flavor, is served in a tin soup can. The Cold Brew Covfefe cocktail is served in a to-go coffee cup with an orange swoosh resembling the country’s most famous hair “style.” And, to be sure both the left and right are fairly included, The Bipartisan is served with a red drink and a blue drink balanced on a golden scale (sorry, Independents).
WHERE: Brooklyn, New York
From a team of self-professed travel junkies, this Brooklyn cocktail bar will take you on a tour of Asia from the comforts of its East-meets-West ambiance. At Sama Street, the industrial concrete bar is softened by lush greenery and Asian artifacts accenting the exotic drinks on the cocktail list. Favorites include a drink made with fish oil and served in a fish mug (Same Same But Different); the Eastern Medicine, with galangal, yuzu, and black cardamom; and the 7 Long Years, with a taste reminiscent of a pineapple and jalapeño sushi roll dipped in sesame oil. You won’t find these anywhere else (including Asia).
WHERE: Daytona Beach, Florida
Inside The Daytona hotel, directly across from Daytona International Speedway, Blue Flame is a racing bar through and through. With car parts used in design and decor (think chrome and engine pistons, not rust and fenders) and a cocktail menu (“owners’ manual”) featuring plenty of race-themed drinks like the Checkered Flag and Pit Box Collins, the bar bleeds Daytona, but the main attractions here are the moonshine cocktails, still served in the original tins used to smuggle moonshine during Prohibition. Historically, partakers would test moonshine by lighting it on fire and observing the color to determine if it was safe to drink (blue was cool; yellow was a no-no), and The Daytona continues the tradition with a regular moonshine-lighting ritual today.