10 Best Cocktail Cities in America, According to Bartenders

We'll toast to these destinations any time.

<p>Don Eim/Travel + Leisure</p>

Don Eim/Travel + Leisure

Sure, you can get a good cocktail just about anywhere. But what about a great one? For that, you may have to travel. The U.S. is filled with fantastic cities offering stellar bars home to bartenders ready to whip up your preferred cocktail. But, rather than take our word for it, we asked some of the nation's best bartenders to share their favorite cocktail cities — and the bars you should be visiting in each. Here are 10 cities that are perfect for your next spirits-driven escape.

Los Angeles

<p>Tobiah Lui/Travel + Leisure</p>

Tobiah Lui/Travel + Leisure

When asking bartenders for their favorite cocktail cities, Los Angeles came up more than once, thanks to its inventive spirit and diverse tastes.

"It's a beautiful thing to watch the people who inspired me when I was first coming up in the industry push the levels of cocktailing and now create a new legacy in the city," Phil Collins, the beverage director of TableOne Hospitality and the beverage director for the forthcoming contemporary Japanese restaurant Kin Gin in New York City, shared. "This generation of our industry goes beyond making cocktails. They're true tastemakers reinvigorating the industry in a beautiful way." Though he hasn't been personally, Collins says he's "most excited to check out Accomplice Bar. Ramsey Musk is really pushing the cocktail scene to embrace its fun-ness while still pushing creativity to the next level."

Dana Lachenmayer, head bartender at The Wesley in New York, concurs with Collins, adding that Los Angeles, with heavy influence from Mexico, Japan, and the Philippines, has a robust and eclectic bar scene that makes for a fantastic cocktail destination. "Highlights include Thunderbolt, the SoCal neighborhood bar that is playful, technique-driven, and imbued with sunshine. And The Maybourne, a sister bar to the iconic Connaught Bar in London, brings a chicer, upscale vibe with a symphony of expertly orchestrated cocktails."

New Orleans

<p>Kaitlyn Holeman/Getty Images</p>

Kaitlyn Holeman/Getty Images

Great food, great music, and fantastic cocktails — New Orleans has it all. "New Orleans is one of my favorites as it is synonymous with music, specifically jazz, blues, and funk. It is also a food lover's paradise with a distinctive culinary scene, especially Creole and Cajun cuisines," said Amir Babayoff, the head bartender at Ophelia in New York City. And while the city is perhaps most well-known to travelers for its fantastic events and festivals, including Tales of the Cocktail, Babayoff noted that you can always get a great drink, no matter the time of year, at some of the city's most iconic bars.

"Lafitte's in New Orleans beckons with its historic charm, serving timeless favorites like the sazerac in a candlelit ambiance steeped in the city's rich cocktail history. Sitting in the French Quarter, it is said to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States, dating back to the early 18th century. The bar's name comes from the pirate Jean Lafitte, who was rumored to have used the building for smuggling and piracy."

New York City

<p>AJ Sharma/Travel + Leisure</p>

AJ Sharma/Travel + Leisure

Come on. You didn't think we'd make a list of the best cocktail cities in the U.S. and not include New York City, did you?

"New York City still tops the list for me," Cody Pruitt, manager and beverage director of Libertine, shared. "Mace's approach to ingredients and techniques is still captivating; Overstory is the perfect specimen of fine dining meets ridiculous, clever, and delicious cocktails; Katana Kitten is the ultimate party bar that just so happens to have perfect drinks; Sunken Harbor Club is the best amalgam of technique, Tiki, and escapism ever created; and Long Island Bar is just where I want to be 23 hours out of every single day."

Joey Smith, the bar director at Chez Zou, agreed, stating, "I know I live here, so I am biased, but the reality is that New York really has cemented itself at the center of cocktail culture worldwide. The attitude here is just different. The hospitality is world-class, and the creative talent pool here is just overflowing with great people with innovative ideas." A few of Smith's favorites overlapped with Pruitt's, including Sunken Harbor Club and Overstory, so you know both are top-notch picks.

Related: 22 Iconic Restaurants in New York City

San Diego

<p>Chelsea Loren/Travel + Leisure</p>

Chelsea Loren/Travel + Leisure

South of Los Angeles, San Diego is another California city worthy of cocktail acclaim.

"Another great cocktail city that gets even less love than cities like San Francisco is San Diego," Ray Sakover, the founder and head bartender of NYC's Paradise Lost, said. "San Diego's cocktail scene over the past 10 to 15 years has blown up to become a vibrant dining and cocktail city." Sakover's favorites include False Idol, which he called "one of my favorite bars ever," along with long-standing spots like Craft & Commerce and Polite Provisions. "There is no shortage of world-class cocktail bars in San Diego these days."


