The success of new hot spots like Gin Palace in New York City signals a rise in the popularity of bars devoted to a single spirit. Modern cocktail bars may stock a dazzling variety of booze that's shaken and stirred every which way but loose, yet there's something to be said for a specialist. Here are five of our favorite single-minded spirit bars.
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Name: Longman & Eagle
Specializes in: Much to our wallet-clenching chagrin, many whiskey and bourbon bars put their brown hooch on a pedestal, both literally and figuratively: By charging elevated prices, the bars ensure that the spirits will remain little more than top-shelf decorative objects. Not so at Chicago's Longman & Eagle, where 38 whiskeys and bourbons are sold at a scant $3 a shot, including winners such as spicy Rittenhouse Rye and the smooth, wheated W.L. Special Reserve.
What to order: Grab the rotating house flight, featuring L&E whiskey maestro Johnny Hollywood's personal picks, including rarities such as Parker's Golden Anniversary Bourbon and Black Maple Hill's limited-edition, 16-year-old bourbon.
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Name: Smuggler's Cove
Location: San Francisco
Specializes in: At this clandestine, tiki-flavored cocktail bar, top menu billing is reserved for rum, that historical spirit that once alleviated the sobriety of pirates, sailors, and American colonists alike. Here, around 200 rums are available for sampling or, even better, incorporated into one of the complex tiki drinks, classic Caribbean concoctions, or tipples from Prohibition-era Havana.
What to order: Try Eurydice, the bar's exclusive rum crafted by the Bay Area's St. George Spirits from the fresh-pressed juice of California-grown sugarcane. If mixed drinks are on your mind, opt for a bracing daiquiri or a zombie that'll knock your socks off.
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Name: SubZero Vodka Bar
Location: St. Louis
Specializes in: If there's a vodka distilled somewhere in the world, chances are it's chilling at St. Louis' SubZero. The bar boasts a head-spinning selection of 500-plus vodkas culled from around 30 countries, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and even China—care for a shot of iced Han?
What to order: The shrimp-garnished Sushi Mary will soothe morning-after aches, as will the peachy Romanoff Bellini, but we recommend bellying up to the ice-coated 28-foot-long bar and working your way through a flight or two of the clear stuff.
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Name: The Shanty
Specializes in: By day, the Brooklyn-based New York Distilling Company fires up its distillation column and concocts gins of uncommon flavor, such as the Dorothy Parker, which is spiced with elderberries, juniper, hibiscus, citrus, and cinnamon and possesses uncommon strength: Perry's Tot is a navy-strength gin registering a potent 114 proof. By night, the distillery opens its handsome adjoining bar, the Shanty, and uses its gin in numerous compulsively drinkable cocktails. P.S. President and cofounder Tom Potter was one of the original founders of the Brooklyn Brewery.
What to order: Select the Acerbic Mrs. Parker, which unites Dorothy Parker with lemon and hibiscus syrup, or keep it simple with a Brooklyn Lager paired with a shot of pink gin blended with bitters and Campari.
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Name: La Biblioteca de Tequila
Specializes in: Secreted underneath Richard Sandoval's massive Latin-Asian restaurant Zengo is a sultry candlelit "library," which is stocked not with paper tomes but instead with an encyclopedic array of 400-plus carefully curated tequilas and mezcals. The spirits list counts numerous small-batch and artisanal producers, such as Casa Noble and Del Maguey, whose agave creations rarely travel north of the border.
What to order: A deep, wide selection of tequilas and mezcals allows La Biblioteca to offer a range of unique spirits flights. Try a trio of tequilas aged in different oak barrels, distilled multiple times or perhaps cooked in traditional ovens.
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—Joshua M. Bernstein (@JoshMBernstein) is a Brooklyn-based journalist and the author of Brewed Awakening: Behind the Beers and Brewers Leading the World's Craft Brewing Revolution.
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