Food & Drink

The Best Cocktail Bars in Charlotte

Published On 08/02/2016 Published On 08/02/2016
Photo courtesy of Soul Gastrolounge

Soul Gastrolounge

Plaza-Midwood

The OG of Charlotte when it comes to craft cocktails, Soul Gastrolounge started the movement of using unique ingredients to create delicious libations. Try the A Quiet Man cocktail -- named for a John Wayne movie based in Ireland, this cocktail is made with The Irishman Founder's Reserve whiskey, and has hints of chamomile. Soul also serves up tapas and sushi, but the cocktails are the true standout.

The Broken Spoke

South End

Sandwiched between breweries, The Broken Spoke is a great option if you are tired of hops and looking for something different, or are in the market for a great date spot. It’s the sister bar of Great Wagon Road Distilling Company, and focuses on simple yet delicious cocktails. Try the Broken Mule, made with Tito’s vodka, Redemption ginger beer, and fresh-squeezed grapefruit, or the Broken Spoke with Dewar's single malt whiskey, Amaro Montenegro, and orange zest.

Erin Maddrey

The Punch Room

Uptown

Nestled quietly on the 15th floor of the Ritz-Carlton, the Gatsby-esque Punch Room has been intriguing Charlotte since it opened in early 2015. Cocktail king Bob Peters has created a menu of punches and concoctions unlike anything the city has seen. Order up any of the punches (it is called the Punch Room, after all), though the Top of the Hill punch with TOPO Gin, Champagne, and Earl Grey tea is a showstopper. Don’t miss the pisco sour with muddled lemons and limes, or the knock-your-socks-off ingredient of house-made St. Germain foam. Try to snag a seat at the bar so you can watch Peters work some mixologist magic.

The Cellar at Duckworth's

Uptown

Head to Duckworth’s Grill & Taphouse and, once inside, descend a flight of stairs into a different era. Built in 1912 and modeled after a speakeasy, this Prohibition-style cocktail bar pays homage to drinks of yesteryear -- the bartenders even dress the part. The smoked whiskey sour and the negroni are sexy creations, while the Sazerac would do its New Orleans originators proud.

COURTESY OF PINT CENTRAL/JUSTIN DRISCOLL

Pint Central

Plaza-Midwood

Most people head to Pint Central for tapas and craft beer, but there is more than meets the eye at this Plaza-Midwood bar. The custom cocktail selection never disappoints and is always changing to fit seasonal ingredients. The Ol’ Rosemary, a take on a traditional Old Fashioned, is a refreshing and perfect drink for the warm months. Served on the rocks, this cocktail is made with George Dickel Rye, orange rosemary turbinado syrup, cherries, oranges, and Dead Rabbit Orinoco bitters. Other drinks perfect for the summer months are the Eden, made with hibiscus-infused Rain Organics Cucumber vodka, and the Cardinal Knowledge, made with Kings Mountain’s own Cardinal Gin, cucumber, lemon, and elderflower liqueur.  

Photo courtesy of Kindred Restaurant

Kindred

Davidson

Known for its James Beard-nominated chef, and milk bread that’ll make you exclaim “shut up” loudly and to no one in particular, Kindred has a secret… it also serves amazing cocktails. The negroni, the Thai-rone with apple brandy and Thai-spiced honey, or any of Kindred’s margaritas are all revolutionary. Make sure you act fast -- the cocktail menu is ever-evolving, and your favorite drink may only be a seasonal special.

The Summit Room

Dilworth

What’s not to love about a place that focuses on Southern-inspired plates and specialty cocktails, many named for famous mountains? The food is great, but the drinks are what make The Summit Room perfect for date night or an evening with friends. The Mount Elbrus, with muddled strawberries, basil, and Stolichnaya vodka, is a refreshing and deceptively easy cocktail to drink.

