Twelve restaurants where the bar is raised to exceptional standards. by Alia Akkam
A staggering number of bars today—whether an upscale speakeasy or neighborhood dive—astound with their rich collections of obscure spirits, carefully created concoctions, and knowledgeable staff. Those retreats found in restaurants are in an impressive league of their own. Not content to rest on their gastronomic laurels or expansive wine lists alone, operators are putting thoughtful cocktail programs in place—sometimes to bolster meals, sometimes the sole reason for a savvy customer to visit. It would be impossible to single out every one of these deserving bars, of course, which is testament to how quality now permeates the industry. Instead, here are a dozen that stand out. Some are old-timers that ensure a compelling sheen is always polished; others are newcomers slated for success, already making their marks in cities with attractive cocktail scenes. From New York City to Charleston, South Carolina, here are some of the country’s best restaurant bars.
Brandy cocktails are the draw at seductive Trou Normand, the second project from prominent San Francisco barman Thad Vogler. His first, Bar Agricole, has been luring diners to a particularly industrial patch of the SOMA district since 2010, with its sleek, wood-adorned old warehouse setting nurtured with sustainable materials and an organic garden. Matching this Zen air are cocktails grounded in freshness and simplicity. Consider the El Presidente (white rum, vermouth blanc, grenadine, curacao, orange bitters) or the Zamboanga (Armagnac, lime, pineapple gomme, maraschino, aromatic bitters). They complement an ever-changing menu that always revolves around the bounty of seasonal California ingredients.
L.A.’s budding Downtown Arts District is home to Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’ Bestia, a contemporary Italian joint where stinging nettle raviolo and burrata pizzas are sought after in an industrial space dressed with brick décor and meat-hook chandeliers. The copper-topped bar is a showstopper, and patrons head to it not only to peruse the wine list that cleverly changes daily, but also for cocktails with a robust culinary bent. Here, pistachio syrup is paired with rum and salt-baked pear purée with mezcal. Bourbon is infused with lardo and—together with hickory-smoked sugar, Angostura bitters, and salt tincture—composes the Chef’s Old Fashioned.
Boka, the inaugural Chicago restaurant from Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz’s Boka Hospitality Group, is a Lincoln Park stalwart that received a jolt of new energy a few years ago when Lee Wolen started manning the stoves. Before the ricotta gnudi with bone marrow and charcoal grilled beets, guests gravitate to the bar for elegant cocktails that nod to the pantry. In the Clear Intentions, horseradish tincture amplifies Ketel One Vodka, green Chartreuse, and apple, while the North African spice mix Ras el Hanout melds with Old Forester bourbon, Smith & Cross rum, Averna, and orange.
All of restaurateur Garrett Harker’s Boston-area establishments—which extend to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Burlington, Vermont, and include the Hawthorne, Branch Line, Row 34, Island Creek Oyster Bar— crackle with warm ambiance and are top-notch places to eat and drink, the latter realm courtesy of local bar legend Jackson Cannon. However, Harker’s original venture, Eastern Standard inside the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston’s Kenmore Square, remains timelessly attractive even after a dozen years of operation. The dark, sexy brasserie is just as renowned for tipples like the Grapes of Wrath (Cognac, cream sherry, lemon, maraschino) and Mission to Burma (Grand Marnier, Fords Gin, Angostura bitters, lemon) as enticing late-night treats including roasted oysters with parsley butter.
Cane & Table
Game-changing cocktail bar Cure first put Neal Bodenheimer and Kirk Estopinal in the New Orleans limelight. Their latest effort, laidback Cafe Henri, is poised to keep them there. In between came Cane & Table, the rum-centric French Quarter hangout they collaborated on with its visionary, Nick Detrich. The Big Easy dining and drinking landscape is certainly cluttered, but Cane & Table packs a steady crowd into its whitewashed, tropical vibe. Detrich’s smart “proto-tiki” cocktail menu delves deep into New Orleans’ past as a thriving port and telegraphs both the Caribbean and Africa. To accompany the likes of sweet potato curry and jerked yardbird, there are drinks, spanning “refreshing” and “heady.” Rum and pineapple fittingly steal the show in many of them, like the Ode to Jerry Thomas, a spiced mint tea milk punch, and the Boss Colada with bitter Swedish Bäska Snaps.
