A Guide to St. Louis' Best Cocktail Bars

click to enlarge A bartender at the Gin Room works his magic. - MONICA MILEUR
MONICA MILEUR
A bartender at the Gin Room works his magic.

For our 2017 RFT Bar Guide, we went deep into the heart of the city's cocktail culture. From the bars that made our scene what it is today to the great spots right in your neighborhood, we've got them all covered in this almost-close-to-comprehensive list. Search for your favorites are try something new.

The Founders

These innovators deserve credit for making the St. Louis scene what it is today

Ted Kilgore, left, with Jamie Kilgore and Ted Charak. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
Ted Kilgore, left, with Jamie Kilgore and Ted Charak.

Planter's House

Though it's difficult to remember in today's progressive drink environment, there was a time when going out for a cocktail in St. Louis meant a watered-down vodka tonic or, if you were feeling adventurous, a specialty martini. Then came Ted Kilgore, a former industrial perfumer who transformed the city's cocktail scene, first at the acclaimed Monarch, then at Taste and finally, at his own bar, Planter's House (1000 Mississippi Avenue, 314-696-2603). Kilgore redefined what a drink could be, pushing and creating and putting as much thought into a glass as an acclaimed chef puts on a plate. Together with his wife Jamie and partner Ted Charak, Kilgore has created a temple to cocktails at Planter's House, honoring the history (Planter's House is in a former hotel that bore the same name, and its bar-within-a-bar Bullock Room is named after Tom Bullock, a St. Louisan and the first African-American to write a cocktail book) even while pushing toward the future. These days, Kilgore has mostly stepped away from the shaker, spending most of his time as beverage director, helping to facilitate and give direction to cocktail ideas, but his reputation for being the best has attracted the best: Planter's House is the place to work for the bartenders who not only continue Kilgore's legacy but forge their own paths — and in turn define what it means to drink in St. Louis.

Taste

It's no surprise that the chef who bears the most responsibility in making St. Louis dining scene the jewel it is today is also credited with helping to define its cocktail scene. Granted, a handful of foundational bars and restaurants came before, but when Gerard Craft opened Taste (4584 Laclede Avenue, 314-361-1200) in a tiny storefront in Benton Park, he did so with the vision of making cocktails that were more than just thoughtful — he wanted them to be complementary to, if not an extension of, the food coming from his kitchen. By tapping Monarch's Ted Kilgore to head his bar program, Craft gave the already acclaimed barman a venue to spread his wings and show the city just how much could be done in a glass. Kilgore is gone, and Taste is now in a handsome space in the Central West End, but the bar's legacy is still on display here, as well on the menus of every St. Louis cocktail bar worth its salt. Perhaps it's more than just coincidence that we refer to drinks these days as "craft cocktails."

Steve Smith, founder of the Royale. - PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
Steve Smith, founder of the Royale.

The Royale

In 2005, the St. Louis cocktail scene was grim. Then came Steve Smith, who had the vision to know we wanted more even before we ourselves did. Smith purchased the old Real Bar and partnered with his friend Tim O'Connell with the mission of creating a real-deal cocktail-focused bar, anchored in balanced drinks and professional service. Their spot, the Royale (3132 South Kingshighway Boulevard, 314-772-3600), quickly became the preeminent place in town for good drinks, igniting a spark that would turn our scene into the vibrant one it is today. You wouldn't suspect the role the Royale has played in our city's cocktail culture simply by walking into the building today. The vibe is unassuming and relaxed, the essence of laidback south city. However, once you taste one of the Royale's perfectly balanced, impeccably crafted concoctions — such as the gin, cucumber and lime "Subcontinental," which has been on the menu since day one — you'll realize you are tasting the very essence of what makes drinking in St. Louis so special. Grab a table on the lovely patio, if you are lucky enough to get one, and enjoy drinks made with skill but without an ounce of pretentiousness.

The Mad Scientists

These bars aren't for traditionalists. But if you're up for experimental and even wacky mixes, they know how to whet your whistle

The Libertine

The Libertine (7927 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-862-2999) has been many things since it first opened in 2013: a haute Southern table with a Food and Wine "best chef" winner, a Mediterranean-inflected temple of decadence and now, a fiercely local homage to the bounty of Missouri's farms. Amidst the reinventions, one constant has been the restaurant's place in the upper echelon of St. Louis' cocktail scene. Helmed by head barkeep Ben Bauer, the Libertine's bar has garnered a reputation as a top spot for experimentation. Coupled with owner Nick Luedde's creative, anything-goes spirit, Bauer's penchant for forging new boundaries makes the program unique. From housemade pineapple and duck fat cachaça to wormwood bitters, Bauer draws upon his interest in culinary arts to make the bar an extension of the kitchen. Always researching, Bauer doesn't spend a day behind the bar without trying something new — and yes, that has included trying to persuade his bosses to let him put a pig's blood cocktail on the menu. It hasn't happened yet, but don't put anything past this visionary.

Jeffrey Moll working his magic at Randolfi's. - PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
Jeffrey Moll working his magic at Randolfi's.

Randolfi's

Mike Randolph is one of the city's most innovative chefs, and so it's no surprise he'd call upon one of St. Louis' most innovative bartenders to run his cocktail program. Headed by Jeffrey Moll, the bar at Randolfi's (6665 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-899-9221) is less a place to grab a drink and more a drink-centric classroom — literally: there's a glossary of terms on the menu. Moll has curated a selection of roughly 25 vermouths, nearly that many selections of amaro and an equally impressive list of fernet. That may intimidate you, but it shouldn't, as Moll is happy to be your guide. As for cocktails, his drink list is divided between "classics" and "adventurous," the latter featuring drinks with names such as "Advice from a Fortune Cookie." It makes sense that Moll has a background in fine arts. He was in need of a creative outlet when he found a kindred spirit in Randolph, who gave him a chance to helm the bar at his acclaimed Little Country Gentleman, even though Moll had zero professional bartending experience. Determined to prove himself, Moll has since dedicated himself to learning everything he can about spirits and developing palate-provoking drinks. His bar is a place to be inspired.

