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Bar Watch 2014: The 11 Most Exciting Venues Opening Now

Here's a little-known drinking man's fact: February—not January—is the beginning of the new bar season, as any place that could have opened before the holidays would have done so to capture all those office-party gigs. Now that it's time to step back and take note of all the new spots opening, we'll survey the well-entrenched trends and take note of soon-to-be bar-scene staples. This past year, we've seen bigger and better cocktail bars are popping up in smaller U.S. cities just as smaller neighborhood cocktail bars are opening in bigger cities. Bar owners seem to be downplaying the pretention that dominated speakeasy bars and are offering shorter and more approachable cocktail lists. But there is a continuing focus on locally-made everything, craft distilling, barrel-aging, and offering cocktails on draft. Below, the 11 venues we're most excited to fall off a stool at visit.

Melrose Umbrella Co., Los Angeles, California (pictured above)
Opening: February 2014
The Place: This "post-Prohibition cocktail bar" in the Melrose shopping district is chock full of distressed accessories including a fireplace (for those freezing L.A. nights), tile ceilings, and a back bar made from an apothecary cabinet. Primarily a drink-focused spot, they'll also serve grilled cheese sandwiches and salads from the restaurant next door, and offer live music on Tuesdays. At launch they'll have five cocktails on draft plus a small drink menu that rotates frequently. Sometime down the road, the menu will morph into a larger book including everything from tiki drinks to tincture-focused concoctions and modern/molecular cocktails.
The Pedigree: Consider it a supergroup—the bar program is overseen by co-owner Zach Patterson (Bagatelle, Black Market Liquor Bar), with a little help from his friends who happen to include Julian Cox (Comme ça, Rivera), Josh Goldman (Sotto, Acabar) and Paul Sanguinetti (Stark Bar at LACMA). Or just call it barmonic convergence.

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Sweetwater Social, New York, NY
Opening: February 2014
The Place: Increasingly, cocktail bars are beginning to resemble what we would have just called "bars" a decade ago. Forthcoming East Village spot Sweetwater Social will have foosball and shuffleboard tables and televisions showing sports (without sound). They'll serve what they refer to as "sophisticated street food" and offer a drink list drawn as a subway map with cocktail ingredients from different neighborhoods—the Sweet Plantain Old Fashioned, for example, corresponds to a stop in Spanish Harlem. The bar is an ode to New York, which shouldn't be that hard to execute given its location.
The Pedigree: Tim Cooper, Sweetwater Social's co-beverage director/part-owner/bartender, has held down the fort at the shiny nightlife stalwart Goldbar for the past seven years.

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Jsix, San Diego, California
Opening: February 2014
The Place: Located in San Diego's East Village, Jsix (the address is 616 J Street) is a bar-centric restaurant serving food "stripped of unnecessary complexities" alongside cocktails dedicated to different regions of the U.S. So you can order a Hunt & Gather and get a drink made with cedar-infused Aviation gin and Oregon pinot noir—as tribute to the Northwest. Or try the spectacularly named High 5 with Mittens, a Midwest tribute, which is a mashup of a Ramos Gin Fizz and Root Beer Float using Death's Door white whiskey and Wisconsin heavy cream. Nice.
The Pedigree: Lead bartender Nate Howell moved over from Cusp Dining & Drinks in La Jolla, after building his career in Chicago's Sable.

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Half Step, Austin, Texas
Opening: February 4th, 2014 The Place: Austin's Rainey Street District will host this bar—in a single-family bungalow. Inside you'll find tin ceilings, beer stored in a bathtub, and a stainless steel bar serving a small list of classics with a bartender's choice option. Outdoors, as the weather improves, there will be a French petanque court, live music, and a second bar serving cocktails on tap and cooling drinks like swizzles and juleps.
The Pedigree: Half Step is backed by the team behind LA's most awarded cocktail bar The Varnish, which in turn is backed by the founders of New York's Milk & Honey and L.A.'s 213 Ventures. Chris Bostick, the Varnish's former general manager, is an Austin native who moved home to open and run it.

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Good Citizen, Seattle, Washington
Opening: February 2014
The Place: Designed to look like an apartment, the bar will be in the kitchen, with the living room area near the entrance and a dining room further up where food will be served by rotating food-truck chefs in the two-month-long residency program. To further the casual theme (flying in the face of Seattle's wave of larger, fancier venues), the bar will have a tight list of regularly-rotating cocktails on tap (and others partially pre-batched for speed), so that the bartenders and servers can spend more time talking to customers and less time de-stemming micro-chamomile.
The Pedigree: The drinks are being developed by Andrew Friedman, owner of the casual and well-loved (and well-stocked with over 600 spirits) neighborhood bar Liberty.