The seasonal American cuisine soulfully prepared by executive chef and partner Michael Anthony is what keeps New Yorkers returning time and again to Gramercy Tavern. In the bustling, walk-in tavern up front, the bar, which turns out artful cocktails spiked with offbeat ingredients like Nardini Mandorla grappa and Zirbenz stone pine liqueur, is iconic in its own right. Since opening in 1994 as part of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, Gramercy Tavern has been synonymous with this low-key à la carte experience. Engaging hospitality is a hallmark of all Meyer restaurants, and here, even in a rustic-casual setting, it is on ample display. Solo diners would be hard-pressed to feel more at ease than in the fine company of Gramercy Tavern barkeeps whipping them up a Moneypenny (Glenfarclas 12-year-old Scotch, Suze Gentian Liqueur, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth) before their clam and salsa verde flatbread arrives.
Vitaly Paley—of Paley’s Place, Imperial and the Portland Penny Diner—is one of Portland’s most esteemed chefs. His newest venture, seafood-loving Headwaters inside the historic Heathman Hotel, fast became known for its Russian tea service and for bar manager Brandy Feit’s cocktails as well. Happy Hours are the time for smoked mussel shooters and Boulevardiers on tap. Yet for more formal dinners of, say, seaweed pesto gnocchi with baby octopus enjoyed on green banquettes, evenings can kick off with a Claim to Fame (brandy, Amaro Montenegro, cherry-vanilla bitters, lemon, soda) or a rum-Creole shrubb-pink peppercorn K’vass Punch.
Charleston, South Carolina
When the Dewberry, a mid-century–influenced marvel of a hotel opened last year in a downtown Charleston federal building, it quickly emerged as one of the city’s hottest watering holes to boot. Bar manager Ryan Casey can typically be found in the lobby Living Room making a Sergio Leone (Rittenhouse rye, Suze, Mancino Bianco vermouth, espaulette) amid mirrored columns. But the cocktails in all-day restaurant Henrietta’s, a light-filled brasserie serving truffled boudin blanc and steak frites, also shouldn’t be missed. Meals might begin with a refreshing Henrietta’s Highball (shochu, Lillet Blanc, black cherry seltzer, lemon) and end by following a lemon chess tart with a Brandy Alexander.
The NoMad Hotel
New York City
A trifecta of drinking dens—the Elephant Bar, Library, and the NoMad Bar—keeps the fashionable New Yorkers who flock to The NoMad Hotel sated. Award-winning bar director Leo Robitschek is behind each of these sexy spaces, where eye-catching design details such as a long, gleaming mahogany bar and a French-imported spiral staircase are buoyed by cocktails that reflect an alluring synergy with the kitchen. Nonalcoholic options aren’t mere afterthoughts either, as the Paradise City (grapefruit, passion fruit, vanilla, cream, sparkling mineral water) is as inventive as the Into the Woods (Chambéry Blanc vermouth, Douglas fir liqueur, lemon, rosemary, egg white). These bars are destinations, not just holding pens for a coveted dinner from Chef Daniel Humm.
One of the South’s most thriving cities, Nashville continues to captivate with a barrage of new restaurants and bars. Energetic Old Glory, from sisters Alexis and Britt Soler, has especially struck a chord with locals. The sprawling, hidden-in-an-alley space in Edgehill Village—a one-time laundry facility—is outfitted in cement and iron, providing a modern-industrial backdrop where guests gorge on Liptauer cheese dip and smoked baby potatoes. Playfully named cocktails, including the Kruggerand (amontillado sherry, Averna, salt, lemon) and Cowboy Curtis (Maestro Dobel tequila, whole grapefruit, strawberry, Aperol, Cholula hot sauce) delightfully unite seemingly incongruous ingredients.