Sanctuaria

Matt Seiter, who launched the cocktail program at Sanctuaria Wild Tapas (4198 Manchester Avenue, 314-535-9700) and served as its head bartender for four years, wrote a 2012 book dubbing the place "the dive bar of cocktail bars." Even though five years have passed (and Seiter has moved on), the sobriquet still feels apt. The vibe at Sanctuaria is a little bit goth, a little bit rock 'n' roll — and the cocktails are appropriately complex and a bit edgy. It's not at all surprising to find a cocktail on the menu called the "Iron Maiden" (gin, pomegranate liqueur, rose water, simple syrup, lime and basil) or to find bitters play a key role in many drinks. And if you're truly seeking the best, don't miss the list of "Show-Offs" for a half-dozen drinks that feature top-shelf spirits (and prices to match). But it's not all dark hedonism; Sanctuaria serves a series of house cocktails with sherry and port, warm spirits that pair well with the Spanish tapas on offer.

The "Afternoon Delight": Atomic Cowboy's answer to a Dreamsicle. - PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
The "Afternoon Delight": Atomic Cowboy's answer to a Dreamsicle.

Atomic Cowboy

Twelve years ago, Chip Schloss looked at the stretch of Manchester Avenue between Vandeventer and Kingshighway and saw huge potential. Aside from the gay bars that have long anchored the neighborhood, the area now known as the Grove wasn't yet a major nightlife destination — but Schloss knew it could be, and so he opened the venerated Atomic Cowboy (4140 Manchester Avenue, 314-775-0775) in 2005. In the decade-plus since, the Grove has become one of the hottest spots to drink in all of St. Louis, bursting with bars and eateries and music venues. Even with the influx of new businesses, though, Atomic Cowboy stands alone. The venue could be better described as a "sprawling complex" than a mere bar at this point, with the addition of the Bootleg music venue and a large outdoor stage on the patio. It isn't just music that keeps patrons coming back, though. Atomic Cowboy now has at the helm of its drinks program hot-shot bartender Tony Saputo, the RFT's pick for "Best Bartender" in 2015. Less a "mixologist" than a "tastebud whisperer," Saputo's advice for customers is simple: "Stop passively consuming and start actually tasting." With cocktails as delicious as the "Afternoon Delight" — a concoction featuring two kinds of rum, Licor 43, Pierre Ferrand Ancienne Methode dry curaçao, Frangelico, salt, bitters, lime, orange and cream that tastes like a damn Dreamsicle — that won't be a problem.

Turn the page for cocktail bars to visit when you're feeling like a night out on the town.
A drink at the Preston -- one of the city's swankiest cocktail bars. - PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
A drink at the Preston -- one of the city's swankiest cocktail bars.

The Swanky Set

When you're feeling stylish, these are just the bars to visit — with cocktails as gorgeous as the settings

The Preston

Located inside the Chase Park Plaza, the Preston (212 North Kingshighway Boulevard, 314-633-7800) has only been open for a year and a half, but thanks to a carefully crafted menu and a timeless setting, it already feels like a classic. Just as the restaurant seamlessly blends worlds old and new with elegant details throughout the space, the drink menu offers up both standards and signature creations designed to pair well with the modern American small plates menu. One of the most popular drinks offers a nod to the restaurant's namesake and the building's creator, Preston J. Bradshaw. "Goodnight Mr. Preston" was created by veteran bartenders Joshua "Doc" Johnson and Sasha Alms, and features Buffalo Trace bourbon, Carpano Antica, Benedictine liqueur and Angostura bitters.

Thaxton Speakeasy

Don't even bother trying the front door at Thaxton Speakeasy (1009 Olive Street). It's locked, and even if you were able to break in, the empty, first-floor room it leads to would surely make you think you were in the wrong place. Instead, armed with a password you get in advance, head around to the back alley, where you'll be met by a doorman who will grant you entry if you can say the magic word. The extra effort is worth it. Once inside, the stairs that lead to the lower level act as a time machine, transporting you back to the days of Prohibition with a ritzy vibe and swinging sounds. It's like the Roaring '20s all over again — well, except for the bathtub gin. Here, the cocktails are balanced and dangerously quaffable, including the housemade "Moonshine," which packs a serious punch in light of its shockingly smooth taste. Music runs the gamut between the vintage-inspired Miss Jubilee and a regularly occurring '80s and '90s dance party theme, but no matter what's playing, Thaxton will make you want to swing.

click to enlarge A cocktail at Blood and Sand shows the bar's commitment to detail. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
A cocktail at Blood and Sand shows the bar's commitment to detail.

Blood and Sand

Named for a classic cocktail, Blood & Sand (1500 St. Charles Street, 314-241-7263) takes its drinks seriously, but not so much that it spoils the fun. Located in an old downtown building with a virtually unnoticeable entrance, this members-only bar and restaurant serves up a wide range of cocktails and tasty eats — the truffled tater tots are truly something to behold. But it also imparts the feeling that when you sip and savor at its stately bar, you're doing something worthwhile, important, noble even. With cheeky names that provide a bit of levity, ingredients that swing from the classic to the unusual and an always-impressive balance of proportion and creativity, the cocktails at Blood & Sand don't disappoint. And remember: If you're not seeing something on the menu that suits your tastes, a custom drink is just an ask away.

Frazer's

Open in Benton Park since 1992, Frazer's Restaurant & Lounge (1811 Pestalozzi Street, 314-773-8646) started as a lunch spot for workers at the nearby Anheuser-Busch brewery. But you don't survive in south city for 25 years without being able to adapt with the times, and Frazer Cameron's namesake restaurant has shown a nimble versatility that allows it to be many things to many people. These days, in fact, we think of Frazer's first and foremost as a cocktail spot — with a snazzy mid-century modern vibe, great energy and some terrific drinks. The bartenders are clearly having fun here (can you think of any other place in town that would serve the "Lady Sauget"?), with good reason. Their skill level is as high as their spirits.

