If you’re a cocktail lover on vacation, you’re bound to run into some disappointment. You can certainly find a great drink at lots of popular tourist destinations, but you might kiss a lot of metaphorical frogs before finding your literal prince.
Well, I’m here to help. Here’s where to get a decent cocktail close—walking distance in most cases!—to 11 of America’s most popular spots to visit. Just because you are doing a typical trip doesn’t mean your drinks have to be basic.
DISNEYLAND, ANAHEIM, CA AND WALT DISNEY WORLD, ORLANDO, FL
Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar/Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto & Tiki Bar
The Disney theme parks have been putting in a lot of effort to up their food-and-drink game in recent years, and these two tiki bars are a chief example. With locations at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, Trader Sam’s churns out impeccably well-made tropical cocktails and a menu of Hawaiian and pan-Asian bites. Look closely at the hundreds of “artifacts” on display and you’ll find sly references to Indiana Jones movies, the Jungle Cruise and, of course, the Enchanted Tiki Room. Order certain drinks and you’ll even trigger animatronic volcanic eruptions, shipwrecks and more.
BOURBON STREET, NEW ORLEANS
The Chart Room
New Orleans’ party district can get intense, what with the dozens upon dozens of bars and the bewildering crowd of intoxicated tourists at all hours of the day and night. For a cool, quiet respite, duck into The Chart Room. A cash-only French Quarter dive two blocks off Bourbon, it doesn’t look like much, but the oasis of calm serves some of the best and cheapest classic cocktails you’ll find anywhere in America. (And in the summer, the air conditioning is powerfully strong, thank God.)
PIKE PLACE MARKET, SEATTLE
From handmade jewelry to fresh Beecher’s cheese curds to whole salmon flying through the air, there’s lots to see (and buy) at Pike Place Market. And the historic complex is also home to one of Seattle’s finest whiskey bars. Radiator carries about 200 bottlings from everywhere around the globe and in every whiskey style; there are even three different spirits tapped directly from the bar’s own house-selected barrels. Don’t miss the Manhattan Project, a set of five variations on the classic cocktail, each named for a different midcentury nuclear scientist.
TIMES SQUARE/BROADWAY, NEW YORK
The Rum House
New York is home to an array of the world’s top bars, most of which are in Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn: Times Square and the surrounding theater district have plenty of sights to see, but comparatively fewer top-flight cocktails. The Rum House is a welcome exception. It’s an excellent spot for cocktails of all kinds (though the name gives away its biggest focus, along with the four separate Daiquiris on the menu). Keep an eye out for a celebrity: The stars of the nearby Broadway shows often hang out here after the curtain goes down.
HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME, LOS ANGELES
Good Times at Davey Wayne’s
There are lots of places to eat and drink in the bustling heart of Hollywood, but their quality is very much hit or miss. For a great cocktail and a fun time, just walk half a block south from Hollywood Boulevard and look for the “garage sale” full of old junk from the ‘70s. The fridge in back is a secret door to this bar, which is basically a fantasy of your dad’s ultimate rec room from the days of short-shorts and thick, lustrous mustaches, complete with vintage stereo equipment, period furniture and even old-school soda cans on display. The drinks, though, are fully up-to-date, using sophisticated infusions and unusual flavors. If it’s hot out, don’t miss the vintage Shasta trailer that dispenses boozy snow cones on the Astroturf patio out back.
NAVY PIER, CHICAGO
Just a few blocks from Navy Pier’s iconic Ferris wheel, GreenRiver is a Michelin-starred restaurant paired with a bar opened by Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon, the cocktail geniuses behind New York’s The Dead Rabbit, named the best bar in the world last year. The cocktails at GreenRiver are appropriately refined, using such unexpected culinary-style combinations as vodka with beet, pistachio and horseradish; or cachaça with ginger, coconut, banana and turmeric.
GRAND CANYON, ARIZONA
Monte Vista Cocktail Lounge
The Grand Canyon might be America’s most impressive natural wonder, but it sure is remote: Aside from a few lodges and diners inside the National Park itself, the nearest real town is Flagstaff, Ariz., about a 90 minutes’ drive south of the South Rim. Flagstaff is home to the 90-year-old Hotel Monte Vista, whose lounge has been serving up classic cocktails and live music since its birth as an illegal speakeasy during Prohibition. The historic property of course is haunted by several resident ghosts, whom you might encounter on the dance floor or sitting at the bar.
CABLE CAR/FISHERMAN’S WHARF, SAN FRANCISCO
The Buena Vista
Just a 5-minute walk from San Francisco’s most touristed pier and right next to the end of the famed Powell-Hyde cable car line, The Buena Vista has been serving thirsty Bay Area residents for more than a century. The must-order is an Irish Coffee: In 1952, San Francisco Chronicle travel writer Stanton Delaplane and The Buena Vista’s owner figured out how to recreate the warming Irish-whiskey drink Delaplane had first tried at an airport on the Emerald Isle, and the drink has been the place’s signature ever since. If you don’t like Irish Coffees, it might be because you’ve never tried the drink made properly, as it’s still lovingly done here.
NIAGARA FALLS, NEW YORK
Just 20 miles downriver from Niagara Falls, Buffalo is one of the best small cities in America when it comes to food and drink. The Buffalo Proper is among Buffalo’s best cocktail spots, with a wide-ranging list of clever variations on classics. Mixology nerds can geek out on the five-amaro-and-absinthe Bitter AF, while food lovers will enjoy the savory Tijuana Tea Time with green tea-infused tequila and spicy Szechuan chili oil.
NATIONAL MALL, WASHINGTON, D.C.
Barmini by José Andrés
If you’re standing on the middle of the Mall, looking at the Washington Monument and White House, take a right on 9th, walk three blocks, past the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and National Archives, and you’ll reach this wondrous bar. It’s a “cocktail lab,” where chefs and bartenders collaborate to create the innovative tipples of the future. The menu includes more than 100 options, ranging from old-school favorites to literal bubbling beakers full of mystery.