New York City, Denver, Miami
Michael Stillman, president and founder of New York City–based Quality Branded (QB), was always poised for a career in hospitality. After all, his father is the founder of the original T.G.I. Friday’s and the storied New York steakhouse Smith & Wollensky. That old-school restaurant is now part of Stillman’s QB empire, which also encompasses Maloney & Porcelli, Quality Eats, Park Avenue Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer, Quality Italian Steakhouse, and Quality Meats—of which the last two brands have respective outposts in Denver and Miami. Conscientious bar director Bryan Schneider is the common link. At Quality Eats he might put the Adios (tequila, tarragon, green Chartreuse, habanero cubes) front and center, along with the 57 Spritz (Prosecco, fresh-pressed grapefruit, Aperol, pomegranate molasses) at Quality Italian. Sophistication and surprise are at the heart of all of the cocktails.
Kansas City, Missouri
Thanks to the advent of the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival held in Kansas City every summer, a wider swath of imbibers is becoming acquainted with the glories of this Midwestern epicenter. One highlight is The Rieger, an American grill helmed by chef/owner Howard Hanna and set in a 1915 hotel. Partner Ryan Maybee—who also runs the speakeasy Manifesto below the restaurant—presides over the beverage program, which emphasizes seasonal libations and revamped classics like the Columbus Park (Four Roses single-barrel bourbon, Averna, Carpano Antica, Campari). During happy hour, garlicky Rieger Pork Soup is savored alongside a $5 Horsefeather, made with ginger beer, bitters, and whiskey from J. Rieger & Co., the brand from a circa-1887 local distillery resurrected by Maybee.
10 Outstanding Wine Programs by Kristine Hansen
What makes a wine program sparkle? While it starts with the lengthy list packed full of gems—a mix of newer, lesser-known producers and older vintages from storied producers alike—it’s also a tribute to the sommeliers and beverage directors who wrote the list and the staff who promote those wines daily. In other words, a strong program goes beyond the cellar. Whether its funding third-party wine-education programs (as two of our selections do) or ensuring there is daily on-site training to help inform staffers’ palates, an outstanding wine program puts just as much attention on wine as it does on the food, beer, and spirits. From San Francisco to Philadelphia, Los Angeles to New Orleans—here are 10 outstanding wine programs that deserve recognition.
Bern’s Steak House
With a wine list so revered that dining here is practically a rite of passage for serious wine drinkers, Bern’s Steak House has been a Tampa institution since opening in 1956. In 2013 another Bern’s location opened in the brand-new, highly interactive Epicurean Hotel, paving the way for the next half-century. The three sommeliers on staff, including Eric Renaud, craft a wine list of around 6,800 selections. Among the wine list’s strengths are its dessert offerings, such as Madeira and Port, and the list’s vintages, dating back to the 1970s. Two hundred wines by the glass range from chilled Champagne, like Krug’s “Grande Cuvée,” to world-renowned reds such as the 2013 Gaja Ca’ Marcanda “Promis,” Bolgheri from Tuscany.
Joe Billesbach, beverage director and sommelier After a forced nine-month closure in 2006 due to Hurricane Katrina, an event that also ruined the entire wine cellar because of a loss of temperature control, followed by a yearlong closure in 2013 due to the previous owners’ financial strife, Ralph Brennan reopened Brennan’s in the French Quarter in 2014. A two-story wine room stands testament to customers that the restaurant is serious about wine—12,000 bottles are on the list—but behind the scenes is an even deeper dive into the commitment. Shortly after the restaurant reopened, each member of the service staff enrolled in a 12-week course to prepare for the rigorous Court of Master Sommeliers certification program. Daily training in wine keeps their palates in tune with what’s trending. The list leads with 124 Champagnes, before expanding into an impressive selection of Burgundian and Bordeaux red wines, and Piedmont reds and whites, with domestic selections spanning California, Oregon, and Washington.