Travis Hebrank manages the bar program at Polite Society. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
Travis Hebrank manages the bar program at Polite Society.

Polite Society

The long-awaited new spot in Lafayette Square, Polite Society (1923 Park Avenue, 314-325-2553), doesn't position itself as a cocktail bar — and the wine list is good enough that you may find yourself tempted to get a glass of that instead. You won't necessarily regret that, but you would be missing out. Travis Hebrank, who runs Polite Society's bar program, is also a skilled mixologist, and the cocktails here are among the tastiest in town. The hibiscus daiquiri may well be the drink of the summer: White rum is shaken with hibiscus reduction, watermelon-infused simple syrup and lime juice, and then given a lite egg-white float and a dash of Burlesque bitters. We also adore the "Kind of Blue," a glass as elegantly smoky as its jazz-inspired name, with peppered gin, smoked vodka, blueberry and blackberry juices and Creme Yvette. And while you could order these drinks anywhere in the restaurant, we recommend snagging a seat at the bar if you can. Hebrank is a charming host, and the physical space — situated in a room all its own — is unusually roomy for a restaurant this busy.

Sardella

Italians may have a love affair with food, but they are equally enamored of their aperitifs, a fact in delicious evidence at Sardella (7734 Forsyth Blvd, Clayton; 314-773-7755). At James Beard Award winner Gerard Craft's Italian-inspired spot, the food is well-matched by insightful cocktails. Here, mixologists turn the aesthetic of fine dining into fine drinking, transforming high-quality drams into delicious works of art, like the "Welcome to Heartbreak" — Sardella's spin on the manhattan, made with Elijah Craig bourbon, Bruto Americano, Cardamaro and mole. Or opt for the white rum negroni, an absolute pleasure to sip. You can rely on an astute wine and spirits list, although exuberant treats, like a boozy mojito float, also make the occasional appearance. Tables fill up quickly, so find a spot at the bar to imbibe during daylight hours, when the vibrant decor makes Sardella a welcome spot for bloody marys at brunch. In the evening, copper lamps suspended above add a certain mood, illuminating the blue and white Mediterranean mosaic tiles and giving the restaurant a decidedly Old World ambiance.

The bar at Olive + Oak. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
The bar at Olive + Oak.

Olive + Oak

Co-owners Mark Hinkle and Greg Ortyl created a masterpiece last year when they opened Olive + Oak (102 West Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves; 314-736-1370) as a tribute to their young sons, who both passed away from congenital heart defects. The owners and executive chef Jesse Mendica strive for excellence, serving everything from cheese curds to the prime cowboy ribeye with traditional techniques and the best ingredients possible. The drinks are no different: Olive + Oak aims to "offer you the best of all worlds to accompany your meal" with thoughtful cocktails, an extensive wine list and numerous craft beers on draft. Can't decide? The folks at Olive + Oak will gladly make recommendations. It's for theses reasons, on top of the inviting atmosphere and charming decor (complete with black-and-white photos and hearts in memory of the restaurant's namesakes) that make Olive + Oak such a winner. Customers know it — Olive + Oak is usually packed, and reservations fill up weeks in advance. But don't fear if you just want to stop by for drinks: The bar, two communal rails, some select tables and the front patio are reserved for walk-ins.

The Specialists

Why be a jack of all trades when you can excel at one thing? These places have earned the right to boast about their expertise

click to enlarge The tiki drinks at Taha'a Twisted Tiki will have you ready for a luau. - PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
The tiki drinks at Taha'a Twisted Tiki will have you ready for a luau.

Taha'a Twisted Tiki

A glance down the menu at Taha'a Twisted Tiki (4199 Manchester Avenue, 314-202-8300) reveals a run of cocktails bursting with coconut, pineapple, lime and — we can't emphasize this enough — enough rum to sink a battleship. In operation since 2013 as the region's only French-Polynesian-inspired tiki bar, this converted house in the Grove bears all the hallmarks of its eponymous theme, from a thatched awning above the bar to ceiling-hung lights glinting from the mouths of pufferfish. You'll find smooth sailing through the list of classic tiki cocktails, and the "twisted" menu adds an array of flavors and liquors to an already plentiful mix. If you've got two or three friends — or maybe just one really thirsty one — make room on the table for a volcano bowl, a generous basin of fruits soaked in booze that's dotted with umbrellas. Oh yeah, and it's also lit on fire. And as everybody knows, fire and booze is the way to start a night right.

Gamlin Whiskey House

A killer patio on one of the best people-watching corners in St. Louis, a massive selection of whiskey, hip music, a great cocktail menu, delicious food — Gamlin Whiskey House (236 North Euclid Avenue, 314-875-9500) is a destination for anyone looking for a fun night out. But for whiskey lovers, it's truly the top, a repeat winner for "Best Whiskey Selection," a USA Today "best bar for whiskey lovers" and home to a killer list of bottles. Try out a variety with a whiskey flight (Gamlin offers several) or sample a sazerac done right. The weekend brunch features Southern-inspired food (biscuits, pimento cheese, a fried tomato sandwich), while the dinner menu includes hearty American dishes, from house-made toasted ravioli to pork steak. The music gets louder and the crowd gets buzzier here as the night goes on, so if you'd like to sip that finely aged Scotch in contemplative quiet, best get here early.

click to enlarge The gin selection at the Gin Room just might blow your mind. - PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
The gin selection at the Gin Room just might blow your mind.

