Whether you like your liquor straight or mixed in trendy cocktails, these are the country’s hottest destinations. In each of these cities you can tour distilleries, raise your glass at notable bars and generally soak in the local spirit.
The Windy City is home to one of the most progressive bar scenes in the country. If you have time and money to burn, settle upstairs at The Aviary or downstairs at The Office for a lineup of high-end drinks made with futuristic techniques and beautiful, jewel-like ice. Milk Room, a new eight-seat bar within the Chicago Athletic Association, features pours of rare and vintage spirits. Can’t get in? Try Paul McGee’s other venture, tiki lounge Lost Lake. Distilleries abound around Chicago (Koval Distillery, Letherbee Distillers, FEW Spirits), but CH Distillery in the West Loop is probably the only one that concludes its tour with a pour of chilled vodka, paired Russian-style with rye bread and a pickle.
The Bay Area is home to some of the best and most forward-looking cocktail bars, not to mention some of the most historic. Destination-worthy bars include Hard Water (for whiskey), Smuggler’s Cove (for rum and tiki drinks) and ABV and Trick Dog (for cocktails). History buffs should make a beeline for The Buena Vista, where Irish coffee was popularized in the 1950s. Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, offers legendary Tommy’s Margaritas and a jaw-dropping Tequila selection. Take a short drive to Alameda to visit boundary-pushing St. George Spirits and pack the trunk with limited-edition St. George California Reserve Apple Brandy.
Brooklyn, New York
A host of distilleries have sprung up in former industrial spaces, while Brooklyn’s young denizens keep the bars hopping. The Cobble Hill neighborhood includes the classic Clover Club, Latin-themed Leyenda and The Long Island Bar, among others. Hop on a ferry to visit several waterfront distilleries in Red Hook, including Jack From Brooklyn, Van Brunt Stillhouse and Cacao Prieto, which features a relaxed Venetian-style outdoor bar, Botanica, in the warmer months. Bushwick distillery/bar Daq Shack at Owney’s brings in tiki-tenders Thursdays through Sundays for daiquiris and other rum libations.
The heart of Bourbon country is known for producing excellent whiskey as well as hosting the mint julep-soaked Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. Learn about the heritage and history of Bourbon and sip in the enormous barrel-shaped tasting room at the Bourbon Heritage Center at Heaven Hill Distilleries. The grounds are particularly beautiful at Maker’s Mark Distillery—don’t forget your camera—but it’s really all about hand-dipping your own bottle in red wax. Don’t miss The Silver Dollar for its laid-back vibe, extensive country music playlist and 150 whiskey selections, including many you won’t find elsewhere.
This Pacific Northwest hub is noted for its independent bent and fierce devotion to craft beer and spirits. Start off with a tour of Distillery Row, a group of seven independent distilleries producing over 20 unique liquors in Southeast Portland’s Lower East Side Industrial District. House Spirits Distillery reopened in a shiny new space in November—visit its tasting room to try Oregon-made takes on gin, whiskey and aquavit. The Teardrop Cocktail Lounge, known for pioneering the “housemade everything” trend, is worth a pilgrimage. So are newer bars like the subterranean Pepe Le Moko, for arguably the best update on the Grasshopper, and tiki stronghold Hale Pele.