Drinking is easy. Finding the right bar, not so easy. We’re here to help. As a public service to all of you thirsty explorers, every week we highlight the best bars in America and tell you what makes them so damn great. This week we’ve got a historically themed bar that’s an institution in modern California cocktail culture.
NAME: Shady Lady Saloon
ON THE JUKEBOX: Billie Holiday, The Golden Cadillacs, Harley White Jr. Orchestra
WHAT TO ORDER (NEWBIES): White Linen cocktail: gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, cucumber, simple syrup and lemon
WHAT TO ORDER (REGULARS): Seasonal Old Fashioned
WHY WE LOVE IT: If you were to walk into a brothel 100 years ago, it may have looked something like the Shady Lady Saloon: antique light fixtures, a dark wooden bar, exposed brick and black-and-white photos of topless women on the walls. But more impressive than its looks, the classy saloon sounds legit: live jazz and blues bands play there five nights a week, just like they did in old-timey sex parlors.
Longtime friends Jason Boggs, Alex Origoni and Garrett Van Vleck founded the themed bar together, planning on it being a quiet, intimate space on the edge of downtown Sacramento. “The first weekend we opened, there was a line around the corner,” Van Vleck says. “It’s definitely turned into a livelier place than we were anticipating. But in a good way.” In addition to being a cozy, go-to spot to hear local jazz, the bar also launched the craft cocktail movement in Sacramento.
Bartenders take that reputation seriously, occasionally wearing vests and suspenders (“…not that it’s a uniform or anything,” Van Vleck says. “We want to be a welcoming environment.”) while mixing vintage recipes. The cocktail menu contains 35 classic and 10 rotating, seasonal swills, all containing house-made syrups, tonics and sodas, and fresh produce from the farmers market.
One of the bar’s most popular drinks is a twist on an Old Fashioned called the Horse’s Neck, made with bourbon, homemade ginger syrup, Angostura bitters and lemon peel. And for some reason, draft Olympia beer is also wildly popular. The California bar sells more than anywhere else in the country. We can only assume it’s because they go for $2 a pint—a bargain no matter which century you’re in.
Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amshep