The original version of this story ran in August 2017.
Start or end an evening on the town with a well-thought-out beverage. Here are our top 11 cocktail bar selections, in no particular order:
235 W. Tremont Ave.
This upscale restaurant featuring inspired seasonal food and handcrafted cocktails was named for the early 1900s balloon-like gas-filled aircraft. Sink into the sleek, lounge-like seating and expect an ingredient-focused and fresh-driven cocktail program. Try The Uncle Eddy, a cold-smoked spin on an old-fashioned, or The Zeppelin Pickleback featuring a molecular pickle juice sphere and rotating spirit.
Tip: One rule on the establishment’s website is: “Please be patient, as your cocktails are being made thoughtfully and with your satisfaction at top of mind.”
1531 East Blvd.
Grab a table inside or a rocking chair on the patio to watch the sunset while you order something soothing. There’s a whole list of specialty cocktails from the Lavender Mule to the Watermelon Jalapeno Margarita, but it’s worth starting with one of the Seven Summits cocktails, from the Mount Everest (with Firefly, Ketel One Oranje, lemon sour, cranberry splash and muddled mint), to the Denali (with Midnight Moon, Midnight Moon Apple Pie, honey lemon syrup and apple cider). After all, bar owner Deedee Mills named the place for inspiration she found during her climb at Mount Kilimanjaro.
Tip: Take a look around when you’re inside. All of the photographs were taken by the owner during her time in Africa.
2433 South Blvd.
Lift a phone off the hook in the hallway behind taco hotspot SouthBound, and you’ll be transported into this sipping spot with handsome decor that pays homage to music halls that have closed in town. While membership is $20, it’s worth it — the hustle and bustle of South End quickly disappears with the first taste of the complimentary house punch. All you have to do next is choose a signature cocktail. Will it be the Gin Fizz with Mother Earth gin and lemon foam, perhaps?
Tip: Stick around for a charcuterie and cheese board. And one more cocktail. Why not?
3116 N. Davidson St.
The cocktail program at Crepe Cellar was perfected by self-taught cocktail creator Colleen Hughes. Look for both riffs on classic cocktails and cocktails that are being turned into sensory experiences with ingredients like essential oils. “As opposed to it just being a drink,” Hughes said, “it’s a sensation, along with a drink.”
Tip: You can also find Colleen’s cocktails down the street at Haberdish.
100 W. Trade St.
Experience hand-crafted cocktails at Stoke Charlotte’s sleek dining area and bar inside the revamped Marriott City Center. The libations menu features a list of cocktail styles including stirred, shaken, poured and pressed, and the culinary menu is adventurous with sharable plates like pretzel brioche with whipped butters (a must), charred shishito peppers and rice grits.
Tip: Switching to wine? The bottles are tapped for full or half pours to allow for better sampling.
127 N. Tryon St., Suite D.
The key players behind 5Church, Alejandro Torio, Patrick Whalen and Chef Jamie Lynch, opened this upscale bar and lounge right next door to the restaurant. They teamed up with a Charleston mixologist to bring the chic lounge to the ground level of The Ivey’s hotel, complete with vintage touches, a Parisian flair, food, drinks and craft cocktails.
Tip: Have a seat on a velvet sofa and admire the expensive art while you drink.
4101 Park Road, #260B
First, you’ll need to buy a $10 membership before you venture through the door of this cocktail parlor envisioned by Conrad Hunter (owner of Foxcroft Wine Co.) and Stefan Huebner (formerly of Cosmos Cafe and Heist Brewery) in Park Road Shopping Center’s Backlot. Second, you’ll need to grab a seat in the low-lit dining area or expansive bar and try a craft cocktail. Huebner’s aim was to innovate with this culinary-driven bar. He said, “You’re going to come in and have cocktails and then have a little bit of food to nosh on.”
Tip: Try the Truffle New York Sour, crafted with bourbon, orange curacao, truffle egg white, house sweet and sour, and ruby port.
201 East Trade St.
Here, on the 15th floor of the Ritz-Carlton, former bartender Bob Peters left a legacy of concoctions that sound like magical elixirs. A dash of exotic bitters here, a splash of infused syrup there, now carbonate this and smoke that.
Tip: Tell the bartender the tastes you like, and see what gets whipped up. Surprise yourself.
10000 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy.
This elegant, art-infused space within The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge features an array of wines, single malt Scotches, whiskeys and cocktails. Hint: Gallery holds more than 200 distinctive whiskeys.
Tip: Try one of the daily whiskey flights.
204 N. Tryon St.
Sip a cocktail in this remodeled, 1928 structure that features a bright, industrial-chic vibe with Edison bulbs and a metal and glass chandelier that dangles from the second floor. 204 North has the kind of casual atmosphere where someone in a T-shirt could be sitting at a table next to someone in a sport coat — and both can be drinking a signature or draft cocktail.
Tip: Try a cocktail with a neighborhood name. Do you ever wonder what “Dilworth” tastes like?
330 N. Tryon St.
This speakeasy-style space holds a soft, golden glow and an air of exclusivity due to its limited seating. Opt for an extravagant cocktail, whether you’re in the mood for a Moscow mule or a signature mix.
Pro tip: Don’t just come for the drinks. Try the gastropub fare on the chef-driven menu.
227 Southside Dr.
This relaxed space is intended to invoke a warm, familiar vibe (think leather-couch seating). The bar serves up handcrafted spirits made at Great Wagon Road Distilling Company next door, as well as spirits from around the globe.
Pro tip: This is a private club. Join here for just $1.
Happy drinking. Make it delectable.
Photos: Arody Victoria, Molly Mathis/Charlotte Observer, James Fedele, Robert Lahser/Charlotte Observer, Gallery Restaurant
Reporting contributed by Katie Toussaint, Sallie Funderburk, Michelle Boudin, Kathleen Purvis and Sarah Crosland.