Start or end an evening on the town with a well-thought-out beverage. Here are our top nine cocktail bar selections, in no particular order:
The cocktail program at Crepe Cellar was perfected by self-taught cocktail creator Colleen Hughes. Look for both riffs on classic cocktails and cocktails that are being turned into sensory experiences with ingredients like essential oils. “As opposed to it just being a drink,” Hughes said, “it’s a sensation, along with a drink.”
Pro tip: You can also find Colleen’s cocktails down the street at Haberdish.
3116 N. Davidson St.
Experience hand-crafted cocktails at Stoke Charlotte’s sleek dining area and bar inside the revamped Marriott City Center. The libations menu features a list of cocktail styles including stirred, shaken, poured and pressed. Here’s what Observer food writer Kathleen Purvis had to say about the pressed cocktails at Stoke when it first opened: “Built in a French press, it’s actually cold (although I bet this winter will bring a hot version), with tea, a little alcohol, fruit and club soda. The nice thing is that it’s low in alcohol, not cloyingly sweet, and large enough to serve two.”
Pro tip: Order the Stoke house pretzel brioche with whipped butter to split while you sip.
100 W. Trade St.
The key players behind 5Church, Alejandro Torio, Patrick Whalen and Chef Jamie Lynch, opened this upscale bar and lounge right next door to the restaurant. They teamed up with a Charleston mixologist to bring the chic lounge to the ground level of The Ivey’s hotel, complete with vintage touches, a Parisian flair, food, drinks and craft cocktails.
Pro tip: Have a seat on a velvet sofa and admire the expensive art while you drink.
127 N. Tryon St., Suite D.
First, you’ll need to buy a $10 membership before you venture through the door of this cocktail parlor envisioned by Conrad Hunter (owner of Foxcroft Wine Co.) and Stefan Huebner (formerly of Cosmos Cafe and Heist Brewery) in Park Road Shopping Center’s Backlot. Second, you’ll need to grab a seat in the low-lit dining area or expansive bar and try a craft cocktail. Huebner’s aim was to innovate with this culinary-driven bar. He said, “You’re going to come in and have cocktails and then have a little bit of food to nosh on.”
Pro tip: Try the Truffle New York Sour, crafted with Kentucky bourbon, orange liqueur, truffle egg white, house sweet and sour, and ruby port.
4101 Park Road, #260B
Here, on the 15th floor of the Ritz-Carlton, bartender Bob Peters’ concoctions sound like magical elixirs. A dash of exotic bitters here, a splash of infused syrup there, now carbonate this and smoke that. Watching Peters behind the bar feels like getting a glimpse of a mad scientist in his laboratory.
Pro tip: Tell the bartender the tastes you like, and see what gets whipped up. Surprise yourself.
201 East Trade St.
This elegant, art-infused space within The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge features an array of wines, single malt Scotches, whiskeys and cocktails. Hint: Gallery holds more than 200 distinctive whiskeys.
Pro tip: You can also order off the complete Gallery Restaurant menu here, featuring a progressively Southern approach to new American cuisine with an upscale spin.
10000 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy.
Sip a cocktail in this remodeled, 1928 structure that features a bright, industrial-chic vibe with Edison bulbs and a metal and glass chandelier that dangles from the second floor. 204 North has the kind of casual atmosphere where someone in a T-shirt could be sitting at a table next to someone in a sport coat — and both can be drinking a signature or draft cocktail.
Pro tip: Try a cocktail with a neighborhood name. Do you ever wonder what “Dilworth” tastes like?
204 N. Tryon St.
This speakeasy-style space holds a soft, golden glow and an air of exclusivity due to its limited seating. Opt for an extravagant cocktail, whether you’re in the mood for a Moscow mule or a signature mix.
Pro tip: Don’t just come for the drinks. Try the gastropub fare on the chef-driven menu.
330 N. Tryon St.
This relaxed space is intended to invoke a warm, familiar vibe (think leather-couch seating). The bar serves up handcrafted spirits made at Great Wagon Road Distilling Company next door, as well as spirits from around the globe.
Pro tip: This is a private club. Join here for just $1.
227 Southside Dr.
Happy drinking. Make it delectable.
Photos: Arody Victoria, Molly Mathis/Charlotte Observer, James Fedele, Robert Lahser/Charlotte Observer, Gallery Restaurant
Reporting contributed by Katie Toussaint, Michelle Boudin, Kathleen Purvis and Sarah Crosland.