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Sidecar, Jacksonville, Florida
Opening: March 2014
The Place: This urban beer garden and cocktail lounge will offer 22 taps, mostly beer but also both cocktails and whiskey on tap. The menu will include three types of Sidecars: one classic, one modern (such as a favorite made with apple brandy and pepper-infused orange curacao), and a rotating guest Sidecar chosen from an on-site cocktail competition. Rounding out the list will be both classics and original drinks with an emphasis on Florida citrus—in the form of shrubs, fizzes, sours, homemade cordials, and lemon/orange/grapefruit-cellos. The design is said to represent the simplicity of the namesake drink: "bare-bones but classy."
The Pedigree: Co-owners Kurt Rogers and Matt Carson each have histories running dive bars, but Rogers gained craft cocktail experience running the programs at Orsay and Black Sheep, and Carson ran the show at DC's Tonic and The Last Exit.

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Barrel, Washington, DC
Opening: March 2014
The Place: DC's Capitol Hill restaurant Barrel will feature "Southern-inspired fat-boy food" and American whiskies and cocktails. Befitting the name, they'll be barrel-aging around ten beverages, both cocktails and infusions of spirits. The basement bar, nicknamed The Chapel due to its stained glass church window (but actually called Elixir Bar at Barrel), will feature more ambitious/progressive drinks. The bar-within-a-bar model has been successful in other cities, providing separate areas for people wanting fast drinks and those wanting fancier ones.
The Pedigree: Operator/lead bartender Nick Crutchfield has been an ambassador for Altamar Brands, bar manager at Commonwealth SkyBar, and operations guy at several big music venues.

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ABV, San Francisco, CA
Opening: March 2014
The Place: In the gentrification battleground that is San Francisco's Mission District comes a new high-volume cocktail-centric spot with bar food. But this place won't cater to the moneyed set; the owners claim they will keep prices down. What's more, the bar will be open from early afternoon until 2AM closing time to catch everyone from late-lunchers to late-night drinkers. The goal is to work with local people and products, from the muralist who painted the bar to local-only beer and wine on tap. Though the cocktail list won't focus on Scotch and mezcal, that's what the owners like to drink so there will be plenty of it lining the shelves.
The Pedigree: The bar is a collaboration between Ryan Fitzgerald, a Del Maguey mezcal brand ambassador and former bar manager of San Francisco's Beretta; Todd Smith, who launched the first cocktail menu at speakeasy-bar Bourbon & Branch; and Erik Reichborn-Kjennerud, owner of Dalva Hideout across the street.

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Double Standard, Oakland, CA
Opening: End of April 2014
The Place: The Uptown section of Oakland has become a regular nightlife hotspot as neighboring San Francisco becomes less affordable. The Double Standard, a few blocks away from Uptown, seeks to gain destineighborhood status with its huge outdoor patio surrounding three redwood trees. Indoors, the design theme is "comfortable" with dark woods, lots of mirrors and warm colors, and the cocktail program will feature a dozen or so cocktails leaning toward the classics.
The Pedigree: Owner/drinkmaker Ali Tahsini spent four of his 15 years bartending at Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco.

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Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour, Phoenix, Arizona
Opening: Early 2014
The Place: This cocktail bar built in Downtown Phoenix's first high-rise building (10 stories) will offer bar bites and a late-night food menu, DJs on the weekend, and a 23-page cocktail list with more than 50 drinks. Refreshingly, the menu will focus more on modern drinks than pre-Prohibition classics, with homemade cordials and tonics and contemporary techniques like carbonated cocktails.
The Pedigree: Proprietor and barman Ross Simon cut his bartending chops in Europe before moving to Arizona to perform various roles in the industry, from cocktail consultant to brand ambassador to distributor, as well as launching Arizona Cocktail Week.

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Julep, Kansas City, Missouri
Opening: March or April 2014
The Place: Julep will be a grand, whisky-centric bar "reflecting the charm of the south," with variations on the namesake cocktail, other classics, and original drinks. It will seat about 100 people but only serve cold food, and will have tons of standing room near the centerpiece bar. That should be enough space for all your cowboy friends to rustle up some drinks.
The Pedigree: Julep comes from Beau Williams and Keely Edgington, who are the married duo behind Hawthorn & Julep Cocktail Club, a cocktail catering service. Williams was previously head bartender at Kansas City's top cocktail bar Manifesto.

—Camper English is the cocktail columnist for Details.com and publisher of Alcademics.com.

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Also on Details.com:
A Change in Cocktail Land: Syrups Are the New Bitters
Snap, Crackle, Pop & Sip: Breakfast-Cereal Flavors Come to Cocktails
Fall Whiskey Trend Alert: Maple Is the New Honey

Photographs courtesy of respective locations.
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