Yaletown Distillery Bar: Vancouver
In the 1980s and 90s, Vancouver had a reputation as a somewhat sleepy city. Fast forward and Vancouver is one of the most cosmopolitan and sought-after cities in which to live. Although Vancouver's boom is not without its disadvantages (don't even think of buying a home there), the city's natural beauty is accompanied by a lively restaurant and bar scene. We can recommend several bars in Vancouver, but Yaletown Distillery is a good under-the-radar pick.
Yaletown Distillery, not to be confused with its sister establishment, Yaletown Brewery, attracts a more interesting crowd than other bars in Vancouver's posh Yaletown neighborhood. This bar/restaurant is in a large and inviting space that consciously evokes an earlier era (think Sinatra, or at least Dean Martin). Most important, it distills its own vodka and gin and offers several interesting infusions.
We visited in the early evening and consequently passed on the infusions. M had an old-fashioned (naturally), followed by the Godfather whereas R had the Screaming Viking and a Vancouver. All of the drinks were excellent, although we could not agree whether it is acceptable to drink a city's namesake drink upon visiting it.
One final piece of advice for visitors to Vancouver: skip the damn Gastown steam clock. A few minutes by it and you'll need to buy Advil at Shoppers.
Mandarin Bar: Las Vegas
We did say that Vegas is very special to us . . .
To M, Mandarin Oriental Hotels evoke images of jet-setting cosmopolitans nibbling on caviar, even though he had never actually been in one. R had a similar perception and recently learned that the Mandarin in Las Vegas contains a vending machine that dispenses champagne. Somewhere a Frenchman is crying.
We did not sample any vended Champagne; we did, however, try some of the creative cocktails at the Mandarin Bar, which also offers beautiful views of the Las Vegas Strip. M drank a surprisingly strong Smoke and Mirrors, and R had the colorful "Lucky Rooster." The prices are high but well worth it if one is seeking an atypical Las Vegas experience and/or needs to escape from the stultifying heat. The bar is lovely and largely empty from 4-6PM but bustles later as tourists (some wearing flip-flops?!) engage in an elaborate game of musical chairs in order to secure the best "selfie" spot by the window.
Planter's House: St. Louis
R was not enthused about traveling to St. Louis. It may now be one of her favorite under-the-radar cities because of the breath-taking photography opportunities and thriving cocktail bar scene. Just don't expect her to sample St. Louis's famous (infamous?) Provel cheese.
We visited Planter's House during a severe rainstorm and were able to while away a couple of hours at its cozy bar. What sets Planter's apart from St. Louis's other outstanding cocktail bars is its lovely, meticulously restored historical building. R had the Party, Hardy Marty to start, made with Cumin-Cilantro Infused Pisco Porton. She then proceeded to "In a Pickle," which is far more elegant than the name implies and also happens to taste of delicious dill. M enjoyed the Slope, a cocktail originally introduced in 2008 at New York's Flatiron Lounge, and then turned to the Whiskey Business, which is not only a stellar pun but contains just the right amount of ancho reyes.
Needless to say, Planter's House is a serious cocktail bar that also happens to hold amazing events, such as a tribute to the Tom Bullock, the first African-American to publish his own cocktail book. Planter's House will always live in Love & Bitters lore because, thanks to its delicious and strong cocktails, we conceived of the idea to start up a cocktail bar blog.
Licorera Limantour: Mexico City
We had two goals prior to embarking for Mexico City. The first was to sample some fine libations (particularly Mezcals) and the second was to avoid becoming those tourists who complain of becoming ill in Mexico. Well, one out of two isn't terrible.
There is hardly a bar in Mexico City that doesn't offer several excellent tequilas and mezcals. Licorera Limantour, located in Mexico City's fashionable Roma neighborhood, is a different kind of establishment that would fit in quite well in San Francisco or NYC. It specializes in elegantly-presented cocktails, frequently made with fresh fruit and/or herbs. M had a tangy matcha-based whiskey cocktail, whereas R drank something delicious out of a planter (she can't recall exactly what; her high school Spanish may be rusty). Licorera rightly appears on many "best of " lists for its unique concoctions so don't stop by expecting bartenders in suspenders to sling you prohibition-era drinks.
There is also a limited food menu that we sadly did not sample for reasons implied above.