The Gin Room

When you walk into the Gin Room (3200 South Grand Boulevard, 314-771-3411), your eyes will immediately fix on the stunning rose-hued backbar that soars all the way to the ceiling. It's an aesthetic masterpiece, but once you realize that every last bottle is filled with gin, the scene is utterly awe-inspiring. This impressive collection belongs to proprietor Natasha Bahrami, the self-styled "Gin Girl" who turned a passion for the botanical spirit into the city's — if not the country's — preeminent gin establishment. For three years, she's been sharing her knowledge with the thirsty patrons of her south city bar, helping gin neophytes find their style, getting into the weeds with seasoned imbibers and concocting housemade tonics for her thoughtful cocktails. The drink selection alone makes this a must-visit for cocktail aficionados. Add the world-class Persian food being served out of the Gin Room's adjacent sister concept, Café Natasha, and it's perhaps the best pairing of food and beverage St. Louis has to offer.

Sub Zero Vodka Bar

Yes, many mixologists turn up their nose at vodka — how creative can you get with a drink that's meant to be flavorless? But these snooty bartenders have clearly never seen the hundreds of varieties of the stuff available at Sub Zero Vodka Bar (308 North Euclid Avenue, 314-367-1200), the burger-and-sushi hotspot packing in crowds of revelers in the Central West End. Here you can try vodka infused with everything from smoked oak to rainbow sherbet, from açaí to birthday cake to sriracha. And it's not all about shots (though you'll certainly see plenty of people doing those). Drinks such as the "Hawaiian Punch" combine tropical punch vodka with pineapple and cranberry juice and Sprite, while nearly a dozen martini options offer everything from the savory ("Black-n-Bleu," with Tito's Dirty Martini vodka and blue cheese-stuffed olives) to the super-sweet (try the "Oreo Cookie," with vanilla bean vodka, Godiva white and dark chocolate liqueurs and, yes, actual Oreos). There's always a party at Sub Zero, and with more than 500 vodkas on offer, there is always, always something new to drink.

Turn the page for bars that make you feel positively eco-chic — and some ice-cold options, too .

The cocktails at Treehouse are pretty enough to eat. - PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
The cocktails at Treehouse are pretty enough to eat.

Eco-Chic

These hotspots want you to eat your greens — and they provide a great place to drink them, too

Tree House

Drinking is usually a pretty good vegetarian/vegan option, but the cocktail offerings at Tree House (3177 South Grand Boulevard, 314-696-2100) are an added delight. The lineup at the Tower Grove South vegetarian and vegan favorite includes smart twists on classics, such as the "Tree House Almond Milk Punch" — a light and tasty version of a traditional milk punch — and the "Rhubarb Rickey," a refreshing update to the summer gin cocktail. Despite those offerings, Tree House is definitely a restaurant first. Most of space is devoted to table service, as is the outdoor patio, but the bar is a perfectly comfortable place to sip a cocktail. Made of reclaimed wood, it extends the clean, casual feel of the rest of the eatery. A chalkboard-style wall provides your drinking options, which include a full wine list and a rotation of craft beers. The place is lively but well-mannered. And from your seat at the bar, you'll still have a good vantage point for people-watching through the floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the restaurant.

The Garden on Grand

To sit on a solid barstool — not some rickety thing with napkins stuffed beneath a short leg — is an unexpected pleasure in any establishment, but the mindful and naturalistic look of the Garden on Grand (2245 South Grand Avenue, 314-898-3788) goes beyond its furniture. Simply put, the bar is a beauty. Cut from a single tree, the gleaming surface provides solid elbow-space and plentiful room for your wine glasses and cocktails. The drinks menu, which has been recently updated, bares the hallmarks of owner Cevin Lee's goal of building a temple of naturalism on this otherwise humdrum stretch of Grand. The "Pomegranate Gin Fizz," which combines Pomegranate San Pellegrino, gin and confectionary sugar, goes down as a sweet pleasure with ample kick, and the rest of the solid cocktail menu takes a similar approach to that most delightful of nature's gifts — a nice buzz at a pretty bar.

The bar at Vicia. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
The bar at Vicia.

Vicia

At Vicia (4260 Forest Park Avenue, 314-553-9239) — the Cortex newcomer where the gorgeous space is eclipsed only by the almost-too-pretty-to-eat-yet-totally-scrumptious dishes — stylish cocktails still find room to shine. This celebrated restaurant has an unwavering commitment to the details, to freshness, to being in the moment, and that dedication extends beyond the food offerings into every drink created. Though the ever-evolving cocktail list isn't extensive, it showcases libations that are elegant and intriguing, yet approachable enough to please a wide range of tastes. Also on the menu are non-alcoholic tonics for those who are wanting something far, far beyond your basic virgin beverage.

Frozen Favorites

When the heat is on, turn to these delightful bars for a blast of icy refreshment

Narwhal's

When you walk into Narwhal's Crafted Urban Ice (3906 Laclede Avenue, 314-696-8388), your attention is immediately drawn to the bar's nautical motif. From the walls decorated with old sea anchors to an ocean blue color palate, Narwhal's is much more elegant than any slushie bar needs to be. Indeed, co-owners Brad Merten and Brandon Holzhueter could have aimed low and grabbed the college crowd, but the business partners (who date their friendship back to their days at Parkway West Middle School) are more ambitious than that — and smart enough to excel in the execution. Behind the bar sit twelve slushie machines that boast surprisingly complex drinks, from the "Apple Mint Julep" — a concoction of Kentucky bourbon, Angry Orchard hard apple ale and a bit of mint syrup — to the "Hurricane Tony," which contains various rums, pineapple and blueberry syrup. The bar also offers a variety of bottled cocktails, selected spirits and a wide variety of domestic and imported brand beers. Since opening less than a year ago, the bar has become a destination in the Midtown area, both for SLU students and a host of city dwellers smart enough to realize that slushies this delicious aren't just for sorority sisters.

Ices Plain & Fancy's "cocktails" come in ice cream form. - PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
Ices Plain & Fancy's "cocktails" come in ice cream form.