Photo courtesy of Erin Maddrey

Halcyon Flavors from the Earth

Uptown

Halcyon is a farm-to-table restaurant and cocktail bar located in the same building as the Mint Museum Uptown. The interior of the restaurant is lovely, but the outside patio is the real gem. Grab a seat and be prepared to be wowed as you people-watch while drinking the "Mess-Around" -- served with lavender ice cream and moonshine. The Frambuesa en Fuego, with chili-infused tequila, raspberries, and Cointreau, is also a hit.

Pisces Sushi Bar & Lounge

Pisces Sushi Bar

Midtown

There is no better pairing than sushi and cocktails, especially sake-based cocktails. Pisces is best at creating unique cocktails such as the Far East Manhattan, which mixes Bulleit rye, ginger liqueur, and Zipang Sparkling Sake. Gaia's Martini also puts a spin on tradition by using vanilla, avocado, and homemade elderflower foam.

Aria Tuscan Grill

Uptown

Known as the go-to spot before a show at the Blumenthal, and recently made better by the hire of mixologist Andrew Shook (previously of Halcyon), Aria also wants to become the go-to Uptown spot for custom cocktails. The Spring Sparkler with lavender and bubbles is an ideal warm-weather drink. If you like things a little on the spicy side, the Yucatan Bloom is for you -- one sip of its tequila, infused with various kinds of peppers, will leave your lips feeling hot for hours.

5 Church

5Church

Uptown

5Church has reigned supreme as the ultimate destination for cocktails in Charlotte for years (and with good reason). The spicy/sweet Viper, with tequila, Cointreau, cucumber water, and cayenne is its most famous cocktail. But for something different, order the Bourberry. This drink is as pretty as it is potent, with Jim Beam Red Stag, raspberry liqueur, citrus & cranberry juices, and muddled raspberries.

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1. Soul Gastrolounge 1500 1/2 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205 (Plaza Midwood)

For regulars at Soul, Mondays are always a treat -- the evening's soundtrack is crafted purely of R&B and soul on vinyl, hand selected from the restaurant owner's very own collection. The small-plate lounge is notorious for tasty, inventive house cocktails and upscale snacks like Asian glazed pork belly tacos to match. The no reservations bar is small and fills quickly, so get here early if you're looking to eat, while there's plenty of standing room for drinkers. The constantly rotating cocktail menu features (potent) libations like a Celery Spritz made with gin, Cointreau, house-made celery-lemon seltzer, and olive oil, and each night of the week, Soul hosts a different DJ, so patrons at this dimly-lit craft-cocktail-haven never run out of reasons to keep coming back.

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2. The Broken Spoke 227 Southside Dr, Charlotte, NC 28217 (South End)

Great Wagon Road Distillery opened up The Broken Spoke so its customers could have a cozy, rustic-chic bar and lounge to enjoy their handcrafted whiskey as well as craft beer and wine. Sign up for a membership online before you stop by, you need to be on the membership list to get into the bar.

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3. The Punch Room 201 E Trade St, Charlotte, NC 28202 (Uptown)

When a bar is on the 15th floor of The Ritz-Carlton and features gold accents, plush leather seating, and skyline views, you expect it to be good. When that spot also includes Bob Peters, an enthusiastic bartender whose creations make him more magician than mixologist, it's safe to expect greatness. Sample the daily punch, but bring your sense of adventure for one of the inventive elixirs like Carbonated Aviation, an effervescent twist on the classic, or Strange Brew made with smoked bourbon, hazelnut milk, and a coffee ice cube.

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4. The Cellar 330 N Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202

The Cellar at Duckworth's is one of the most exciting dining experiences in Charlotte. Once you get beyond the hostess and walk through the thick door, you'll immediately be tossed back in time to a speakeasy reminiscent of the Prohibition era. After taking in the vintage decor, relax and order a cocktail: the Sazerac is a New Orleans original, and a sneaky wallop to your sobriety. As for the food, let the waiter guide you through the menu. It's a tapas-style joint, encouraging you to enjoy a swath of different flavors, textures, and ingredients.