<p>Stephanie Pollak/Travel + Leisure</p>

Stephanie Pollak/Travel + Leisure

Miami is one more spot on the list that seemingly has it all — including plenty of sun and a food and drink scene that puts Latin flavor at the forefront.

“In Miami, beachside bars offer tropical concoctions in a buzzing, cosmopolitan atmosphere, blending Latin flair with modern mixology trends," Babayoff said. "The culinary scene in Miami is vibrant and diverse, reflecting the city's rich cultural influences from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. Sweet Liberty in Miami earns its acclaim with a dynamic mix of classic and innovative cocktails in a lively, art deco-inspired setting, making it a beacon of Miami's vibrant cocktail culture.”


<p>ANDREY DENISYUK/Getty Images</p>


It's not just the coastal cities that have all the fun. Several of the bartenders we reached out to said that Chicago is elevating the entire Midwest region into a must-visit area for great drinks.

"When it comes to Chicago, whether you want an extremely casual experience, a sweaty dance floor, or the most high-brow room, you can always find a spot that'll give you that while also offering a standout cocktail program," Giulia Dwight, the beverage manager at Cucina Alba in New York, noted.

Alex Dominguez, the head bartender at New York City's Bar Calico, agreed, adding, "Chicago, similarly to New York City, is diverse, vast, and has eclectic offerings. A metropolis of creative people, some of the best food and beverage professionals in the country gather here to open up amazing programs. Of note, the Milk Room is one of the most unique bars in the country, featuring hard-to-get and vintage spirits to recreate old-timey cocktails."


<p>John Coletti/Getty Images</p>

John Coletti/Getty Images

Gary Wallach, the owner and co-founding partner of New York's Renwick Hospitality Group, had one place to shout out: Denver.

“I had a blast exploring Denver, Colorado’s cocktail scene. I loved how they embraced the local flavors and ingredients and didn't try to imitate larger cities' offerings while nailing their concepts and themes. Within just a few blocks, you could choose different cuisines that matched their concepts, wine lists, and more.” Need a recommendation? You can never go wrong at The Yacht Club or Lady Jane's.

San Francisco

<p>Don Eim/Travel + Leisure</p>

Don Eim/Travel + Leisure

The state of California got one more nod from several of our bartenders. "San Francisco is one of my favorite cities to drink cocktails, and for good reason," Sakover said. "Before I came to New York, I lived in The Bay Area for a few years, and that is where I first fell in love with cocktails. Not only was San Francisco at the forefront of the cocktail revival in the early '00s, with contributions from bars and restaurants such as Absinthe, Bourbon & Branch, and Tommy's (famous for the Tommy's margarita), but the Bay Area is historically known for its great bars. From Buena Vista (home of the Irish coffee) to Trader Vic's, and many others."

Shiva Thapa, the head bartender at Chef Tyler Florence's Miller & Lux, concurred, adding, "I may be biased because I live here, but I love the energy of San Francisco's cocktail scene. We have access to an abundance of fresh ingredients and embrace a range of global influences. Part of the modern craft cocktail movement, this is one of the best cities to visit for some incredible drinks."

Washington, D.C.

<p>RiverNorthPhotography/Getty Images</p>

RiverNorthPhotography/Getty Images

Need a drink in the nation's capital? There are plenty of spots to check out.

"In D.C., you experience the capital's cocktail culture amid historic landmarks and chic lounges," Babayoff explained. "At the same time, the mixology scene offers a refined touch with classic twists and innovative cocktails, causing a very elegant feel. Here, Amazonia Bar captivates with its fusion of Peruvian and Amazonian flavors. The atmosphere is very relaxed, their crew is extremely skilled, professional, and welcoming, and their pisco selection is extensive."

Bentonville, Arkansas

<p>Jeremy Mason McGraw/Getty Images</p>

Jeremy Mason McGraw/Getty Images

Dominguez wanted to toss out one more surprise destination for your drinking pleasure.

“Wild-card entry, but Bentonville, Arkansas is starting to get into the cocktail scene and surprisingly had great cocktail bars with a standout being Scotch and Soda," he said. "It is amazing to see advanced techniques like fat washing and milk punches making their way into smaller American cities. It is a fast-growing city, and with so many people moving into it, I can see the food and beverage scene flourishing further.”

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