Ices Plain & Fancy

You can get a white Russian anywhere, but you'll have to go to Ices Plain & Fancy (2256 South 39th Street, 314-601-3604) for a "Frozen Dude." The combination of vanilla ice cream, Kahlúa and vodka is part of the innovative ice cream parlor's lineup of "boozy ices." Embedded in the Shaw neighborhood about two blocks north of Tower Grove Park, Ices typically offers nearly a dozen ice cream cocktails within its darling confines. These are not alcoholic slushies or frozen blender drinks but actual, liquor-infused ice cream. Ices makes them — and plenty of non-alcoholic flavors — by flash-churning its ice cream with the help of liquid nitrogen and torches. It gives the pink-trimmed shop a touch of the feel of a science lab, in the best way. There are four tables inside and another eight out front, where you can spoon up your cocktail while relaxing under an umbrella. This is not the kind of place where you belly up to the bar for round after round; closing time is 10 p.m. weeknights, 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. But if you want take the edge off your babysitting duties with a "Mrs. Marshall's Old Fashioned," it's hard to imagine a better place.

The Fountain on Locust

We'll let you in on a little secret: Long before the city's nouveau ice cream shops started offering boozy flavors and ice cream-based cocktails, the Fountain on Locust (3037 Locust Street, 314-535-7800) was on the scene, blending ice cream with alcohol for a cool dose of yum. The city's O.G. ice cream parlor offers a voluminous menu of ice cream martinis, which go down smooth but also carry quite a kick. You don't need to love chocolate to love this list: A good number of these martinis use sherbet as their base, including our favorite, the "Raspberry Lemondrop," with its fresh crushed berries, raspberry sorbet, lemon sherbet and healthy dose of vodka. A roster of well-executed retro cocktails, from the rusty nail to the sazerac, also feel just right in these high-spirited, Art Deco environs.

click to enlarge Boozy shakes are among the highlights at Hi-Pointe Drive-In. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
Boozy shakes are among the highlights at Hi-Pointe Drive-In.

Hi-Pointe Drive-In

If you think the line stretching halfway out to McCausland Avenue at Hi-Pointe Drive-In (1033 McCausland Avenue, 314-349-2720) is for the burgers, well, you are partially right. In just a few short months, the tiny restaurant made from upcycled shipping containers has solidified its position as one of the city's top spots for burgers and fries. However, if you're one of the forward-thinking folks who've been able to resist making your burger a triple in order to save room for a boozy shake, you will be rewarded handsomely. Though admittedly not a bar, Hi-Pointe Drive-In is a must-stop for anyone who likes to mix a little sweet with their sauce. For a mere three bucks, you can add a shot of liquor to one of the restaurant's thick and creamy milkshakes. Butterscotch with rum? Dreamsicle with vodka? Mix and match however you like and bask in the joy of feeling like a kid and being a grown-up all at the same time. Owner Mike Johnson (who made his name at Sugarfire Smoke House) may not have envisioned the spot as a bar, but these frosty libations might make you forget you were supposed to order a burger first.

Clementine's Naughty & Nice Creamery

You don't have to be a boozehound to love Clementine's Naughty & Nice Creamery (1637 South 18th Street and 730 De Mun Avenue, Clayton; 314-858-6100), but come on: Anyone can do ice cream. It takes a genius to offer a spectacular version that's also spiked with top-notch beer, wine or liquor. Founder Tamara Keefe's patented boozy ice creams include alcohol-rich riffs on the manhattan, the old fashioned and even a boozy banana rum. Beer drinkers will thrill to the "Summer Shandy." The one we can't get enough of, though, is the insanely rich maple bourbon, a glass of Rebel Yell swirled with maple syrup, sea salt, vanilla and salted candied pecans that somehow comes in scoop form without losing any of its punch. Yes, you could happily go the "nice" route at either of Keefe's always popping parlors, but why be a good girl when naughty is this much fun?

Turn the page for our favorite chill hangouts — and some great South of the Border-inspired spots, too
A cocktail at Retreat Gastropub. - PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
PHOTO BY MONICA MILEUR
A cocktail at Retreat Gastropub.

The Cool Kids

Who says great cocktails need to be surrounded by formal fuss? These laidback spots pair terrific drinks with low-key, approachable settings

Retreat Gastropub

Every detail at Retreat Gastropub (6 North Sarah Street, 314-261-4497) is thought out. From the reclaimed wood bar-back to the lanterns hanging overhead, the place has a carefully curated (and self-described) modern rustic feel. But before you roll your eyes, have a drink. All that thought and attention produces some delicious cocktails that hold their own against the offerings on Retreat's celebrated food menu. Underappreciated classics, such as a refreshing gimlet, play nicely with a lineup of cheeky inventions. Try a mezcal-fueled "Oaxaca Flocka Flame" or a "Fort Collins" with our assurances that while the names are jokes, the drinks are serious. Thank twenty-something beverage director Tim Wiggins for that — or maybe thank owner Travis Howard, the former general manager of Baileys' Range, who had the good sense to lure the up-and-coming barman away from another Dave Bailey restaurant, Small Batch, when he opened Retreat in 2015. Wiggins and his bar staff are unfailingly friendly and attentive. Follow their suggestions for a house-made shrub, served with Champagne or in a cocktail. (Pineapple sage is the most popular.) Sit inside at locally sourced wood tables or out on the sun porch ... or just grab a seat at the bar and enjoy watching professionals at work.

Layla

Here's a news flash for anyone who's only been to Layla (4317 Manchester Avenue, 314-553-9252) for a bite with the kids or for a quick burger: The Grove's chillest hangout is also a surprisingly sophisticated cocktail bar. Layla offers great shawarma, burgers, milkshakes and top-notch cocktails — like the "Oaxaca Texas Ranger," which combines mezcal with serrano syrup, Stiegl Radler and fresh lime and grapefruit. Or try the "Mathattan," a twist on the classic drink involving golden falernum and orange bitters. The brilliant Tony Saputo is no longer behind the bar at Layla, but his presence is still felt in these smart, highly quaffable drinks.

