America’s 19 Most Romantic Bars (Slideshow)
February 7, 2014
A kiss, a sigh, a double Manhattan
barmini, Washington, D.C.
The Obamas spent last Valentine’s Day at celebrity chef Jose Andres’ minibar — replicate the molecular gastronomy experience (sans a few hundred dollars) at barmini, where whips and foams and fizzes — backed by good solid liquor — are tipsy-making adventures.
Sugar: 9/10 (for drinks that are thoughtful experiences)
Spice: 1/10 (for the thrill of exclusivity)
Apotheke, New York
At Apotheke, a menu of "prescriptions" mixes everything (including "local Chinatown aphrodisiacs") into jewel-toned, mouth-watering concoctions. Order the "Cherry Licorice," with its stemmed cherries and candy garnish, and see whose tongue can tie a knot first.
Sugar: 1/10 (for Pantone-bright tipples)
Spice: 10/10 (for poison touches everywhere)
The Varnish, Los Angeles
Duck into a doorway in the back of L.A.’s Cole restaurant (home of the French Dip, interestingly) and you’ll find yourself in a bar Esquire calls "flawless." Dimly lit and exquisite, The Varnish’s list of house rules — "no vulgar language or loud behavior, please" — make it a perfect fit for couples who like a little extra discipline.
Sugar: 2/10 (for classic cocktails made beautiful)
Spice: 9/10 (for a thousand hurts-so-good tipples)
Gold Dust Meridian, Portland
If you’re aching for something a little midcentury modern, Frug your way over to Portland’s Gold Dust Meridian. They’re the dream of the 1960s, all Maraschino cherried and deviled egged — the type of treats your grandparents fell in love sharing. Order one of their massive 60 ounce "family bowls" and two straws, and then sip until you can’t see straight.
Sugar: 7/10 (for marionberries and hibiscus flowers)
Spice: 4/10 (for good whisky and gingersnap liqueur)
The Violet Hour, Chicago
With floor-to-ceiling curtains and endless high-backed chairs, there’s a touch of Alice in Wonderland to beloved Chicago spot The Violet Hour. Dozens of cocktails, from the clean Juliet and Romeo (with mint and rose water) to the sultry Gifted Cadet (with Crème de Cacao and grated chocolate), can make any tongue happy; Time Out Chicago says it "launched the 'speakeasy' trend" back in 2007.
Sugar: 5/10 (for orgeat and marmalade)
Spice: 6/10 (for Miller High Life mixers and mole bitters)
The Ranstead Room, Philadelphia
Yelp - DW
Lurking behind an unmarked door, this Philly institution is the design equivalent of a hooker with a heart of gold — all leather and snake and nudie paintings. They’re not shy when it comes to drinks, either, with a range of cocktails that lean on scotch, bourbon and tequila to hammer the point home. It’s the perfect place to take someone special…but keep your hands where we can see 'em, bub.
Sugar: 3/10 (for hints of pineapple and grenadine)
Spice: 10/10 (for being a lady of the night)
13 Celsius, Houston
At award-winning Midtown wine bar 13 Celsius (CultureMap Houston calls it "so chill it matches the name,") everything’s a bit decayed — and in a good way. Old hotel furniture, a crumbling courtyard and a hundred-year-old building play host to the best place in town for oenophile lovers. For a little something extra-sweet, order the DIY s’mores and get ooey-gooey together.
Sugar: 7/10 (did you miss the part about the s’mores?)
Spice: 5/10 (for a sleek white bar and deep expertise)
Half wine bar and half restaurant, sweet Minneapolis spot Lucia's mixes seasonal and organic ingredients in simple, charming ways (Lucia herself, the proprietor of both both menu and bar, is a James Beard Award nominee and self-admitted Francophile). Sip a glass of something sparkling and pair it with a fresh, lovely snack.
Sugar: 10/10 (for a bee-friendly menu)
Spice: 1/10 (for occasional unexpected flavors)
Sugar House, Detroit
Derbies and rickeys and daquiris — oh my! More than 100 cocktails are on the menu at this classic cocktail spot in Detroit, and a seasonal menu spotlights everything from bacon bitters to walnut liqueur. And with house rules stating "no fighting, pretend fighting or talking about fighting," Sugar House might just be the perfect spot to kiss and make up after a spat.
