Food & Drink

The Best Cocktail Bars in Detroit Right Now

Published On 07/12/2016 Published On 07/12/2016

The Skip

Downtown

The Belt Alley Downtown has seen a lot of love lately, and The Skip -- an offshoot of Standby -- is a great new addition. It’s a whimsical, casual outdoor joint that serves up beers, boilermakers, and some seriously delicious frozen cocktails. If you’re expecting your daiquiri to be a sickeningly sweet strawberry disaster, go elsewhere: The Skip’s daiquiri follows the tart, limy traditional recipe, just like Hemingway drank it. And beware the frozen Irish coffee: it goes down like the best milkshake you’ve ever had, but the booze creeps up on you.

Mabel Gray

Mabel Gray

Hazel Park

Celebrity chef James Rigato took Metro Detroit by storm when he opened his Michigan-centric restaurant in Hazel Park, finally nabbing a James Beard semifinalist spot this past year. The food and drink menu changes daily based on what’s freshest, so come with an open mind; one recent special was the lavender sidecar. Fun fact: the restaurant’s namesake, Alice Mabel Gray, was a beautiful Lake Michigan recluse dubbed "Diana of the Dunes."

The Oakland

Ferndale

One of Detroit's first dedicated cocktail bars, The Oakland has grown into a pillar of the scene, nabbing high-profile bartending awards and attention from national publications like Esquire. It's practically become an unofficial incubator for the area's best bartenders to hone their chops, making their own bitters and infusing their own liquors. Suffice to say, the dark, gold-and-velvet, early-20th-century interior, the novelty (its full name -- The Oakland Art Novelty Company -- ain't for nothing), and the rare mixed drinks have put Detroit on the cocktail map. Look nice when you show up -- you'll want to match The Oakland's elegance.

Detroit City Distillery

Detroit City Distillery

Eastern Market

DCD not only makes great booze, it also puts that booze into innovative cocktails with fresh ingredients pulled straight from Eastern Market. DCD’s cocktail menu is extensive, so you’ll need a few ventures to work your way through the whole thing; it also doesn't particularly help that the bartenders are always cooking up something fun and new. But try starting with the Simply Irresistible: Homegrown Rye with lemon juice, a pineapple sage shrub, and dried cherries. It’s tart, sweet, and capped off with a sprig of fresh mint.

The Keep

Downtown

We've raved before about The Keep’s cocktails, and we're not ashamed to do it again. The Keep offers imbibers their choice of atmospheres: sunshine and people-watching on the upstairs patio, or low-key, sophisticated ambience in the intimate downstairs lounge. Show up for one of the many bartender pop-ups, or stop in and have Leonard whip you up a whiskey fizz.

Flickr/Liza Lagman Sperl

Chartreuse

Midtown

There’s no prettier place in Detroit to drink a cocktail. Chartreuse’s bold and bright floral installations reflect its focus on fresh, simple, and local -- using fish pulled from the Great Lakes, utilizing Vernors as seasoning, and whipping up Detroit's own Last Word (gin, green Chartreuse, lime, and maraschino) -- food and drink. Although it shares its grand ideas (and sometimes bartenders) with its sister bar, The Oakland, in Ferndale, Chartreuse’s cocktails are less fussy. Drink at Chartreuse to enjoy, not to impress.

The Peterboro

The Peterboro

Chinatown

Yes, Detroit has a Chinatown, and now it has a Chinese restaurant there again, helmed by chef Brion Wong, who became known for his pop-ups before taking over the kitchen here. The Peterboro’s cocktails are creative and trendy, pushing the liquor limits -- the people behind The Sugar House, Wright & Co., Café 78, and Honest John's wouldn't have it any other way -- so strap on your adventure hat and don’t feel bad if you have no idea what some of the drinks' ingredients are. Any bar that can manage to put Cynar (artichoke liqueur), yellow Chartreuse, and absinthe in the same drink and make it taste great has our vote.

Roma Cafe

Eastern Market

With all the hoopla about new hot spots and slushies, it’s nice to know that the old standbys are done justice. That’s what you’ll find at Roma Cafe, Detroit’s oldest Italian restaurant. Bartenders there have been slinging Old Fashioneds since the drink wasn’t even "old." Having your Manhattan prepared by a bartender who can remember serving Frank Sinatra is an experience everyone should have in their lifetime.

Wright & Company

Wright & Company

Downtown

Downtown’s go-to first-date spot got that way for a reason. It’s gorgeous without being overly pretentious, and the bartenders know their stuff. They're happy to talk you through the menu, which is conveniently arranged from lighter concoctions, such as the Dutch Lavender (genever, Crème Yvette, lemon, lavender syrup, and soda), all the way down to the gut-punching (in the best way) Smoking with the Bear (Mayalen Guerrero Mezcal, Cynar, and Vermouth di Torino).