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House
Thirteen locations around the country
Jessica Norris, director of beverage Managing a wine list that averages 1,600 selections at each of its 13 locations is no easy task, but Jessica Norris does it with ease, coaching waitstaff in the stories—such as the terroir, winemaker, and winery family—behind each wine. “Wine lists are usually pretty vague,” says Norris, who travels to each site to lead wine classes. “Our staff needs to be able to sell it with confidence, almost like a package wrapped in a bow. We give [our staff] a ‘catch memory,’ something they can hook on” when speaking with customers, such as a food-pairing suggestion or fun fact about the wine or its flavor profile. Norris also partnered with Robert Foley on a proprietary 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. While each location varies, the New York City steakhouse features an $8 million wine program with 2,000 selections. All team members are reimbursed for wine education, and they receive a wine notebook, which they bring to pre-shift tastings three to four times per week.
Alan Murray, wine director In French, jardinière means gardener, and that moniker certainly applies to this eatery’s seasonally inspired food menu’s modern-French twists. It also applies to the wine list, which Master Sommelier Alan Murray has designed to feature both affordable and exquisite wines, such as a $42 Chablis or the 2001 Henry Jayer Grand Cru Echezeaux from France, which goes for $2,350 a bottle, as well as wines from California, Spain, and Italy. Thirteen 2-ounce pours of dessert wines—ideal for pairing with restaurant favorites like chocolate crémeux—are also available. And just as chef/owner Traci Des Jardins strives to know the faces producing the food that she sources, Murray does the same with the wines. per week.
Maple & Ash
Amy Mundwiler, assistant wine director Crafted by Amy Mundwiler and James Beard Award–winning sommelier and former director of wine and service Belinda Chang (who has since left Maple & Ash), the wine list at this Chicago steakhouse—open since 2015—runs deep. Sprinkled into its 25 pages are not only Napa Cabs and red Bordeaux wines perfect for pairing with steak, but also larger-format magnums, double magnums, and even Nebuchadnez-zars (equivalent to 20 standard 750 ml bottles). And yet there’s also a focus on making wine accessible to new drinkers through a list of 50 wines for under $50, plus an option to order any wine by the glass, thanks to Coravin’s needle extraction from the bottle.
Kristina Bustamante, sommelier Just as showy as this restaurant’s location—inside the Frank Gehry–designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic—is the wine list, boasting a selection of 1,000 labels, some from Chef Joachim Splichal’s own collection. While the food is French-centric cuisine, guests can choose from a three- or six-course tasting menu, as well as vegetarian and game menus. Dishes like squab and foie gras are featured and the wines are mostly French and California, with vintages dating back to 1994, like the Caymus “Special Select,” Napa Valley. Newer California wineries like Sarapo Family Wines and Habit Wine Company bump up against French chateau labels that are several centuries old. A celebratory perk: Five Champagnes are poured by the glass.
Red Room Lounge
Darren Scott, general manager and sommelier When this wine bar opened in 2012, it began as a way to educate customers about wine at a low price and, to that end, featured several by-the-glass pours. “Austin’s a fairly young city, a lot of millennials are just getting into wine,” says Darren Scott, general manager and sommelier. The food at Red Room is provided by Vince Young Steakhouse, a fine-dining institution in Austin. When the founder of Red Room Lounge, Alex Andrawes, opened Estate Wine Brokers inside Red Room, suddenly the concept was flying high as the “it” wine spot in Austin. Buying collectible, rare, and exquisite wines from private cellars via the brokerage “gives us a blanket license to purchase wine from any source and resell to consumers,” says Scott, who travels to the cellars to evaluate wines on-site. On any given Thursday the cellar favorite might mean pouring a 2-ounce sample of 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, for example, or 2002 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. “It’s almost like being a treasure hunter,” Scott says. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Forty locations across the U.S.
George Miliotes, director of beverage and hospitality At Seasons 52, George Miliotes puts as much focus on training as he does on the wine selections. With the restaurant’s “drink them before they’re famous” mantra, 52 wines are available to be poured by the glass, including the proprietary Jolie Saison from Gamay. Two wine-training programs enrich employees’ palates: The Gallo Wine Education Program is online and for hourly employees, while every manager attends an all-expense-paid three-day program in Orlando, Florida. On the service side, the restaurant’s $15 “flights and flatbreads” promotion during happy hour aims to entice new wine drinkers with a flight of three 2-ounce pours, one ranked 90-plus points, plus a full glass of the customer’s favorite. “We try to balance discovery with things that you know,” says Seasons 52 president Brian Foye.