Sugar: 4/10 (for, um, actually having "Sugar" in the name)
Spice: 8/10 (for wild ginger root bitters and being in Detroit)
a.o.c., Los Angeles
A verdant brick patio and big airy spaces let L.A.’s endless summer take center stage at a.o.c. Ten pages of wine and beer and a handful of sassy cocktails (see: sassafras bitters, ommegang witte and maple as mixers) mean there’s something for prosecco gals and bourbon boys alike (prosecco boys and bourbon chicks, too. We believe in booze equality).
Sugar: 7/10 (for natural beauty and gentle breezes)
Spice: 1/10 (for jalapeno and arbol chili)
The Gibson, Washington, D.C.
There are no signs, no lights, no windows to mark The Gibson’s presence in DC’s cool U Street neighborhood — just an antique callbox and an unmarked black door. Inside, though, you’ll find a candlelit bar and the best handcrafted cocktails in the city. Try the "Gratuitous Miss Use," a Laphroaig-based cocktail that balances smoke, honey and burn.
Sugar: 4/10 (for secret doors and gin fizzes)
Spice: 8/10 (for black walls and Benedictine)
Red Room, Austin
The passion behind Austin’s Red Room is clear: every wine is meticulously chosen, every bartender carefully trained. Low-key and approachable by design, this is a wine bar without pretension, perfect for relaxing and spending actual time with the one you love. There’s no food on the menu, but you can bring your own — smuggle in dark chocolates and ask for a bottle of Zin.
Sugar: 5/10 (for perfectly balanced whites)
Spice: 5/10 (for perfectly balanced reds)
The Casablanca Lounge, Phoenix
You know you’ve set the bar high when you name yourself after one of the greatest movies of all time. But The Casablanca Lounge is up for the challenge: unexpected cocktails with amontillado, Yamazaki, and creole shrub dance on the palate while panoramic sunsets flood their balconies. Snuggle by the fire pit or just watch mountains fade into the moonlight.
Sugar: 6/10 (for sweet rims and simple syrups)
Spice: 4/10 (for clever mixes and intimate spaces)
Barrique, San Francisco
Barrique bills itself as "America’s first private-label wine establishment," sourcing their own ever-changing list of wines and pouring straight from the barrel. Quiet, intimate and cozy — especially in the back booths — Barrique's a place to whisper sweet nothings over a bowl of truffled popcorn.
Sugar: 7/10 (for clean, simple spaces)
Spice: 3/10 (for boldly blinding the wines)
Temple Bar, New York
Dark, dark wood and warm, warm lights make New York’s Temple Bar reek of "old-school elegance" – according to Zagat. It’s the kind of bar where drinks are named after women who done their men wrong (Betty Draper, Femme Fatale, Death by Blonde) and where even the nibbles are decadent with spices.
Sugar: 4/10 (for sparkling raspberries aplenty)
Spice: 9/10 (for almost everything else)
"GOD, I love this place," says Rebecca O. from Yelp. And she’s not the only one — Chicago Reader calls this gin-soaked joint "a rebellious mix of the baroque and the affordable." At Scofflaw, snuggle up to your sweetheart with a black strap Hot Buttered Rum, or sit by the roaring fire with a Sazerac and make the most of the Chicago winter.
Sugar: 7/10 (for terrariums and tiki drinks in winter)
Spice: 3/10 (for absinthe sprays and Death’s Door Gin)
Brick and Mortar, Boston
"Brick and Mortar: where you come for a thrupple." (So says Yelp’s Alison W. about this dark, cool Boston haunt.) If you’re looking to seal the deal, order a half-dozen fresh oysters and the Pisco-based "Take Your Top Off" — no promises, but at least you’ll make your intentions known.
Sugar: 3/10 (for citrus and shaved ice)
Spice: 8/10 (for smoke and Scotch aplenty)
Bathtub Gin and Co., Seattle
There’s a real bathtub at Belltown establishment Bathtub Gin & Go. — along with Aztec chocolate bitters and pressed apple juice. Start with the light Cassiopeia (gin, crème de violette) and a peck on the cheek; end the night with a round of Kentucky Tangoes (rye, Tabasco, brown sugar) and making out in the alley. Yum.
Sugar: 2/10 (for Veuve Cliquot by the glass)
Spice: 10/10 (for Jamaican jerk bitters and a codified "no firearms" rule)