Eclipse

Galactic overlord of the Loop Joe Edwards opened Eclipse (6177 Delmar Boulevard, 314-726-2222) on the east side of his Delmar Boulevard galaxy in 2009, wasting no time stamping the building with his signature retro-kitsch style. Housed within and atop the Moonrise Hotel, the bar/restaurant features a clean modern look, NASA memorabilia and a whole lot of toy rocketships as a crucial part of its décor. And of course, let's not forget about that rooftop bar, with its giant moon — the largest man-made moon in the world, in fact — looming overhead. If that's not enough to put your head in the clouds, perhaps take a crack at the establishment's cocktail selection, which features more than 25 drinks, including the excellent "Moon Shot," made with Maker's Mark, blackberry liqueur, lavender, lemon, falernum and Angostura bitters. Or perhaps you like to get to the point with your drinking — don't worry, Eclipse has you covered, with more than 60 varieties of whiskey, more than enough to have you seeing stars.

Behind those old-timey refrigerator doors are at Juniper are some new ingredients, including those in this cocktail, "I Don't Want No Shrubs." - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
Behind those old-timey refrigerator doors are at Juniper are some new ingredients, including those in this cocktail, "I Don't Want No Shrubs."

Juniper

John Perkins' Central West End restaurant is one of the best spots in the city to get a taste of St. Louis' Southern roots. But the reasons to visit Juniper (360 North Boyle Avenue, 314-329-7696) are not limited to the food; this is also a great place to drink up the flavors of the South. For example, the "Georgia Julep," which incorporates mint and peach sweet tea simple syrup in addition to Old Grandad. Not everything here is quite so on the nose — the cocktail list has a great variety of drinks that tilt to the sophisticated more than the thematic — but everything pairs well with the terrific food and the stylish, brick-walled space. We're especially fond of "Hell Hath No Fury," a mix of mezcal, watermelon shrub, lime and agave, topped with Hellfire bitters.

Tiny Bar

It may sound like a reality show in which contestants battle to open the smallest drinking establishment ever, but Tiny Bar (1008 Locust Street, 314-800-7218) is instead just as its name promises. Nestled snugly downtown near the Bridge Tap House, the bar boasts a whopping 250 square feet of space, with only ten seats — expect standing room only if you arrive at peak hours. While some may scoff at the gimmick, this is a legitimate spot with a killer drink list, developed by Ted Charack of Planter's House fame. A host of knowledgeable bartenders mix drinks that pack a wallop as they make use of the limited space by rubbing elbows (literally) with regulars, serving some seriously addictive concoctions. For summer, try the "Yellow Brick Road" — a take on the classic margarita made with Espolon tequila, Cointreau and jalapeño-infused honey. Keep in mind: tiny operating hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. That's not enough time for an all-night bender, but just right for an after-work nightcap. Like the bar itself, it's a reminder that we could all do a lot more with far less.

Crafted

It's a familiar song and dance: Bar Rescue visits bar. Bar Rescue cleans up the kitchen, fires a few drama queens and pronounces bar saved. Bar goes back to its same old ways. But Crafted (3200 Shenandoah Avenue, 314-865-3345) has been the exception to the cliche: Not only did Bar Rescue come up with a great rebrand for the Tower Grove East neighborhood spot previously known as Van Goghz, but owner Dani Davis has continued to innovate even after Jon Taffer and Co. flew on to the next bar in crisis. Taffer's innovation for Crafted was a series of pressed cocktails: Bartenders combine ingredients into a device similar to a French press, which allows the ingredients to steep before the customer pushes and pours. It's a fun, easy way to mix things up, and to Davis' credit, the ingredients she's pressing are much more sophisticated than you might imagine. Take the "Pressed-4-Thyme": vodka, lemon juice, a house-made lemon-thyme simple syrup, fresh thyme and hibiscus flowers. Or the "Pineapple Express," which combines house-made pineapple-cilantro simple syrup, fresh pineapple juice, cilantro and chipotle pepper flakes with lime juice and rum. Not interested in pressing your cocktails? There's a full roster of traditional styles as well, and they're just as sophisticated. Forget the stench of reality TV: This place is a legit cocktail bar hidden inside a great neighborhood bar — the very best of both worlds.

Behind the bar at Scarlett's: a lot of wine, and the makings of a really great cocktail program, too. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
Behind the bar at Scarlett's: a lot of wine, and the makings of a really great cocktail program, too.

Scarlett's Wine Bar

Scarlett's Wine Bar (4253 Laclede Avenue, 314-797-8223) may not be the first place you think of when it comes to cocktails. After all, the stylish spinoff is a member of the Sasha's family, a concept that's so wine-centric it's encoded in its DNA. It's not that Scarlett's strays from that formula (you can certainly still enjoy adult grape juice at the Central West End spot), but its growing cocktail program makes it much more than just a wine bar. Over the past few months, Scarlett's has distinguished itself from the Sasha's fold with a beverage list that can hold its own against the town's better-known craft cocktail bars. Much credit goes to bartender Naomi Roquet, who honed her bar skills at the Libertine and has brought her passion for concocting creative and whimsical libations with her to Scarlett's. You may go in wanting a brunello, but Scarlett's drink list will still give you pause — or at least convince you to have cocktail hour first.

Katie's Pizza and Pasta

Appropriately enough, Katie's Pizza & Pasta Osteria (9568 Manchester Road, Rock Hill; 314-942-6555) is known for its handmade pasta dishes and its wood-fired pizzas, but don't be mistaken: The cocktails at this seemingly always-busy eatery also bring much to the table. Frequently featuring fruit, but not in an overwhelming, cloying way, these drinks are sometimes elaborate, often exciting and always worthy of having another — or taking advantage of the pitcher option. If a dirty martini is your thing, the Italian version here does not disappoint: The Kalamata juice and prosciutto-wrapped olives could help persuade even martini purists over to the dirty side.