Jeff Benjamin, sommelier and partner A wine list heavy on one country’s wines is no easy feat, especially when that country is Italy, home to many rare and obscure varietals. When it opened in 1998, Vetri’s list had just 70 Italian bottles. Today the 2,500-bottle list represents 500 varietals in Italy and ranks high among the most extensive list of Italian-wines to be found in the U.S. This includes verticals of more than a decade for some wineries. In the 32-seat dining room, guests are treated to a four-course tasting menu, including dishes like guinea hen with seasonal mushrooms that are perfect for pairing with everything from Barolos to Soaves. Special events feature wine dinners with visiting winemakers and classes hosted by guest sommeliers—which serve to remind customers that Vetri is monitoring the pulse of the industry.
Vin Sur Vingt
New York City
Sebastian Auvet, co-founder Opting to include just one wine region on a wine list is basically a love letter to that grape-growing area—and that is precisely what Vin Sur Vingt has written with its all-French wine list. Vin Sur Vingt, which has four locations in New York City, including its newest on the Upper West Side, is a classic French wine bar and bistro. Fifty of the wines—from Alsace to Sud-Ouest—are poured by the glass. The wine list is a veritable education in French wines, from the pricey “big guns” in Bordeaux to selections from the Loire Valley that are priced under $50. The menu highlights those that are organic or biodynamic, and events for the public include a complimentary wine tasting every Monday night at the West Village location that is designed to introduce new drinkers to French wine.
Best of the West
From NOLA to Napa, FSR’s Portland, Oregon–based Beer Editor chooses the “fastest draws” in the West. by Brian Yaeger
Getting a distributor to sell some beer to a restaurant isn’t difficult. For the restaurant, however, getting the right beer that will complement the menu and appeal to its particular set of customers is the trick. It requires having a pulse on contemporary offerings—borderline ESP to know what patrons want from week to week—and, in the most elevated cases, relationships with the breweries themselves. More and more, brewers are collaborating with chefs to create restaurant-specific beers and getting together to wrap their respective heads around creating unique beer pairing dinners. But even on a day-to-day level, diners appreciate a smartly curated beer list across draft and bottles. Winter, spring, summer, or fall, raise a glass to five stellar beer directors in the western U.S.
Seal Beach and Long Beach, California
Gabe Gordon, owner With restaurants in sandy Seal Beach and industrial Long Beach, Beachwood BBQ serves authentic barbecue and award-winning beers. They could easily keep fans satisfied if they only offered IPAs such as Thrillseeker or Melrose, along with Great American Beer Festival–decorated stouts and Belgian-style sours from their Blendery. But Gordon and his crew dedicate over 20 of the Seal Beach taps to guest breweries, and a higher number still among the Long Beach location’s 32 handles. Back to those sour beers—just as grape or strawberry sodas sell well at old- school barbecue joints—a slab of baby backs and a bottle of fruity lambic-style ales like “Careful With That Peach, Eugene” or “Careful With That Guava, Eugene” make the gridlock traffic getting there totally worth it.
Choice City Butcher & Deli
Fort Collins, Colorado
Russ Robinson, owner/beer buyer It’s doubtful that when Russ Robinson opened Choice City Butcher and Deli in the previously sleepy town of Fort Collins, he knew the restaurant and beer shop would be bound for an extensive run of being named one of the best beer restaurants in the world by RateBeer.com. This is no mere sandwich shop. The corned buffalo—served with creamy potato pancakes—puts most New York corned beef to shame. And the jaw-dropping, handpicked beer menu that heavily favors local producers (Colorado has the third-most breweries of any state) exceeds expectations, and, nearly, physical boundaries. So while lunches are quick-service or to-go orders, mornings and evenings are for diners looking for a full-blown, sit-down beer brunch or dinner. “It’s controlled chaos,” remarks Robinson. Delicious chaos across three dozen taps and a bottle list that gives beer geeks with FOMO the fits.
