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When the conversation turns to cocktails, as it often does at Food & Wine, there’s one person we listen to loud and clear: Jim Meehan. He’s been called many things, including: Bartender of the Year; the bar manager at Manhattan’s outstanding PDT (a.k.a., the place that you walk through a phone booth Bond-style to enter); and Deputy Editor of the F&W Cocktail book series.
Because this is one of the best times in memory to be drinking great cocktails, we asked Meehan to pick his 10 favorite new bars in the country. He obliged, and here they are.
At this genius spot, you can get gorgeously made cocktails like the gin-based La Bicyclette, served in a handy glass flask, and you’ll get in trouble if you don’t drink from it. In a marked change from many bars you’ve probably been to, this one has an outstanding bathroom. In fact, it won a best bathroom award for 2011 from Eater.com.
The NoMad Hotel, New York
“This feels like what it is—a big, beautiful American hotel bar,” says Meehan of this space, which is anchored by a 24-foot mahogany bar and boasts additional rooms, like the Library. Leo Robitschek breaks the cocktail menu into categories like Soft Cocktails and Dark Spirited. The Classics aren’t classic classics; instead they tend toward terrific lesser-known drinks, like the Morning Glory Fizz, a mix of Scotch, absinthe, lemon and egg white.
The Barrelhouse Flat, Chicago
“This place is brilliant,” says Meehan, who also likes that it’s open later than most places in Chicago (in fact, the website doesn’t include closing times). The huge bar houses two concepts. Downstairs is casual, with a great jukebox and a gorgeous punchbowl set up (available by the cup, the pitcher and the bowl). Upstairs, you can find more of that perennially popular NYC speakeasy ambience.
Pour Vous, Los Angeles
This Parisian-style cocktail lounge with red velvet banquettes is gorgeous. The menu focuses on French spirits and has category titles like Parfum, with drinks like Pret a Poire (Armagnac, pear eau de vie and bitters, atomized). “It’s fun,” says Meehan. Out back, there’s an old-school trolly car for smokers to hang out on.
The Hawthorne, Boston
Jackson Cannon is one of Meehan’s favorite mixologists. (He also oversees the drinks at the neighboring Island Creek Oyster Bar and Eastern Standard—which makes things easy if you want to get something to eat before or after Hawthorne.) The space is made up of several lounges, including a comfy living room-style one outfitted with a vintage Russian vodka chiller.
Williams & Graham, Denver
“Sean Kenyon is just killing it,” Meehan says approvingly. “And he’s successfully figured out the hidden entrance scenario.” To enter Williams & Graham, drinkers walk through a faux bookstore and past a bookcase into the dark, sexy space. Cocktails include the regionally appropriate Smoky Mountain (a mix of local honey vodka and mezcal).
Woodsman Tavern, Portland, Ore.
Like the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, this place is a collaboration of all-stars. Mixologist Evan Zimmerman is teamed up with Duane Sorrenson (owner of the exceptional Stumptown coffee) and chef Jason Barwikowski (formerly of Clyde Common). “It’s really comfortable, has great food and has the amenity of one of the city’s best bartenders making your drinks,” says Meehan.
Bellocq, New Orleans
“Here we have an elegant alternative to the craziness of Bourbon Street,” Meehan says. Bellocq, a classic-looking spot in the new Hotel Modern, features the team from the city’s sensational bar Cure: Neal Bodenheimer, Kirk Estopinal and Matthew Kohnke. “They’re focusing on cool things, like great cobblers (refreshing, fruit-based drinks). Making good drinks in New Orleans is challenging: It’s hot! The food is rich! And they get it done.”
Scott & Co., Tucson, Ariz.
This place isn’t brand new (it opened in the summer of 2010), but for Meehan it’s a terrific recent discovery. “Basically, it’s an elite NYC bar in the middle of Arizona,” he says. It’s small (“smaller than my bar PDT, which is small”), tucked in next to a restaurant. The seasonal menu features drinks like the Preakness Punch (peppercorn-infused gin, yellow chartreuse, lemon) and the Vagabond (tequila, sage-infused agave nectar, lime, orange bitters).
Midnight Cowboy, Austin
In a space formerly occupied by the Midnight Cowboy Modeling massage parlor is this Prohibition-era speakeasy. A buzzer labeled “Harry Craddock” lets you in. “No way you’d know the place was there if you weren’t looking,” says Meehan, who is good at finding hidden bar entrances. Drink selections include Dill + Tonic (dill-infused gin and tonic liqueur) and Hot & Bothered (two kinds of rum, ginger beer and Fire & Damnation bitters).