A Guide to St. Louis' Best Cocktail Bars

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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 .

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