It has been a great year for cocktail bars around the country. All star bartenders have brought their talents to brand new cities, the tiki resurgence remains in high gear and there are more homey, neighborhood bars than ever getting serious about their cocktails—those are just a few of the things we noticed as we were putting together this list. There are so many worthy new bars, but of all of them, these are the best spots to open this year.
Cold Drinks Bar, San Francisco, CA
Images of bats on the walls eventually leading to a door on the second floor of China Live, San Francisco’s massive Chinese market/restaurant space, are the only way to find your way to Cold Drinks Bar for the first time. There is no sign anywhere—an idea China Live owner and executive chef George Chen considers a romantic homage to the past. And to hear Chen tell it, the original idea for his hidden whisky bar lies somewhere in the space between history and legend. “I read a story decades ago about this famed place known simply as Cold Drinks Bar in the French Concession in Shanghai,” he says. But Chen couldn’t figure out if the bar had ever actually existed—he found no record of it in the archives—until he connected with Tess Johnston, a Shanghai historian. She told him that it was the sort place many modern “speakeasies” harken back to: a bar populated by movie stars, writers and gangsters, where well-dressed barmen chiseled the ice for every Old Fashioned out of a massive block sitting on the bar. Chen’s version of Cold Drinks might not have as universally colorful a clientele as the Shanghai original, but inside it may still transport you to another place and time. He kept the tuxedoed barmen and calls the interior, from award winning designers AvroKO, “old Shanghai, with some Blade Runner and James Bond mixed in”—a sort of Chinese deco dystopia. The drinks, almost all scotch cocktails designed by Duggan McDonnell, match the luxury of the space. McDonnell, who has since left the bar in the capable hands of Bourbon & Branch alum Yong Zhu, found new uses for scotch in Long Island Teas and Mai Tais, as well as totally original concoctions mixing it with everything from banana liqueur to Gewurztraminer. – Supercall (01.09.18)