Robust, earthy, refined and classic, gin is one of those liquors that comes with a cult following. Either you love the citrusy, floral and ferny taste of the 16th century spirit or you hate it – few people fall in the middle ground. If you’re one of those lovers, like us, and spend your days researching the best places to sip the aromatic juniper with the fizzy bubbles of seltzer water or your version of a dry martini tossed with a bit of Vermouth and a perfectly spiraled lemon peel, you’re in luck. We’ve crafted a compressive list of the top 10 gin bars in the U.S. – ranging from Charleston’s Gin Joint, complete with hearty, bearded hipsters, to Broken Shaker, a Miami institution known for being a place you always ask for the bartender’s choice. Your favorite spirit, and one of the world’s oldest, just became a reason to travel.
You can’t get more “craft cocktail” than Whistlers, located on Austin’s bustling East Sixth. The hipster bar completely transformed the space from its former dive bar status into the elegant bar it is today, with white washed brick and concrete walls, a subway tiled roof in gradient hues of grey and a statement chandelier dangling right above the reclaimed wood bar. The décor might be elegant, but there’s still an underlying grunge that’s inherently Austin (like the faded murals, concrete tables and string bulb lights outside). Make sure to start with the Bossa Nova, a spicy blend of gin, genepy, coconut milk, lemon grass and chile oil, a perfectly Austin take on a gin spritzer.
Owned by the talented restaurateurs behind Snow City Café, Spenard Roadhouse and Sack’s Cafe, South Restaurant + Coffeehouse has become one of Anchorage’s most popular bars. With an expansive menu offering everything from Panini’s to yellowfin crudo, a light and airy bar and a neighboring coffee shop, it’s a one-stop shop for bites, sips and even post dinner mingling. By far the most impressive element is the gin menu, decorated with the famed Casablanca quote on the outside (“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine”), the bar offers 25 local and imported gins. Your best bet would be to order one that’s local to Alaska. No matter what you order, from the signature, pink peppercorn-adorned Basil Rathbone to the simple martini, the bartender will pour your libation tableside and decorate it with a collection of dried botanicals.
In the town of honky tonks, bourbon and cowboy boots, you probably don’t expect to find one of the best gin bars in the US. However, a stumble into the classic Oak Bar at the Hermitage Hotel will quickly change your mind. Home to an exciting cocktail collection and the city’s largest bourbon collection, this former gentleman’s club just oozes charm – with wood paneled walls and an eclectic collection of dedicated patrons. After you grab their legendary Farmers Daughter cocktail (made with gin, Limoncello and muddled strawberry) take a look around as you’re most likely to see at least one or two celebrities in the dimly lit corners.
If you’ve got a big reservation and just want to sip and watch the city come to life, head to the Gin Joint, one of the most popular bars on Charleston’s East Bay Street. The prohibition style bar is small, but plentiful, with a beautiful menu showcasing some of the world’s best gins. The menu changes seasonally, but there’s a few drinks that are staples – like the Midnight Sun and their take on the Julep. For a cocktail created just for you, order the Bartenders Choice – which gives you a choice of up to two “descriptors” to choose from, whether it’s fruity, refreshing, tart, bitter or zesty. Then, the bow-tie clad barkeep will whisk up something using fresh herbs and aromatics that’ll likely knock your socks off.
If you want a bar that specializes solely in gin, Whitechapel is your joint. This quirky, prohibition style bar sits on San Francisco’s Polk Street and offers the largest selection of gin in North America. Although you’ll definitely find your Bombay, Tanqueray and Plymouth, you’re most likely going to find brands you’ve never heard of – all of which deserve a sip and a sample. If you don’t know where to start, you’re in good hands with the menu, which is about as expansive as the gin list. Not only do they offer specialty made cocktails from local ingredients (like the Queen Mother made with celery bitters), unique takes on classics (like the Whitechapel fruit cup) – they also offer gin flights and tastings so you can find your favorite. It’s a place where you’ll find people donning bow-ties and flashy gowns, as well as hipsters sporting skinny jeans and ironic ski caps.
Photo credit: The Freehand
Ask anyone in Miami where the best place to go for a cocktail is and, without hesitation, they’ll tell you the Broken Shaker. This laid back bar started as a purely local joint, a place Miami residents’ could flock to when the tourists took over their downtown haunts. However, word has gotten out and this bar has turned into the cocktail capitol of Miami Beach. Once purely a pop up within the globe-light decorated freehand Hostel, the owners of the Broken Shaker have expanded their brand to a neighboring restaurant, 27 and El Tucon in Bricknell. The mixologists are wicked talented, and can whip up whatever you’re craving. However, locals will tell you to order a pistachio gin fizz, made with Bombay Gin and topped with fresh herbs.
Anything Danny Meyer touches is gold, and that’s certainly the case with Porchlight, his 11th avenue neighborhood bar. The vibe is part Cheers part speakeasy, with a fully stocked collection of imported and locally distilled gins, rye whiskeys and vodkas. The head bartender, Nicholas Bennet, specializes in Southern-style cocktails, like the IPA-Mazing – made with Tanqueray, grapefruit and Other Half IPA, and the daily punch, which is served on tap. For a classic, you can’t beat the Porchlight Gibson – a sophisticated drink made with Plymouth Gin, Dry Vermouth and pickled onion brine.
In a place as cocktail conscience as Portland, it’s nearly impossible to have a bad drink anywhere in the flannel-clad, Mt. Hood flanked city. However, for serious drink connoisseurs, there’s only Teardrop, a small, speakeasy type bar on NW Everette street. Owner and head bartender Daniel Shoemaker is humble but talented, serving up innovative takes on classic cocktails, like the Italian Job – a complex mix of gin, strega, apricot and chili tincture. If you’re with a group, order the Scorpion Bowl – a beautiful marriage of gin, rum, cognac, Angostura bitters, lime, orange and more. The ambiance is total Portland, with hanging copper lanterns over the circular bar and white-washed brick interiors decorated with local artwork.
A long way from a typical hotel bar, Sable Kitchen in Chicago (attached to the glitzy Hotel Palomar) is sleek, modern and highly sophisticated. The vibe is clean but retro, with a menu focusing on drinks taking you back to the ‘30s and ‘40s. The downtown location, just blocks from the theatre district, fills the 40-foot bar with play-going patrons on weekends and thirsty suits on the weekdays. The menu, which is broken down into “lines,” ranges from globally inspired sips (using coconut milk and pisco) to drinks mixed with beer and locally sourced, farm to table ingredients. Our favorite is the Radler Square – made with Aviation gin, grapefruit, tarragon syrup, absinthe and Becks. Another great one to try is the 6th & Sirene, a slightly sweet and citrusy cocktail made with local North Shore #6 gin, sirene, amaretto, lemon and honey.
Beyond the glitz, the glamour and the neon flashing lights of Las Vegas’ strip sits the Velveeteen Rabbit, a posh specialty cocktail bar situated in the trendy Arts district. Founded by two sisters who found their way back to the Vegas desert after years abroad, the drinks are all inspired by places they’ve been and feature exotic ingredients to boot, like black sesame ink, angostura, black walnut bitters, apple butter and east India sherry. The menu changes seasonally and the bartenders are always up to the challenge of making anything off the menu. The vibe is laid back, relaxing and eclectic, with an outdoor patio area boasting a stage for live presentations, local art hanging on the walls and vintage couches and cocktail tables.