Libertine: Las Vegas
When most people think of Las Vegas, they think of bachelor/bachelorette parties and tourists, sometimes sporting fanny packs, drinking out of souvenir glasses on the famous Strip. While this is indeed one aspect of the city, the beauty of Las Vegas is that it allows one to engage in both low and high brow tastes.
This is doubly true when it comes to drinking. Yes, you can play beer pong at certain casinos or throw back shots at the various pool bacchanals. But you would be missing out on Las Vegas's remarkable cocktail scene, and some of the best (and friendliest) bartenders in the United States.
One of our favorite on-strip cocktail bars is Libertine Social, which was opened relatively recently in the Mandalay Bay. Libertine has a famous chef and possibly even more famous chief mixologist. We did not know any of this when we dropped by for the first time and sat down at Arcade, its homey back bar (Arcade was closed for private events during subsequent visits). R sipped on a cinnamon-infused drink called the Cable Car whereas M had a Bobby Burns. For those with more tropical tastes, the "swizzles" may be worth a try. Even the ice cubes are fetching at Libertine.
Libertine also sells pre-made cocktails in soda bottles that would probably make better souvenirs than those Eiffel Tower monstrosities.
Peche: Austin (AKA Williamsburg South)
Austin is known for many things: live music, quasi-ironic facial hair, and a university with a terrible football and basketball team.
We like to kid Austin, but it is an exciting place to be - just ask anyone who moved there in the last two years and now grumbles about all of the tourists.
Austin has some truly amazing cocktail bars. One of our favorites is Peche, which specializes in absinthe-based drinks. We recommend visiting during happy hour when certain cocktails are $5. You can't go wrong with the Sazerac, Fig Manhattan, or Hummingbird.
And you absolutely must try the deviled eggs. Just make sure to wipe the paprika off of your mustache afterwards. Anything less would be uncivilized.
Little Rascal: New York City
R was born and raised in New York City, and M spent most of his adult life there. NYC's cocktail scene has been booming since the opening of Milk & Honey, and the Lower East Side in particular has many cocktail bars that we would recommend. Unfortunately, many of these bars tend to get crowded, and sometimes you don't feel like waiting ten minutes for a drink while the chap next to you to finishes impressing the bartender with his knowledge of fernet.
Little Rascal isn't a cocktail bar; it's more of a bar/restaurant near Little Italy (don't get R started on Little Italy and its aggressive tourist-accosting restaurant hosts). While we can't speak to the Little Rascal's food, we very much enjoyed our $7 cocktails when we visited for happy hour recently. M drank a tea and whiskey cocktail; R had a apricot Sangria that was served in a VERY large glass. The staff were also much more stylish than either of us.
SoBou is easy to overlook among all the chaos in New Orleans. It's inside the W Hotel on Chartres street in New Orleans' French Quarter. We do not recommend the hotel (we made a friend named Bob during our 4-day stay; unfortunately Bob is a cockroach). However, SoBou itself is fantastic.
SoBou shares the same owners as the landmark Commander's Palace but is designed for a younger, trendier clientele. The happy hour and brunch (25 cent martinis) are of unparalleled value. R found the Georgia O'Keefe especially refreshing on a muggy day and may or may not have tried SoBou's award-winning Parakeet Nordine.
No, we did not misspell the title of our first full post.
We had the good fortune to spend Christmas in London this past year. We stayed at the Mondrian Sea Containers, which is a fantastic hotel with an even more fantastic cocktail bar named Dandelyan. The name Dandelyan derives from the famed mixologist and owner Mr. Lyan.
Dandelyan is frequently rated among the best cocktail bars in the world and is known for the inventiveness of its cocktails. The menu changes seasonally, but during our visit, we were impressed not only by the cocktails but also the quality of the food. Because many London restaurants close for the holidays or serve extremely limited menus, we spent as much time eating at Dandelyan as we did drinking there. We cannot recommend Dandelyan enough, especially if you are on London's South Bank.
One particular highpoint: M imbibed a variation on a Sazerac that apparently contained traces of embalming fluid. R was not amused.
Welcome to Love & Bitters
"Love & Bitters" will feature cocktail bars that we have frequented while traveling. M is an academic who is partial to dark liquors; R is a photographer who likes lighter spirits. We enjoy craft cocktails but not using the term "craft cocktails." If you're in any of these cities, consider stopping by these establishments. No need to say that we sent you.
This blog is purely for entertainment and informational purposes; no one is paying us or comping M's old-fashioneds.
All photography courtesy of RebeccaDalePhotography.