Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The 8 Trends Defining Bars in 2024

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Who knew an alcohol-free cocktail could pack such a powerful punch? Or that savory drinks would come to dominate some of the most captivating cocktail menus? From the resurgence of queer bars to the modern reinvigoration of a 300-year-old drink-making technique, these eight trends show exactly why cocktail bars are at their best right now.

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Milk Punch Madness

The most refreshing cocktail we’ve sipped all year starts with a healthy glug of milk. It might sound counterintuitive that dairy is the base for a cocktail as light as it is flavorful, but that’s part of the magic: a thick, cloudy concoction of milk, acid, and liquor goes in, and what comes out—after some patience and straining—is a bright, nearly crystal clear punch. The technique dates back to the 18th century when the original brandy-based version became one of the first shelf-stable cocktails, prized equally for its utility, unique tart flavor, and velvety texture. The alchemical process has gained a renewed following in recent years, leading to a spate of thirst-quenching milk punches. You’ll now find versions that extend across the flavor spectrum.

The salted plum and tamarind version at Superbueno in New York’s East Village dances between sweet and salty. Owner Ignacio “Nacho” Jimenez swaps the traditional brandy for sugarcane-based charanda and ayuuk, a smoky, fruity spirit. Then he adds plum and tamarind syrup, floral lojana tea, lemon, and milk and lets the mixture sit for several hours. Four strains and a sprinkle of salt later, the cocktail is a light shade of vermillion—and, most importantly, just a hair hazier than a glass of ice-cold water. Bartenders like Jimenez are taking advantage of the versatility of the milk punch formula, treating it as a canvas for their creativity. “It’s a very complex cocktail,” Jimenez says. “The ingredients really stand out without competing with each other.” Though the technique might be ancient, bartenders like Jimenez have made it feel exhilaratingly new.

Image may contain Cup Glass Alcohol Beverage Cocktail and Ice

Superbueno’s milk punch is finished with a single edible flower.Photograph by Marcus McDonald

The Queer Bar Boom

Just a few years ago it seemed like queer bars—which had been closing at an alarming rate—were not long for this world. But spots like Mother in San Francisco, Honey’s in LA, and New York’s Upstairs Cocktail Bar are reimagining the genre. Though the safe spaces of yore weren’t always focused on building out a cocktail list, these new community spaces offer the best of both worlds: a warm welcome and seriously impressive drinks.

Going Savory

If your ideal cocktail is more bright and briny than sappily sweet, you’re in luck: Bartenders are going big on savory cocktails. At Superbueno, the combination of smoky-sweet corn whiskey and a dusting of charred corn in the Roasted Corn Sour veers decidedly toward the savory. If a bit of funky je ne sais quoi is more your speed, look to the Muki at Miami’s Bar Kaiju. The cocktail mixes clay-infused pisco and porcini-steeped vermouth into a drink that’s as mellow and deep as it is sweet.

Beyond “Mocktails”

The popularity of spirit-free drinks has exploded, and some of the country’s best bars, like Wild Child in Shawnee, KS, now dedicate significant menu space to drinks that don’t feature a lick of alcohol. Some, like LA’s Stay Zero Proof, forgo booze entirely in favor of inspired non-alcoholic takes on classics like the espresso martini or old-fashioned. Bottled, stirred, and on-tap, we’re living in the golden age of nonalcoholic cocktails.

Pepper Power

Spice is the domain of so much more than mezcal margaritas these days. In an ode to mapo tofu, The Houston Blacklight adds chile-washed tequila to the Lava Lamp along with Cocchi Americano and mezcal to create a lip-tingling tipple. Stay Zero Proof revamps a classic green juice with green chile and chile pepper threads in its aptly named cocktail: The Dragon.

Listen Close

Jazz kissa—bars where audiophiles soak up tunes from high-end sound systems—have long been popular in Tokyo, but recently the concept has grown into a global sensation. Listening bars, where the tunes are just as important as the pours, are popping up across the country, from Brooklyn’s Eavesdrop, which features local DJs five nights a week, to Equipment Room in Austin, where mixologists stir up drinks in front of floor-to-ceiling shelves heaving with records. Don’t worry, the playlist never loops.

Destination Drinking

Bars inspired by world travel are very much worth a trip right now, replete with drinks and decor that whisk patrons to distant cities and far-off planets. Birds of Paradise in Brighton, MA, weaves the flavors of iconic cities into a menu inspired by global destinations. (Think cachaça, miso, and pineapple in the Rio to Tokyo, a spin on a piña colada.) San Diego’s Mothership takes you even further afield. Its menu, based around rum cocktails, pushes tropical flavors past their familiar orbit to create a portal to a distant, lush universe where visitors are on permanent vacation.

A New Top Shelf

At today’s best bars, familiar spirits like gin and whiskey are being complemented by liquors less familiar in the States. At Seattle’s Paper Fan Cocktail Bar, the sorghum-based baijiu is blended into the Game of Ming, and at Equipment Room, bright, vegetal sotol shows up in La Iguana alongside Irish whiskey, floral sherry, and fresh aromatics. Other spirits like the verdant, sugarcane-based rhum agricole and lightly floral shōchū are also getting their well-deserved time in the spotlight at bars around the country.

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