More Than Margaritas

These spots offer Latin-American cuisine and some delicious cocktails that go way beyond tequila and sour mix

The bar at Nixta, an impossibly cool space that becomes hot late at night. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
The bar at Nixta, an impossibly cool space that becomes hot late at night.

Nixta

If the gentle pulse of Latin music, the sultry vibe and the exotic flavors on offer at Nixta (1621 Tower Grove Avenue, 314-899-9000) don't get your heart pounding, then the bar program will certainly do the trick. Like the food that comes out of the kitchen at this fashionable Botanical Heights spot, the drinks are Latin-inflected and daringly modern. Here, there is something for every palate — smoky mezcal-based libations that tingle the tongue with ghost pepper spice; fruity, yet balanced, pineapple and rum concoctions; and a top-notch tequila selection that can be crafted to fit your mood by the professional bartenders or simply sipped neat. Once the clock strikes 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, the restaurant is transformed into Bar Limon, with tables pushed aside to create a dance floor for salsa. It's a fun touch that gives the neighborhood a vibrant nighttime entertainment destination, though most of the time people are too busy gazing into their dates' eyes — or drinking their fine cocktails — to pay that much attention to the dance floor.

Público

Público (6679 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-833-5780) may be a fine-dining restaurant, but the first thing that'll catch your attention upon entering is its striking wrap-around bar, which features an intricate back-lit pattern. The second thing you'll notice will surely be the incredible cocktail menu being served from it. With a nod to traditional Mexican and South American cuisine, tequila, mezcal and rum take center stage in bar manager Nick Digiovanni's cocktail list, combined with powerhouse flavors such as Creole shrub, bright citrus, smoked salts, chile, ginger, honey and crème de cassis. Even banana makes an appearance. The drink menu is rounded out with a carefully curated selection of Spanish and Argentinian wines, craft beers and good Mexican imports. Everything pairs perfectly with the wood-fired, spit-roasted meats, vegetables and seafood.

click to enlarge Mission Taco Joint. - PHOTO BY KELLY GLUECK
PHOTO BY KELLY GLUECK
Mission Taco Joint.

Mission Taco Joint

A good margarita is very nearly as important as the food on offer at any decent taco shack, and luckily Mission Taco Joint (multiple locations including (6235 Delmar Boulevard, 314-932-5430) excels at both. Brothers and co-founders Adam and Jason Tilford opened the first iteration of the eatery in the Delmar Loop in 2013 to great fanfare, and the restaurant's popularity among critics and customers alike has propelled it to additional locations in the Central West End, Soulard and St. Charles, with a fifth heading west to Kansas City. It's easy to see why the West Coast-style hotspot has done so well — those tacos, though — but let's be sure to show the margs some love, too. Mission Taco offers five varieties: Its signature style features tequila, fresh-squeezed lime juice, agave nectar, dry orange Curaçao and a salted rim. It is a standout of the form. Opt for the mezcal version if you prefer your agave in a variety other than blue; order the "Maestro" for a churched-up variety featuring top-shelf liquor. A frozen option sees the signature version served up slushie-style, and you can even customize your drink with jalapeños or aguas frescas. Pro tip: Nighttime dining at Mission Taco can come with a long wait for a table, especially at the restaurant's Loop location. Beat that wait by walking up to the carry-out window to order your food, then step into the Mission Bodega — a smaller, attached bar to the right of the main entrance that usually opens around 6 p.m. — for your margarita fix. We won't judge you if you end up hastily eating your tacos on the sidewalk so you can get back to the bar.

Drinks at Cantina Laredo go far beyond margaritas. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
Drinks at Cantina Laredo go far beyond margaritas.

Cantina Laredo

You could walk to Cantina Laredo (7710 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-725-2447), order a salt-rimmed margarita, sink into a stylish barstool and leave a satisfied customer. You could even change it up a bit and get one infused with strawberry and mint or pineapple or watermelon. When it comes to the unofficial Mexican restaurant standby, they've got you covered and then some. However, the drink program at this stylish Clayton bar goes well beyond the expected, extending into fruit-forward fun that still packs a punch. Cantina Laredo offers an extensive selection of Latin-inspired libations that seem expressly designed to make you feel like you're on vacation south of the border — that lovely covered outdoor patio doesn't hurt either. From an impressive sangria to ginger palomas, Cantina Laredo appeals to drinkers who like their cocktails to be a fiesta, albeit a thoughtful and balanced one. Add a top-notch tequila selection, and you've got a restaurant and lounge that are not to be missed.

Chava's in Soulard

At one point, in a fit of hubris, we taste-tested margaritas at no less than a dozen hotspots all over both city and county. Our verdict can't totally be trusted, seeing as we were left reeling by all the tequila we'd downed, but it still bears noting: Chava's Mexican Restaurant (925 Geyer Avenue, 314-241-5503), we decided, was serving the area's very best margaritas. This cozy brick-walled Tex-Mex joint in the heart of Soulard has it all going on: friendly service, good food and, yes, pitchers of terrific margaritas. It's the rare place that offers flavored margaritas (strawberry, mango, raspberry and even pineapple among them) but truly doesn't suck. Made with fresh-made juice instead of the crappy mixes you might be used to, they're ridiculously potent and marvelously tasty. And at $24 for a 60-ounce pitcher, they're a bargain compared to the carefully layered $10 cocktails you're used to purchasing. We'll drink to that.

Turn the page for our favorite bars outside the central city — terrific options closer to home for county readers

Drinks at Kirkwood's Club Taco: always a good idea. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
Drinks at Kirkwood's Club Taco: always a good idea.

Friends & Neighbors

No need to drive downtown to taste the magic. These spots keep us hydrated closer to home

Club Taco

While there's a small number of tables inside at Club Taco (200 North Kirkwood Road, Kirkwood; 314-858-1488), the patio is the best place to enjoy this fast-casual restaurant's tasty drinks and tacos. The skilled bartenders focus on fresh ingredients for their sangrias, margaritas, martinis and more. The watermelon and basil margarita and cucumber mint crush are especially refreshing. Getting hungry? Despite the "taco" in the name, Club Taco isn't a Mexican joint. Instead, the menu includes more than twenty tacos featuring everything from calamari (the "It's All Greek to Me") to Southern fried turkey breast (the "Gobble Gobble"). This casual Kirkwood joint offers happy hour Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m.; grab a seat on that huge patio and get to drinking.

