There's a cocktail bar like this in every city in America
As much as we love them, it's about time we recognized that we've quite possibly reached the saturation point of dim-lit, tasteful, eclectically decorated mixology Meccas, because, at this point, there is one on damn near every street corner across this great nation. But how does one spot the specific traits of the new American house of handcrafted hooch? Well, just follow this handy, thoughtfully curated guide. And dump out that vodka:
A cocktail bar by any other name wouldn't be as sweet. Or maybe that's vermouth? Either way, strong cocktail bar names are often:
Based on literature!
From Sons & Lovers to Franny & Zooey, semi-obscure 20th-century fiction is fertile ground. As with any good liberal arts anthropology seminar, actually having read the books before referencing them is encouraged, but not required.
Old-timey slang is in -- think Bee's Knees, On The Lam, Heebie-Jeebies. Anachronism makes the Aperol spritz taste better, as they said. (Seriously: they said this, probably.)
styled by ee cummings
The right bar name is only as good as the irrational branding that goes with it. Lowercase typewriter font, ampersands, and dates-of-establishment are critical for authentic flair. If there's a logo, it'll be either a a crest, an anchor, crossed arrows, or a crest made out of anchors crossed with arrows. Y'know, for authenticity.
If all the good Salinger books are taken, and Thesaurus.com queries for "speakeasy" are coming up short, a cocktailery may be named after a nearby intersection. This is especially clutch in gentrification-ripe areas, where the right name can capitalize on the neighborhood's gritty rep. "barrow & boulevard", anyone?
If you sip a Sazerac without an ancient tube TV silently looping Chinatown in the corner, does it exist? The answer is no, Jack. The most important thing about any cocktail bar worth its mesquite-infused celery salt is what it looks like. Well, and the cocktails, usually.
This handy interactive map breaks down all the critical elements of a cocktail bar's interior:
Not pictured: the massive block of Icelandic river-floe ice from which all oversized drink cubes are hand-carved to order.
A real-deal pourer will exude an unmistakable... how do you say... je ne sais quoi. Judge that book by its cover, then find the movie version to order from if said book doesn't have that... uh, seriously, how do you say je ne sais quoi?
Never, ever, ever trust a mixologist who's not wearing a Sam Elliott suit vest. It's not technically illegal to fix a drink without one, but it's considered deeply unethical. Furthermore, Sam Elliott probably wouldn't approve, and cocktail aficionados downright revere that man's plainspoken manner and oaken vocals. During the Summer -- and only then! -- suspenders may be considered a viable alternative.
The official mixology mane includes gobs of pomaded locks up top and tightly shorn sides. Man-buns are good, but obscure facial hair is better. If the bartender is wearing a goatee, he is probably a narc.
Any real cocktail bar will have at least one employee with knuckle tattoos on the payroll at any given time.
On Yelp, this affected state is usually hurtfully described with terms like "poor service", "pretentiousness", and "the bartenders are colossal bags of goat ass". Not so. In truth, a good mixologist is just so dedicated to his craft that he tolerates nothing but equal passion from his customers. If you can't sympathize with that, it probably isn't your kind of place, chief.
No matter how aggressively its barnwood bartop was reclaimed, though, the raison d'etre of any cocktail bar is its bill of goods. A proper mixology menu will be playful, but firm; subtle, yet bold; innovative, and also homage...ive. In short, it'll look something like this:
Given that most cocktail bars are illuminated exclusively by handpoured candles and Edison bulbs, and the typography is lowercase, it may be difficult to read. Asking for recommendations is hopelessly gauche, so squint, dammit! This menu has been carefully designed & curated by the founders (cocktail bars don't have "owners", because it's like, a lifestyle) and demands your unbridled attention & praise.
America is currently amidst a cocktail renaissance, which is something I read in Hemispheres when I flew to my grandparents' house in Florida, but also true. With this handy guide as your... uh, guide, you'll have no trouble identifying the essential temples in which to take your tipples. Remember, intrepid drinker, because we said it in the lede: There's a cocktail bar like this on damn near every street corner in the country. Now go forth and enjoy them (but seriously man, don't order vodka).
Dave Infante is a senior writer for Thrillist food & drink and the founder of New York City's renowned underground cocktail/social club, This Side of Paradise, which serves artisanal reiterations of classic Gilded Age rum drinks, and a tightly curated selection of share plates. Follow him on Twitter: @dinfontay.