Bars

San Francisco
> 20 Spot
Bay Area native Bodhi Freedom purchased Russian Hill's Bacchus Wine Bar in 2006 after working for the previous owner for six years; all told, he spent around 13 years behind the bar at that diminutive 14-seat spot. When the former Force of Habit record-store space on 20th Street became available, he took the opportunity to stretch his wings. He filled the 38-seat space with furniture from his collection of postwar American and Scandinavian design, and installed a full-size graffiti Elvis over the blond eucalyptus bar. So 20 Spot feels polished, but also quirkily personal. Freedom's often behind the bar, pouring glasses of Campanian rosé, premier cru Burgundy and plenty of his true love, German riesling (he has a healthy collection of older German wines). Chef Anthony Paone, who previously cooked at Salt House in Berkeley, puts together attractive, flavorful small plates, more often than not garnished with edible flowers (borage, wild onion or a meadow's worth of purple wild radish blossoms). His deviled duck eggs with smoked trout, sea beans and trout roe are silky, vibrant, overstuffed jewels.
—Luke Skykora

20 Spot, 3565 20th St.; 415-624-3140 (reviewed W&S, 06/13)


New York
> JBird
Praise be to JBird Cocktails co-founders Joshua Kaiser and Jamie Hinojos for bringing some respectable drinks to the Upper East Side. They managed to persuade Jason Littrell, formerly of Death & Co., and Marshall Altier from the Crosby Bar to hop on the uptown 6 train and create JBird's cocktail list, which is split into five categories: Old-Fashioned, Sours, Fizzes, Aromatized and Juleps. Fans of the obscure should try the Honey-Nut Old-Fashioned—made with a house roasted peanut-infused Bourbon—and pair it up with a small plate of roasted marrow bones. Do not miss the Manu Chao, either, an effervescent cocktail made from bay leaf-infused cachaςa, demerara sugar, Chartreuse, lemon and soda water. The earthy and slightly sweet-scented herbal notes make this as complex as it is gulpable, and it goes down even more easily with the grilled octopus laced with chorizo.
—Chris Hallowell

JBird, 339 E. 75th St.; 212-288-8033, jbirdny.com (reviewed W&S 04/11)


 Boston
> Sel de la Terre

Sel de la Terre roosts on two floors of the stylish and much-anticipated new Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the middle of Boston's shopping and business district. Its Francocentric signature cocktail collection complements chef Louis Dibacarri's menu of ever-changing charcuterie and rosemary-laced frites, with drinks like the Fleur de Poire (St. Germain, vodka and Belle de Brillet)–while the Boston Flip (a soothing blend of Bourbon and Madeira, with a warming grind of nutmeg) reminds us we are still in Beantown.
—Annie B. Copps

Sel de la Terre, 774 Boylston St., Boston; 617-266-8800, seldelaterre.com

 Las Vegas
> Rojo Lounge

The team behind the Rojo Lounge at the new Palms Place Hotel & Spa set out to redefine the traditional Vegas lobby bar. No poker machines here, just a swanky alcove serving classic cocktails. Robert Parekh gives each drink a sophisticated twist: Try the French Quarter (Bourbon, Cognac and orange bitters with a Grand Marnier rinse) or his bold stab at the classic gimlet, the Absinthe Minded (absinthe, Rangpur lime gin, velvet falernum and fresh lime juice).
—Dean Blaine

Rojo Lounge, 4381 W. Flamingo Rd., Las Vegas; 702-932-7777, palmsplace.com

 Los Angeles
> Gordon Ramsay

Michelin (star) man Gordon Ramsay may be known as a firebrand, but at his first West Coast venture, Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood, the vibe is cool, calm and collected. Glide up to the restaurant's elegant white marble bar and sip a signature London cocktail (Plymouth Gin, Lillet, fresh grapefruit juice and a float of Champagne) or the London Iced Tea—Tanqueray Gin infused with Earl Grey tea and fresh lemon juice. To complement the bar's sushi menu, there's also a respectable sake list, with poetic names like Yuki No Bosha, "Cabin in the Snow."
—Maria Vitulli

Gordon Ramsay at The London W. Hollywood, 1020 N. San Vicente Blvd., W. Hollywood; 310-358-778, thelondonwesthollywood.com

 Philadelphia
> Village Whiskey

José Garces has already given Philly Amanda, Tinto, Districto and Chifa; now, at Village Whiskey, he strays from the Latino vibe to concentrate on brown spirits. The list is the town's most comprehensive—some 125 bottlings, all available in one- or two-ounce pours. The slim menu ranges from the wicked (a burger with bacon, foie gras and a Bourbon glaze) to the whimsical (housemade cheese puffs), with a nod to the old-fashioned and local as well (pickle platters and big, fat soft pretzels). With gentle prices (choose carefully and enjoy a sip and a snack for less than $10), the place has begun to attract neighborhood regulars.
—Margaret Shakespeare

Village Whiskey, 114 S. 20th St., Philadelphia; 215-665-1088, villagewhiskey.com (reviewed W&S 2/10)

 St. Croix
> Zebos

St. Croix has mainly two types of venues: Hoity-Toity Resort or Our Lady of Perpetual Spring Break. But there is now a third way: Head to Zebos, a French-accented, burgundy and crème-colored oasis with low lights, women in jewelled chokers and good stemmed glasses. The wine list is eclectic and well priced for an island restaurant, with smart picks such as a Montes Alpha Syrah at $32. For dinner, have greens from farmer Luca Gasperi and duck breast in its crispy sweater of fat. You'll almost forget you're at the beach.
—Kae Denino

Zebos, 1117 Strand St., St. Croix; 340-692-2864
 

 Seattle
> Spur

Spur calls itself a gastropub but actually specializes in small plates paired with classic cocktails. Reflecting the décor, a seamless blend of wild west and techno club, bartender David Nelson fuses the classic and the modern in cocktails like the Broken Spur #2, a reworked Sidecar with Bourbon, Cointreau, lemon juice and amaretto sipped through a sweet citrus foam. Key to Spur's success is its understated ambitions: While dishes like black cod cooked sous-vide with mussels and English peas combine innovation and seasonality, Nelson's Foreigner combines rye with Ramazotti Amaro, Strega and peach bitters; a challenging ingredient list, yet it drinks smooth and easy.
—Jonathan Kauffman

Spur, 113 Blanchard St., Seattle; 206-728-6706, spurseattle.com

> Tavern Law

Tavern Law references both the past and present of American bar culture. The downstairs (public) bar is decorated in dark woods and poured-concrete floors, while bar manager David Nelson organizes his cocktail menu by the classic categories of flips and slings, Champagne cocktails and punches, most tweaked with fresh herbs and contemporary craft spirits. (Need you ask whether he makes his own kummel and bitters?) The bar's Prohibition ambiance intensifies when you book a table upstairs and unlock the vault door to climb into a quiet, plush room; the bartenders, clad in arm bands and ornate moustaches, work free-form, tailoring each successive cocktail to your feelings about the last. Chef-owners Dana Tough and Brian McCracken, who are known for their local, seasonal molecular gastronomy, channel their talent into a short list of bar snacks that include crisp arancini with romesco sauce and a satiny foie gras terrine with Angostura gelée.
—Jonathan Kauffman

Tavern Law, 1406 12th Ave., Seattle; 206-322-9734, tavernlaw.com (reviewed W&S 2/10)