St. Cece's Food & Spirits

St. Cece's

Corktown

If you like limoncello, you’re in luck. St. Cece’s offers 19 different cocktails, and it seems limoncello is in every other one. This is not a bad thing, as the contrast between the fresh, sweet limoncello and the tang of tequila work well with the anise-and-fennel absinthe bite in the Absinth Riddle. And if you get a chance, ask your bartender about The Gilblit, cheekily named after Dan Gilbert. It’s $50, made with Laphroaig and Bitter Truth E**X**R liqueur, and we really, really want to be there when someone orders one. "You can choose any other person in the bar, and we’ll take their glass from them, pour their drink out and make your drink in that glass,” bar manager Chris Rose told The Detroit News.

Bumbo's

Hamtramck

Bumbo’s is that rare combination of friendly local hangout and top-notch cocktail bar. It is possible to craft a cocktail without setting things on fire or employing eyedroppers and other unnecessary sundries. The team at Bumbo’s makes delicious drinks that are effortless to pronounce (you've heard of Gin Rummy before) and drink (it has gin, sweet vermouth, grapefruit, and lemon) and don’t cost a fortune ($3.50 during happy hour!). Go for the Wednesday pop-ups for a rotating menu of cheap eats -- you'll always find a great pierogi.

COURTESY OF JOHN KWIATKOWSKI

Sugar House

Corktown

One of the places (if not the place) that started it all, Sugar House is a staple not just in Detroit, but nationwide. We would be remiss not to give it a nod, if not take a knee to thank it for its enduring service of educating the Detroit public what a "craft cocktail" is all about. Its menu is lengthy, with a seasonally rotating page two (this spring, it was Tiki-focused), and takes crafting perfect ice cubes as seriously as the drinks themselves.

Public House

Public House

Ferndale

Public House became a Ferndale classic almost instantly when it opened in 2013. Since then, it’s upped its cocktail game, starting with giving its drinks character by giving them human names (Estelle or Roy, anyone?). Public House carries 13 cocktails -- which seems to be the magic cocktail number in Ferndale -- for $8, plus two boozy milkshakes. The Vera mixes mezcal, pineapple peppercorn syrup, pineapple juice, and lime juice with an Aperol rinse for a hot-and-sweet combo.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. The Skip 1234 Library St, Detroit, MI 48226

A sister bar concept to Standby, also located in The Belt art alley, The Skip turns the cocktail bar concept on its head, serving up frozen drinks (think frozen negronis and grown folk margaritas), five different kinds of boilermakers, and an Old Fashioned made with rum. As far as post-imbibing fare, the open-air cocktail bar also serves Latin American street food.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
2. Mabel Gray 23825 John R Rd, Hazel Park, MI 48030

Created by former Top Chef contestant James Rigato and partner Ed Momou (the minds behind The Root Restaurant & Bar), Mabel Gray in Hazel Park boasts a seasonal, nose-to-tail (handwritten) menu and full bar. Charming interior design details like an otter mural paint the space, while thoughtfully plated dishes like sweet potatoes with queso fresco and pumpkin seeds, match the in-the-moment vibe. Dishes are changed on a regular basis, though, so you can expect your best friend's dinner suggestions to be replaced with something even better on your next visit.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
3. The Oakland 201 W 9 Mile Rd, Ferndale, MI 48220

Don't be confused about the "Art Novelty Company" title that adorns their website -- The Oakland is all about cocktails. Well, cocktails and the creation of a sumptuous turn of the century aesthetic.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
4. Detroit City Distillery 2462 Riopelle St, Detroit, MI 48207

Detroit City Distillery uses locally-sourced ingredients from area farms and Eastern Market -- where the distillery and tasting room is located -- to offer a wide breath of spirits, including Bloodline Whiskey, Two-Faced Bourbon, Gilded Age Vodka, and Railroad Gin. The food menu doesn't go beyond finger foods and charcuterie, but with a killer cocktail list with both classics and Distillery-exclusives, the bar proves an ideal crowd-free pre- or post-dinner spot.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
5. The Keep 140 Cadillac Square, Detroit, MI 48226

This spot’s laid-back speakeasy vibe is served with crafty mixed beverages and plenty of dudes with well-groomed facial hair from the hip barbershop above. And though the bar is subterranean, it's got an outdoor patio where you can relax in the summer months with one of their draft cocktails or beers in hand.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
6. Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails 15 E Kirby Suite D, Detroit, MI 48202 (Midtown)