612 Kitchen & Cocktails

Once the home of Kirkwood mainstay Graham's Grill, 612 Kitchen & Cocktails (612 West Woodbine Avenue, Kirkwood; 314-965-2003) got a stylish remodel, transforming itself from a local watering hole into a bona fide destination. The former spot's Cajun vibe has given way to a vintage speakeasy atmosphere, complete with killer cocktails. This is the place to go if you're west of Lindbergh and in need of a manhattan, though palates that prefer more fruit-forward libations will also be at home here. From sazeracs to sangria, there is something for everyone.

click to enlarge Sangria is a highlight at Prasino. - PHOTO COURTESY OF PRASINO
PHOTO COURTESY OF PRASINO
Sangria is a highlight at Prasino.

Prasino

If you think folks are only serious about their cocktails on the St. Louis side of the river, then you haven't been to Prasino (1520 South Fifth Street, St. Charles; 636-277-0202). Located in a St. Charles strip mall just across the Blanchette Bridge, this eco-chic restaurant serves a bevy of thoughtful cocktails in its stylish, modern lounge. The place to see and be seen in St. Charles County, Prasino entices with a thoughtful drink list that appeals to every palate. Bourbon lovers should try the "Smoke 'Em If you Got 'Em," a concoction that employs charred red pepper syrup and a smoked glass. Classic daiquiris, thirst-quenching sangria and martinis are all good options at this trendsetting bar, but a visit to Prasino is not complete without trying the "Cheshire Tea." Made with gin, St. Germain and lavender and ginger-infused tea, this beautiful drink is a feast for the eyes as much as the palate. The drink is chilled by a frozen orchid bloom, and lest you think you're just seeing the reflection of the lights of Ameristar across the way, its ethereal glow actually comes from the LEED coaster on which it rests.

Old Mill Stream

Drinking at the Old Mill Stream (912 South Main Street, St. Charles; 636-946-3287) will transport you back in time. The vintage establishment has been located in Old Town St. Charles for more than 25 years, a bulwark for those in need of a stiff, quiet drink. At the street level, patrons can enjoy pub-style eats for a quick, sit-down meal, but the main bar downstairs is where true locals gather. Descend the wooden staircase to a dog-friendly, all-brick patio underneath a canopy of trees and hop down into the basement bar, where the door is always open for regulars and newcomers alike. Inside, dim light bounces off antiquated stone walls, the bar wood is weathered dark by the storm of smokers past and bartenders get down to brass tacks pouring strong libations from an extensive drink list. No cross-country selection of beer taps here, as evidenced by the endless row of cans and bottles above the bar. Instead, it's just like things used to be.

click to enlarge The outdoor patio at Billy G's. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
The outdoor patio at Billy G's.

Billy G's

The word "scene" may seem like an odd descriptor for a bar and grill in Kirkwood. After all, this is a neighborhood known more for its top-rated schools and wholesome Americana feel than bottle service and happening nightlife. However, the moment you step into Billy G's (131 West Argonne Drive, Kirkwood; 314-984-8000), you'll witness an atmosphere that could rival any of downtown's trendy nightclubs. On any given night, Billy G's is a "who's who" of Kirkwood: Moms eschew Lululemon in favor of Tori Burch, and the dads — well, they're probably still in khaki shorts and golf shirts. But they're definitely here to have fun. The place is perpetually packed, offering one of the best places in the mid-county suburbs to grab a "Greentree Mojito" or any number of signature cocktails. And just as good as the drinks is the stunning outdoor patio. This massive space, outfitted with outdoor fireplaces and upscale furniture, is the perfect place to see and be seen in this slice of the county.

Cyrano's Cafe

Full of quirky charm and gorgeous, decadent drinks and desserts, this Webster Groves gem with a European vibe is a great place to head for a special occasion. The cocktail menu at Cyrano's Cafe (603 East Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves; 314-963-3232) features nearly 40 concoctions. The happy hour offers half-price beer and wine and $5 martinis — yes, really! — from 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Cocktails on offer include retro classics, including Cyrano's take on the gin fizz and the dark and stormy, plus margaritas, cosmopolitans, manhattans and several dessert martinis. Salted caramel and booze? We're in.

BJ's Bar and Restaurant

BJ's Bar and Restaurant (184 Washington Street, Florissant; 314-837-7783) is a family affair, through and through. The brick corner bar in Florissant has been operated by the same north county clan since 1955, when owner Jay Russell — the "J" in the name — first took the reins. (Russell died last year; his children operate the bar now.) Less a cocktail destination than a glorious monument to no-bullshit drinking, BJ's is damn near iconic in north county thanks to both its longevity and the gigantic Stag Beer awning on the outside of the building. But even if "Steak Taters and Gravy" isn't your thing, don't worry: Thanks to the makeshift convenience store behind the bar, you're just a few purchases away from mixing up your own drinks. (Only $22 for a gallon of Ten High! Goes good with Coke and more Ten High.) Drink prices are kept intentionally dirt-cheap in order to subsidize the establishment's tasty pizza endeavors — one of the best thin-crust pizzas you'll find in the whole metro area, in fact. A delicious cocktail made by an experienced mixologist is great and all, but a delicious slice of pizza with a whiskey-heavy drink you make for yourself? That's priceless.

With reporting by Cheryl Baehr, Sarah Fenske, Alison Sieloff, Lauren Milford, Kevin Korinek, Danny Wicentowski, Daniel Hill, Elizabeth Semko and Quinn Wilson

Our 2017 Bar Guide hit the streets this week. Look for a copy in most spots where the RFT is carried.
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