Freret Beer Room
Eli Gray, owner and beverage director Owner Eli Gray initially planned on opening a specialty beer bar “with some nice but modest food.” However, in what is perhaps America’s most culinary city, he says, “It became more and more evident that I’d be missing out on a great opportunity without a full food program.” In the land where rum reigns and cocktails are king, an increasing number of “local brewers tend to gravitate toward beers that are friendly to our cuisine,” Gray says. Among the 16 taps, a standout is Bayou Teche’s Biere Noire, a dark French saison. Dishes include crawfish spaghetti and pan-roasted shrimp with chorizo. Since the way to New Orleanians’ hearts is through their stomachs and livers, Freret Beer Room on-boards them to the craft beer train via versatile suds and, in turn, is already flipping the traditional restaurant script just months into launching.
Pauly Miller, “Beer Guy” Since 1994, which is to say before F2T was even a phrase, Greg Higgins has kept his eponymous restaurant a Portland landmark with farm-fresh food and—from the get-go—brewery-fresh beer. Pauly Miller, who’s been everything from a waiter to a “cocktailer,” now boasts the title Beer Guy, and in this role maintains a dozen taps. Everyone, from the diners who predominantly inquire about the IPA or two on draft to the suit ‘n’ tie barflies who pore over the 120-strong bottle list, knows this is the premier beer spot in the downtown area of the city nicknamed Beervana. Perhaps because James Beard Award–winning chef Higgins is a beer geek, Miller has one handle devoted to Hair of the Dog Brewing from chef-turned-brewer Alan Sprints. And, while virtually every restaurant in Portland would kill for an exclusive creation from Belgian-inspired The Commons Brewery, a collaboration with Higgins will debut this summer.
Sebastopol, Sonoma, and Novato, California
Bryan Wells, Cicerone Among three quaint towns connecting the Sonoma and Marin County vineyards, a beer-centric oasis was founded in each by Dean Biersch (half of Gordon-Biersch fame). Hopmonk Tavern’s on-staff cicerone Bryan Wells notes, “Yes we’re in wine country … but this is also beer country.” (Cicerones are the certified sommeliers of the beer world.) The rustic tavern’s menu of salads, grilled meats, and elevated pub grub features distinct beer lists across the three locations. Luckily, one constant across the watering holes is Hopmonk Kellerbier, an unfiltered beer that refreshes as it scrubs the palate. It’s earthy and flavorful, without overpowering. Wells makes it his mission to offer patrons a selection of new and upcoming breweries, but always featuring”great examples of style from around the world, always fresh on draft.” And for wine lovers who think they don’t care for beer? “Those are my favorite guests because the variety of flavors available in beer is so vast there’s something for everyone.”
East Side Standouts
Our East Coast Beer Editor notes the best craft beer picks from Chicago to D.C. to the Carolina Mountains. by Jeff Cioletti
When it comes to crafting an appealing beer and beverage list, the real standouts in the industry are avoiding the “let’s throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” trap that far too many fall into and, instead, are creating an identity for their beverage programs that aligns with the personality of their respective restaurants. There’s more collaboration with the kitchen than ever before, and it’s beginning to manifest on the menu. And they’re proving that you can still have variety—whether it’s pairing with barbecue, Sichuan cuisine, or encased meats—without trying to be absolutely everything to everyone.