Located by the Detroit Institute of Arts, this large, lime-green hued restaurant sports glossy wooden tables, botanical touches, and a dried flower installation that makes you feel like you're part of the world's coolest garden party. The vegetable- and seafood-heavy menu aligns with the earthy theme as well, with entrees like grilled spanish octopus and Michigan shrimp served with polenta.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
7. The Peterboro 420 Peterboro St, Detroit, MI 48201 (Midtown)

Located in what was once Detroit's Chinatown, The Peterboro pays homage to the area's cultural history with a contemporary American-Chinese menu from Chef de Cuisine Brion Wong and a bar program that is nothing less than you should expect from the Detroit Optimist Society, the folks behind The Sugar House, Wright & Co., Café 78, and Honest John's. Take the "C.R.E.A.M.," a cocktail made with bourbon, rice and almond milk, cinnamon syrup, and bitters that might as well be double as your dessert as well.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
8. Roma Cafe 3401 Riopelle St, Detroit, MI 48207 (Eastern Market)

Opened in 1890, Roma Café is Detroit's oldest restaurant. The classic late-19th-century immigrant Italian eatery is every inch a taste of Detroit's history; it was even a favored haunt of Detroit's notorious Purple Gang, and for good reason: chicken parmesan served with ample doses of gooey cheese, pasta in perfectly bright tomato sauce, and veal marsalas all comfort the heart while exciting the taste buds. And because this is an old-school joint, you can rest assured your Manhattans and Old Fashioneds will be prepared in authentic, accurate fashion.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
9. Wright & Co. 1500 Woodward, Detroit, MI 48226

Serving upscale New American tapas and craft cocktails in a refined, Deco-inspired space, Wright & Co. is a popular destination for happy hour and date nights alike. Food offerings range from elevated gastropub fare like pork belly sliders with tomato jam and arugula to larger plates like sautéed sea scallops with yellow squash purée, asparagus and succulent chive butter sauce, and the sheer variety makes for a myriad of ways to approach the market-driven menu. While the cocktail list changes seasonally, expect eclectic ingredients, house-made infusions, and top shelf liquors like añejo rum, mezcal, small batch whiskeys, and chartreuse to make regular appearances. The six-course Sunday brunch tasting menu attracts the masses, but daily happy hour steals make for a lively ambience any night of the week.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
10. St. CeCe's 1426 Bagley St, Detroit, MI 48216 (Corktown)

This casual gastropub serves up delicious burgers, a make-your-own noodle bowl, and plenty of local craft beers and spirits. Though anything but austere, the woodwork, stone, and stained glass that deck out this pub make for a composed ambiance, a casualness continued in the patio in the summer and in the colder months, by the live fireplace placed smack-dab in the middle of the dining room for all to enjoy.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
11. Bumbo's 3001 Holbrook St, Hamtramck, MI 48212 (Hamtramck)

Somewhere between old-school dive and classic cocktail bar, this spot is a local favorite. The repurposed 1930's tin ceiling is vintage but not stale, the jukebox is filled with recent tracks, and the black leather bucket seats lining the bar are somewhat timeless. Detroit natives can treat themselves to house cocktails served in thrifty glassware while perusing the menu of classic Polish eats, or chatting with the ever-present power couple who founded the joint. As with the atmosphere, the fare consists of updated versions of reliable Polish staples -- things like Gouda-Dijon pierogis and kielbasa served over chipotle sweet potato puree -- along with a handful of standard bar snacks. Typically populated with a crowd of Detroit natives, Bumbo's is reliably affordable, low-key, and somehow still pretty chic.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
12. Sugar House 2130 Michigan Ave, Detroit, MI 48026 (Corktown)

One of Detroit's leading mixology bars, this hip Corktown spot uses eclectic spirits and mixers to make inventive and delicious drinks. Bartenders clad in tiki shirts or vests shake and stir creative concoctions with off-the-beaten-path liquors -- cacaçha, mezcal, absinthe, madiera, and chartreuse, to name a few -- and homemade infusions and syrups. While the specialty menu rotates seasonally, the staff's encyclopedic knowledge of classics from Aperol Spritzes to Zombies ensures a constant flock of regulars, aided by the antique hunting lodge décor (taxidermy animals mounted throughout, vintage bar stools, original brick facade from 1888) and dim, sultry ambience.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
13. Public House 241 W 9 Mile Rd, Ferndale, MI 48220 (Ferndale)

This Ferndale restaurants serves up an atypical menu of ethnically inspired eats divided into snacks, sandwiches, and desserts, and a liquor program that rivals its kitchen's. Items are as trendy as the PBR-braised brisket and as nostalgic as cotton candy, and are all served in a modern space decked out with wood booths and subway tiles.

Clickbait

close

Learn More