Best Restaurants 2011: Handcrafted Cocktails
Fresh: Like fresh fruit, ingredients go bad if they're not used. Syrup: It's homemade. Infused: Why buy prepackaged vanilla vodka? Great bars put vanilla beans in a bottle and serve their own. Fail: Order an appletini, and a good cocktail bar will try to talk you into a better drink that you will end up loving more.
INGREDIENTS: Bombay Sapphire Gin, lime juice, pineapple juice, Thai chili syrup INSPIRATION: "I was watching Apocalypse Now, the Redux release," says mixologist Chris Flood. "I thought about what I'd want to drink before going to war and mowing a bunch of people down with a machine gun. This is it." MIXOLOGY: "The drink starts out sweet but has a fiery kick. Not a Tabasco kick, but a cinnamon burn," Flood says. The Singapore Redux is a simplified version of the classic Singapore Sling. Bác has many classic-inspired cocktails, but Flood prefers to update each drink with a subtle modern touch, often substituting an ingredient or two (such as hazelnut ginger syrup or lychee juice), especially to add an Asian touch. These drinks will revive the love affair you once had with those old flames.
2661 W. 14th St., Cleveland, 216-938-8960, bactremont.com
INGREDIENTS: Brandied cherries, Hendrick's Gin, lime, bitters, Damascan Rose Elixir INSPIRATION: "This is our take on the gin and lime rickey, but it tastes cleaner, more refreshing and like something you wouldn't find anywhere else in Cleveland," says general manager John Williams. MIXOLOGY: "This drink has a lot of ingredients in it. It also has a lot of flair in presentation because it does get set on fire," Williams says. "The reason it works, though, is because it is so clean. ... It is a drink you will crave." You'll see thoughtful concoctions at Zinc with a drink lineup that shifts with the seasons and syncs with the menu. Always expect at least one surprising ingredient, such as the rose elixir in the Zinc Rickey, or freshly squeezed juices that go beyond basic citruses, such as raspberry and blackberry.
668 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-583-9462, zinccleveland.com
INGREDIENTS: Pimm's, lemon, lime, simple syrup, ginger beer (mint and strawberries are added when in season) INSPIRATION: A classic cocktail created in 1823 by James Pimm, who infused gin with fruit and added some sweet touches to the otherwise bitter liquor. MIXOLOGY: "It works because it appeals to so many," says mixologist Kindra Pucci. "Women love it because it has a fruit taste to it and it has a beautiful aesthetic. Men love it because it has a strong kick. It's a drink that will surprise you each time you order one." Dragonfly has many classic cocktails done without variation from the original recipes and a few house drinks crafted with high-quality ingredients and artisan touches. You'll love the Monte Carlo Sour, with red wine sitting atop the cocktail. Sip the red wine directly off the top rather than mixing it in.
1865 W. 25th St., Cleveland, 216-696-7774, dragonflycleveland.com
INGREDIENTS: Belvedere Bloody Mary Vodka, dill and cracked pepper syrup, aloe, dill, lemon, tonic INSPIRATION: The nearby West Side Market serves as the muse for this drink and others on Speakeasy's cocktail menu, says Matthew Stipe, assistant general manager and head bar chef. "Everyone uses fruit. I go to every booth." He looks at vegetables and herbs you might not think of as cocktail material. MIXOLOGY: "It feels fresh. It feels healthy. In old cocktail books, you'll see health cures. This goes back to that. It's like a faux tonic." Fresh herbs and spices mingle with other nontraditional cocktail ingredients on Speakeasy's menu. On the bar, you'll see a line of seasonings alongside the liquors (dill is Stipe's favorite). Speakeasy also serves classic pre-prohibition cocktails and has well-trained bartenders who will create drinks on the spot.
1948 W. 25th St., Cleveland, 216-274-1010, speakeasy216.com