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5. Pint Central 1226 Central Ave, Ste A, Charlotte, NC 28204

The roster of beers on tap at Pint Central reads like a greatest-hits list for local beers. With over 40 bottled brews, and 34 on tap, the Southern spot is a mecca for North Carolina's most devoted beer fans. The dog-friendly patio and the casual, rustic taproom provide ample space to chat over cold pints of jalapeño pale ale, or some of the lighter local wheat beers, while those who are less interested in hops can opt for a house cocktail or a glass of wine, instead (the bar is fully stocked with premium Carolina liquor). The food menu consists mainly of Argentinian-American tapas, like chicken empanadas or kimchi-topped pork belly, and on Mondays, tacos are just 1$, when paired with one of Pint Central's numerous bottled Latin American Beers.

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6. Kindred Restaurant 131 Main Street, Davidson, NC 28036 (Davidson)

Nestled in historic Davidson, this family-owned and chef-driven restaurant never disappoints with its modern takes on Southern cuisine. Like many new American-style restaurants, this chic eatery cooks with local ingredients, rotates their menus seasonally, sticks to small portions and stuns with elegant presentation. The home-made milk break, duck fat potatoes and crispy oysters are all must-haves at dinner — order one of each and share the wealth with your entire table, that's the best way to get a little bit of everything.

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7. The Summit Room 1531 East Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203

Sidle up to the bar for an expertly made cocktail named after one of the seven summits, or warm yourself by the fire with a selection of small plates including poutine made with North Carolina cheese curds.

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8. Halcyon, Flavors from the Earth 500 S Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202 (Uptown)

Halcyon's is known for its commitment to locally sourced meats, vegetables, wines, and spirits. It's an upscale, modern dining room just next to the entrance of the Mint Museum, with an ever-changing seasonal menu, and a charming outdoor patio. Among all the favorites on the cocktail menu, the Frambuesa en Fuego stands out with a chili-infused altos tequila with raspberries, Cointreau, lime, and Chambord.

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9. Pisces Sushi Bar & Lounge 1100 Metropolitan Ave, Charlotte, NC 28204

Successfully making sushi already involves a great degree of artistry and raw talent (get it?) to begin with, but Pisces takes it to the next level: here you’ll find some of the freshest, most flavorful, and elegant hand rolls and nigiri in Charlotte. Whether you’re a seasoned regular swinging by this sleek lounge to order omakase or taking advantage of their impressive lunch buffet deal, make sure not to miss their sake-based specialty cocktails (pro tip: get the Far East Manhattan, which features Bulleit rye and Zipang sparkling sake).

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10. Aria Tuscan Grill 100 N Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202 (Uptown)

There’s pizza, and then there’s wood-fired pizza; there’s great cocktail bars, and then there’s cocktail bars that are so dedicated to mixology that they make their own Limoncello in house. It’s safe to say that Aria is one of the latter: a market-driven restaurant devoted to authentic Tuscan comfort food, served with modern presentation in a sultry, contemporary environs. It’s just a stones’ throw from the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, so consider making a reservation if you’re trying to impress a date with a popular pre-concert dinner.

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11. 5Church 127 N Tryon St, Suite 8, Charlotte, NC 28202 (Uptown)

Feather chandeliers, leather banquettes, and a black ceiling set the scene at this sleek, loft-style space in the center of Uptown, where signature dishes such as a lamb burger, ahi tuna poke, and citrus- & herb-roasted whole fish are served alongside fancy libations. Guests typically mingle here earlier in the evenings for a drink or two before continuing on to another nearby nightlife destinations. Specialty cocktails like the Viper (Patron, orange liqueur, cucumber water, and cayenne pepper) and the Rosemary Gin Fizz (gin, liquid egg whites, and rosemary simple syrup) are sophisticated enough to keep up with the crowd.

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