Where To Drink In The South: The Best Cocktail Bars | Tasting Tab

Five experts share their favorite cocktail bars

All month long, we're celebrating the people, places, dishes and traditions that make Southern food so special. Come take a seat at our table.

TT Drinks Editor Jim Meehan profiled five Southern cities (Richmond, Charleston, Atlanta, Louisville and NOLA) that are giving cocktails the attention they deserve—and asked five experts to pick the spots where you should be drinking right now. Here's where you need to belly up to the bar.


The expert: Mattias Hägglund of Heritage

His picks:
Heritage: Mattias Hägglund, his sister, Emilia, and her husband, Joe Sparatta, opened Heritage in 2012 with the goal of uniting great food (fresh pasta and charcuterie), drink (American craft beer with a whiskey-focused cocktail program) and thoughtful hospitality.

Saison: This quaint restaurant offers an expansive list of cocktails featuring rum, tequila and mezcal to complement the Latin and Southern American flavors of chef Adam Hall's cuisine. Last year, they opened a market that stocks an assortment of barware.

Acacia: This venerable fine dining restaurant features local seafood supplemented by a bar program run by Danny McDermott, who turns out a variety of inventive cocktails to complement the heady cuisine.

Metzger Bar & Butchery: Brittanny Anderson pairs German staples like pretzel rolls and pickles alongside German beer, wine and amaro-heavy craft cocktails, while her partner, Kjell, peddles cured meats and sausages out of their butcher shop.

The Roosevelt: Thomas Leggett oversees the bar team in this historic restaurant in Church Hill, Richmond's oldest neighborhood. The whiskey-heavy cocktail menu is rounded out by an all-Virginia wine list and a bevy of regional beers.


The expert: Brooks Reitz of Saint Alban, Leon's Oyster Shop and Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.

His picks:
FIG: Many of the city's best barkeeps have worked alongside longtime bartender Andrew King, who displays a deft hand for drinks and a sincere appreciation for the guest, at chef Mike Lata's legendary eatery.

The Belmont: Owner Mickey Moran opened this intimate 40-seat bartender's bar on a (once) lonely stretch of King Street in 2010. His expert staff is happy to mix you a cocktail or pour you a dram of your choice from the best curated spirits selection in Charleston.

Proof: Partner Craig Nelson is passionate about the classics, which find their way onto his newly expanded cocktail list. Order something fancy or let the bartenders prepare you an Absinthe Drip to savor in one of the comfortable window seats looking out onto King Street.

The Gin Joint: Joe Raya developed a lengthy cocktail list fueled by a stellar spirits selection for his guests at the bar and slaked the thirst of an even larger audience with Bittermilk, a diverse line of nationally distributed handmade bottled cocktails.

Edmund's Oast: Though best known for its beer program, this modern brewpub approaches every element of food and beverage with fanaticism. Some of the best young bartenders in the city work here, and the drinks, such as the The Red Wedding, have taken the cocktail scene by storm.

Photos: Courtesy of Tasting Table, Will Blunt, Sobou and Marcella Lee


The expert: Miles Macquarrie of Kimball House

His picks:
Empire State South: Besides serving some of the best cocktails in Atlanta, Hugh Acheson's Atlanta outpost has a top-notch wine list and a full-time barista who can make you a perfect cortado at the end of your meal.

Leon's Full Service: This light, spacious former filling station opens at 11:30 a.m. and serves food and drinks with no break between services till 1 a.m. The restaurant expands to 160 seats during patio season, when a dynamic beer list helps take the pressure off Melissa Gallagher's bar team.

Paper Plane: This intimate lounge has a cool late-60s, early 70s vibe with a supper-clubby menu that plays off of Paul Calvert and his team's cocktail menu, which may be the best titled collection in the country.

Last Word: A newcomer to the city cocktail scene, the restaurant has a really good team led by Cole Just, who is working elements of the Middle Eastern-influenced cuisine into the cocktails.

Kimball House: Macquarrie and his partners transformed the original Decatur train depot, which was built in 1891, into a classic bistro inspired by the long lost Kimball House Hotel. Vintage glassware, books and bottles make the four-year-old restaurant feel like it's been there forever.


The expert: Larry Rice of The Silver Dollar

His picks:
The Silver Dollar: The Violet Hour alum Susie Hoyt oversees the Kentucky whiskey-focused cocktail menu at Larry Rice's laid-back, honky-tonk-style bar that takes historical cues from 1950s Southern working-class hangouts.

Old Seelbach Bar: Order a Seelbach cocktail (bourbon, Cointreau, Champagne, Peychaud's and Angostura bitters) at this gorgeous old bar in the Hilton Hotel, which bootleggers drank in during Prohibition. And don't leave without checking out the Bavarian-style Rathskeller, which remains virtually untouched since it was built in 1907.

Proof on Main: It's located in the 21C Hotel, which is just as famous for its art collection as it is for its award-winning restaurant and bar. Both have been integral to reviving Downtown Louisville.

RYE: Chef Tyler Morris brings an international sensibility to classic Southern fare in this NULU Arts District staple. Doug Petry, who heads up the program, is planning a spring list inspired by Mario Kart. What's not to love?

El Camino: TVs broadcast vintage surf movies, while Dick Dale blares from the record player. It all sets the stage for rum- and agave-focused tiki drinks, prepared with fresh juices, house-made syrups and six-plus types of ice.


The expert: Abigail Gullo of SoBou

Her picks:
Latitude 29: Tiki historian Jeff "Beachbum" Berry puts his expertise to practice in this new Polynesian-themed restaurant and bar that will have you singing "Bali Ha'i" before you leave.

Cane & Table: Nick Detrich partnered with Cure's Neal Bodenheimer at this "Proto Tiki" oasis, housed in a 220-year-old building in the French Quarter. The beautiful courtyard, which feels like Havana, is filled with communal picnic tables that attract everything from fancy book release parties to nerdy board game nights.

Bacchanal: This fancy wineshop-turned-restaurant located in the farthest corner of the Bywater has become the neighborhood's centerpiece. Dean Barbie creates cocktails and curates the liquor list as thoughtfully as the late Chris Rudge, who opened the wineshop below.

SoBou: Abigail's own bar is situated in back of this airy restaurant in the lobby of the W Hotel south of Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. Food and drink are served with a sense of ceremony: The Sunday SoBou-zy Brunch comes with a classic punch served in a comically huge flask to encourage sharing.

Oxalis: Jon Peterson runs a secluded bar called The Branch in the back of the restaurant in the Bywater, where his monthly pop-ups feature friends' experiments and highly specialized cocktails of his own.