The Barrow House
Clifton, New Jersey
Thomas & Dean Maroulakos, managing partners These days, consumers are most likely to walk into a bar or restaurant that’s known either for its beer selection or its cutting-edge craft cocktail program. Rarely do the two get equal play without one suffering in favor of the other, and even more rarely does it happen outside the city limits of a major metropolis. But The Barrow House in Clifton, New Jersey—a suburb of New York City—manages to pull it off. Nine steady taps—including one for its house lager, The Barrow House, which is brewed in collaboration with nearby High Point Brewing Co.—as well as nine rotating lines of regional, national, and international brews round out the drafts. The restaurant also makes room for about 20 bottles. At least 10 seasonal house-created cocktails are always being mixed, and there are an additional two pouring from taps—all served in a rustic farmhouse setting paired with dishes made from seasonal farm-fresh ingredients. Brothers Tom and Dean Maroulakos are making a habit of reviving the classic beverage traditions in the area. They’re also the ones behind Cowan’s Public in nearby Nutley, which opened with a craft beer focus but evolved to include the cocktail program—the same concept they applied to The Barrow House. They even got to hand-select their own proprietary bourbon barrels from distilleries to acquire their own unique flavors.
Asheville, North Carolina
Brandon Grogan, bar manager Folks in Asheville, North Carolina, are a discerning bunch, especially when it comes to two things in particular: barbecue and beer. So when you open a restaurant like Buxton Hall, which offers both, you’d better know your stuff. Bar manager Brandon Grogan says the process for putting together the right beverage program is quite a bit like cooking Buxton’s signature meats. “Cooking barbecue takes a lot of time, and our kitchen crew puts in a lot of work to deliver a good product,” Grogan explains. “Choosing the right beer means the bar crew spends a lot of time sitting at bars and trying new things.”
And they’re in the unique position to go right to the source. Asheville, which has been dubbed Beer City, U.S.A., has one of the highest concentrations of breweries per capita in the world. Most are in walking distance—none more so than Catawba, whose tasting room shares a wall with Buxton. Think of it as a citywide research lab.
Neighborhood Restaurant Group
Greg Engert, beer director & partner The beer scene in the nation’s capital has exploded over the past decade. That is thanks, in no small part, to Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s beer director (and now partner) Greg Engert. Before the arrival of places like ChurchKey gastropub, its downstairs companion restaurant Birch & Barley, and—across the Potomac in Alexandria, Virginia—Rustico, the idea of pairing an extensive selection of carefully curated local and international beers with creatively crafted artisanal cuisine was mostly a foreign concept inside the Beltway. ChurchKey alone boasts about 600 options. And few establishments even knew what the proper, style-specific serving temperatures were before Engert applied his expertise to the group’s vast bottle and draft portfolio.
Emily Fink, beverage director Sichuan cuisine’s famously complex flavors demand an equally complex array of beverages to complement them, but often the options are few and far between. The trendy Won Fun—as well as the upstairs companion bar, 2Fun—in Chicago’s West Loop offers a beer and cocktail list designed for the demands of authentic Sichuan fare. Beverage director Emily Fink says it’s all about how to deal with the cuisine’s signature heat, as well as the notoriously numbing Sichuan peppercorns. Crisp lagers—like Local Option Outlawger—are ideal for those who want to extinguish the heat. Hoppy ales—such as 3 Floyds Yum Yum and Ska Decadent—are the go-to drinks for those who want to feed the inferno on their palates. “If [guests] want something to ease the crazy numbing sensation of Sichuan, they will enjoy a lager,” Fink says. “If they are in it for the tears and running noses, give them an ale.”
Jersey City, New Jersey
Aaron Kahn, co-owner & certified cicerone The concept of a hot dog and a beer has come a very long way, and Jersey City’s Würstbar is living proof of this phenomenon. The menu is a globetrotting journey, featuring classic sausages inspired by the traditions of Germany, the U.K., and Ireland, to Spain, Poland, and Morocco, as well as at least eight “signature dogs.” “I try to select beers from smaller, more esoteric breweries, domestic and imported, though we do work with some big imported breweries from Belgium, Germany, and the Czech Republic,” says co-owner and Certified Cicerone Aaron Kahn. Not only does the beer list feature brews from and inspired by many of those places to match, but the cider list is uncharacteristically robust and diverse—nearly three dozen (mostly bottles), highlighting the great fermented apple traditions of the world. There’s always at least one rotating cider draft line, and Würstbar plans to install more lines solely for that beverage. “I’d say we have one of the larger cider menus in the area,” Kahn notes. “Ciders pair extremely well with sausages.”