Connecticut residents who cherish getting together with friends for after-work or evening cocktails had several new options to consider this year. 2014 was notable for the number of high-quality cocktail lounges that opened in the state, many owned or operated by successful veterans of the bar and restaurant business. These are the rookie cocktail bars that made the best impression this past year.
78 W. Park Place
Stamford, CT 06901
Stamford kicked off summer this year with the opening of two Mario Lopez-owned establishments next door to one another – Azuca and Gastro Bar. The latter specializes in wine and tapas while the former emphasizes Latin American fare and cocktails. Azuca’s drink menu is populated with a wide range of margaritas, mojitos and other tropical sensations featuring the best mezcals, tequilas and cachacas. Also worth trying are its minty Don Q Rum cocktails like the strawberry Nina Fresa and pineapple Pine-ito.
50 Elm St.
Hartford, CT 06106
Connecticut’s capital city got its own winning Latin American lounge with the arrival of 50 Elm in July. Bartender Michelle Stewart has fashioned a drink menu that leans towards rum cocktails, most notably the Tropical Storm 50 that combines Gosling’s Bermuda Rum and Ron Abuelo Rum with ginger beer. Those aren’t the only types of drinks 50 Elm excels at, however. Its Peruvian pisco sour with Barsol Pisco, egg white and Angostura bitters has become a customer favorite, and the Citrus Hibiscus with Stoli vodka, Domaine de Canton, sorrel and lemon is another highlight. While you’re there, also consider enhancing your cocktail with an order of plantain chips with sea salt.
6 Wilton Road
Westport, CT 06880
The Darien coffee shop NEAT opened a new location in Westport in September, and while the new NEAT still serves the same great selection of coffees during the day, there is one major difference. While the Darien café closes shop at 6 p.m., that’s when its Westport cousin transforms into a craft cocktail bar. Housed inside Westport’s old firehouse, NEAT offers a rotating selection of creative, sophisticated drinks from the Blackberry Beret with vodka and Aperol to its Improved Whiskey Cocktail with Bulleit Rye and Luxardo Maraschino. It also has an assortment of savory meats and cheeses to complement its libations.
40 Front St.
Hartford, CT 06103
Nixs, with a couple of bars in Boston, made its Hartford debut this summer across from the Connecticut Convention Center. It’s an upscale lounge with modern furniture, mirrored walls and a brightly-lit sign above the bar with its motto, “Play Nice.” That’s easy to do if you’re indulging in one of its signature craft cocktails, ranging from its satisfying margarita to the Dirty Rotten Scoundrel which adds olive brine and capers to Belvedere Vodka. Nixs also features a selection of bottled cocktails for sale. Try the Moscow Mistress with Strawberry and Basil Infused 360 Vodka, ginger beer, cognac and rhubarb bitters.
19A Bridge Square
Westport, CT 06880
Those seeking a different kind of cocktail experience owe it to themselves to visit Kawa Ni. The cozy Westport lounge is in the style of an izakaya – a Japanese pub that serves high-quality food with its drinks. Kawa Ni’s authentic Japanese dishes are made with fresh, locally grown ingredients and perfectly accompany cocktails like the Kamikase with vodka, Triplum and lime, or the Nichiyobi which livens up shochu with roasted tomato and hot sriracha sauce. Then there are its bold sake bombs (sake combined with beer) that come in flavors like blueberry, watermelon and the Japanese fruit yuzu. If you order one, though, be sure not to drink it until bartender Jeff Marron bangs the gong.
Related: Top Bars With Sake In Connecticut
Joshua Palmes is a freelance writer covering all things Connecticut. His work can be found on Examiner.com.