The Pisco Sour is Peru’s national cocktail, featured proudly on the menu at almost every bar from Lima to Cusco. Some of these establishments are historic and full of cocktail lore; some are neighborhood spots without so much as a website, while others lean into modern mixology and gastronomy. On a recent trip to Peru, these eight were the standouts.
According to cocktail folklore, the Pisco Sour was created by Californian immigrant Victor Morris. When he arrived in Lima in 1900 and set up his Bar Morris, he began using Pisco in a version of a whiskey sour without egg white. The bar closed in 1929 and Morris took up residence at Bar Maury, a beautiful wood-paneled room off the lobby of the Hotel Maury. It was here that he and his bar staff experimented with adding egg whites and Angostura bitters to the cocktail, which became the celebrated Pisco Sour of today. One of the members of that bar staff was Eloy Cuadros, the 17-year-old junior barman who started in 1958 and still mans the bar today at 82. He claims the addition of egg white was his idea—he noticed that the original version lacked body. For his Pisco Sour, he also uses jarabe de goma—gum syrup, a rich simple syrup that’s two parts sugar, one part water—instead of just granulated sugar. He dry shakes all of these ingredients using a blender before pouring over ice, creating the most decadent, frothy-foamed version of the drink, which he wheeled out to our table on a cart. Legend or no, it was the best Pisco Sour I had.
Jirón Ucayali 201, Lima 15001, Peru
Gran Hotel Bolívar
Gran Hotel Bolívar sits just three blocks from Bar Maury on Lima’s Plaza San Martín. It opened in 1924 to house visiting foreign politicians and dignitaries. It also hosted members of the Hollywood elite, including Ava Gardner, Orson Welles, John Wayne; they’ve signed the guest book in the lobby, as have the Rolling Stones. To the left of the lobby—which is capped by a dome of stained glass—you will find the Hotel Bolívar Bar, home of the Pisco Sour Catedral. Legend has it that gentlemen would stop by before mass at the nearby Lima Cathedral and order the drink, which was twice the size of a regular Pisco Sour, served in a large glass with up to six ounces of Pisco. Despite that substantial dose of alcohol, the drink manages to remain refreshing, a lime-forward Pisco Sour. Probably best to have just one.
Jr. De La Union 958 Plaza San Martin, Lima, Peru; granhotelbolivar.pe/en/gastronomy/
Bar Inglés was a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway, who could be found sipping Pisco Sours at the wooden bar within the Country Club Lima Hotel, which opened in 1927. This may be the most glitzy, well-kept example of what it would have felt like to visit in the 1920s—a two-year renovation completed in 2017 was led by Argentine architect Francisco López Bustos, enhancing the early-20th-century architecture and restoring the furniture. Bar Inglés has a comfortable lounge feel with soft, leather armchairs and wood-paneled walls. There used to be a polo field behind the hotel, and guests would gather after matches for a drink and a recap. The bar carries over 60 brands of Pisco, six versions of the Pisco Sour (including an original and Catedral), and 17 other Pisco Cocktails—like another Peruvian classic, the Chilcano, a mixture of Pisco, ginger ale and Angostura Bitters. Come here for a refined, “high-society” experience.
Av. los Eucaliptos 590, San Isidro, Lima, Peru; countryclublimahotel.com/es/dinning/english-bar
Situated in Barranco—known to be Lima’s bohemian, artist district—this is a casual neighborhood bar pleasantly frozen in the past. It was established in 1915 and retains an unassuming nature with its green façade, simply marked with its name and address. This cozy, hole-in-the-wall spot is appointed with wooden tables, chairs and decorated with an assortment of South American and European flags on the walls. The original lime Pisco Sour is delicious and one of the best values in Lima. They also offer a tasty passion-fruit version. There isn’t a television or music in the bar, so come here if you want to hang with the locals, or for some quality face time with a friend.
28 De Julio 297, Barranco 15063, Peru; facebook.com/Pisellibarranco
Also in the Barranco neighborhood of Lima, Ayahuasca is a more modern experience than its neighbor, Bodega Piselli. This restaurant and bar opened in 2008 in the renovated 19th-century Berninzon Mansion. The expansive space encompasses the interior and exterior backyard of the house, keeping some of its historic feel with vintage chandeliers and high-arching wooden doorways. But it has a night-life vibe: loud, upbeat music and well-dressed twenty- and thirty-somethings lounging with cocktails. Those cocktails also take a modern twist. The menu offers four alternatives to the classic Pisco Sour along with Chilcanos and Ayahuasca originals. Try the Ayahuasca Sour, which uses coca leaf, aguaymanto (gooseberry) juice and tumbo (a Peruvian fruit related to passion fruit) for a tasty, tropical version of the Pisco Sour.
Av. San Martín 130, Barranco 15063, Peru; ayahuascarestobar.com
Carnaval earned bragging rights as Peru’s first cocktail bar to make it on to The World’s 50 Best Bars list—it’s currently number 44. Owner Aaron Díaz took inspiration from various Carnaval celebrations in Europe and the Americas to create a festive vibe. They don’t just serve cocktails; they put on a show. The signature Carnaval cocktail is presented in a brightly colored Chinese lantern that releases smoke as it deflates, revealing a cocktail made of Beefeater 24 Gin, Green Chartreuse, pineapple, Creole lemon and witbier, topped with colorful green, pink and yellow foam. Carnaval also has its own version of a Pisco Punch, made with Suyo Pisco Quebranta, Lillet Blanco, pineapple, elderberry liqueur and spices. If you can’t decide on a single cocktail, try the7-course mini-cocktail tasting. It is well worth the experience.
Av. Pardo y Aliaga 662, San Isidro 15073, Lima, Peru; carnavalbar.com
Monasterio Lobby Bar
A 15th-century habit of Spanish conquistadors was to build religious centers over important Incan sites. The Monasterio, now a Belmond Hotel, in Cusco, was once the 16th-century Seminary of San Antonio Abad, which had been built on top of Incan Queen Amaru Qhala’s palace. Today, the cloisters have been turned into a serene courtyard garden. Step into the Lobby Bar with its dramatic stone arches and original oil paintings for an elevated experience offering twelve Piscos by-the-glass, original hand-crafted Pisco cocktails, and a killer Pisco Sour.
Calle Plazoleta Nazarenas 337, Cusco, Peru;
Museo del Pisco Cusco
Owners Berner Caballero and Adam Weintraub created Museo del Pisco to share the history and culture of Pisco in Peru with anyone curious enough to enter one of their locations in Cusco, Lima or Arequipa. Try the Pisco tasting and an in-house expert will guide you through the grapes, regions, production and styles of Pisco. Your guide keeps you engaged by encouraging you to find your favorite style and develop your own descriptions as you explore four different Piscos: aromatic Puro, non-aromatic Puro, Acholado and Mosto Verde. The Museo also offers a session on how to make the perfect Pisco Sour. Not interested in a full tasting? The bartenders play with gastronomy and textures for some of the most memorable cocktails in Peru.
Santa Catalina Ancha 398, Cusco, Peru; museodelpisco.org
This story appears in the print issue of Winter 2023.
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