From throwback dives to punch-du-jour palaces, these Southern establishments are doing cocktails right
1. The Apothecary at Brent’s Drugs
Don’t be surprised if you see people streaming in and out of Brent’s Drugs late on a weekend night, after the drugstore turned diner has officially closed. Past the soda fountain in the retro front room is the Apothecary, where dim lighting and a marble countertop evoke a bygone era. Unmarked and scarcely advertised, the speakeasy-style bar offers proof that the cocktail revolution has spread to all corners of the South, bringing gourmet sliders and five-ingredient drinks even to this former pharmaceutical storage room.
2. Cane and Table
New Orleans, LA
On the lip of the Caribbean, New Orleans has been a rum-washed town since long before Pat O’Brien poured the first hurricane. Cane and Table, the latest project from the team behind Cure and Bellocq, celebrates the city’s West Indies heritage with rum cocktails that range from citrus-based colonial-era stirred drinks and punches to tiki drinks of more recent vintage. The menu follows suit, with fish dishes and Caribbean stews that would have pleased the pirates and planters who once steered their ships in and out of the port.
3. The Ice Plant
St. Augustine, FL
In the 1920s, the building housed a factory that produced the ice that chilled local seafood for shipping. Today it’s an airy bar and restaurant where bartenders chisel three-hundred-pound frozen blocks into four varieties of ice—shaved, rocks, long rocks, and spheres—that cool down Sunshine State–inspired cocktails such as the Florida Mule, with Tampa-made Cane vodka, and the Red Bandana, spiced with St. Augustine’s famous datil peppers.
4. Josephine House
At this sun-bathed suburban bungalow in the historic Clarksville neighborhood, the servers are impeccably uniformed, a leafy oak shades the patio, and the food and cocktails are clean and seasonal. Try the spiced apple toddy with calvados, maple syrup, apple juice, apple bitters, and Chinese five spice bitters, or sip a classic sparkling wine cocktail. Nibble on a cheese plate or a bowl of hand-cut noodles. And enjoy the Hill Country breezes drifting across the yard.
5. Kimball House
Miles Macquarrie, formerly of Leon’s Full Service, is one of Atlanta’s most respected bartenders. Now he’s carrying the torch for craft cocktails as a partner at a refined new venue that would have fit right in at the nineteenth-century hotel for which it’s named. Each drink at Kimball House includes at least one ingredient concocted on- site, such as a juniper tincture or a coconut cordial, and arrives in a vessel from the bar’s collection of vintage glassware. To complement your cocktail, the extensive oyster menu features dozens of domestic varieties, including Virginia’s Rappahannock River oysters.
6. Mockingbird Hill
With all the ongoing attention to the drinks of yesteryear, aperitifs such as Madeira, port, and sherry are returning to bar menus. And no one is quite as serious about bringing fortified wine back to American glasses as veteran bartender and restaurateur Derek Brown, whose outpost in the up-and-coming Shaw neighborhood is inspired by an age-old Spanish pairing: ham and sherry. Come for the library of imported sherries poured by whip-smart bartenders; stay for a selection of domestic ham that draws heavily from D.C. and the surrounding states.
7. Paper Plane
With cozy leather-lined booths, wood-paneled walls, and sleek countertops, Paper Plane is an intimate cocktail bar with a clubby midcentury aesthetic and a strong emphasis on service. Head bartender Paul Calvert, a fixture on the Atlanta bar scene, serves the kind of sophisticated drinks your grandfather would’ve appreciated, paired with plates of farm-fresh short ribs, rack of lamb, and seasonal sides served à la carte. Thanks to the establishment’s limited capacity—the bar holds about sixty people at a time—and laid-back atmosphere, you’ll never have to work to get your bartender’s attention.
8. The Pastry War
Take note, bourbon fans. Shots have been fired down in Texas, where bartenders Bobby Heugel and Alba Huerta have opened a tequila bar that may finally earn one of the Lone Star State’s favorite spirits a place alongside whiskey in the South’s pantheon of liquor. Eschewing many of the big-name brands in favor of small-batch tequilas and mescals, including vintage bottles of Herradura Blanco and Del Maguey that command Pappy-high prices, the team mixes creative seasonal margaritas like habanero and mango, and brews house- made tepache from fermented pineapples.
9. 2 Birds 1 Stone
Every week, Adam Bernbach hand-draws a new menu for his discreet cocktail bar tucked beneath the popular Doi Moi restaurant. His illustrations, combined with the vintage glassware he sources personally, fuel the unpretentious vibe that makes 2 Birds 1 Stone feel like a cocktail party thrown by a friend who just happens to have worked in some of the city’s best watering holes. In addition to a daily punch that nods to the season—ale-based in winter, fruit-based blends when the weather heats up— Bernbach serves up house-made cordials and sodas, and one heck of a lime rickey (gin, lime juice, and carbonated water), D.C.’s signature cocktail.
In food-crazed Charleston, a roster of creative snacks is especially appreciated, and Warehouse has some of the city’s best. Think pimento cheese on pork rinds, confit wings paired with ramp-tinged ranch dressing, and grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with brisket, house-made horsey sauce, and candied pieces of North Carolina bacon. Add cocktails like the popular Dirt Nap, with fernet menta and rye, outstanding beer-based shandies, and tables for foosball, pool, and shuffleboard, and you have a clubhouse fit for foodies and cocktail enthusiasts alike.