[Updated] Up, neat, on rocks, in collins and coupes—cocktails come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. Undoubtedly, the most important part of a cocktail is the taste, but there’s something about a well–designed and prettily prepared cocktail that makes that first sip—and every sip thereafter—particularly tasty.
San Diego has quickly established itself as a craft cocktail mecca in an era when even the smallest towns tout their own suspender–clad mixologists. For years now, vacationers and locals alike have been able to prolong the paradisiacal sides of sunny San Diego, sipping on the archetypal umbrella–clad cocktail, but more recently bartenders have turned the art of the aperitif into just that—an art, complete with exotic blooms and a rainbow of hues. Whether you’re in the heart of the Gaslamp, one of those circumferential hipster ‘hoods, or a more northern, beachside city, you’re just a jaunt and a drink away from a delicious—and beautiful—beverage.
With unimpeded views of Petco Park, Fairweather—the island–time sister upstairs from Rare Form—boasts some of the best vistas in San Diego. But the views aren’t the only thing to distract your eye; here, the cocktails are just as breathtaking as the panoramic perspectives of the Padres. Fairweather capitalized on the tiki trend big time; most of its cocktails are as refreshing and tropical as a dip in clear Caribbean waters. Sample Fairweather’s take on the classic tiki. Hemingway himself savored mojitos at Sloppy Joe’s in Havana, Cuba and you can try the modern take with the Mojito Caballito—we guaranteed your eyes will feast on this masterpiece as easily as your tastebuds. Light rum, fresh lime sugar, mint, dry vermouth and soda make a simple pairing that’s absolutely beautiful, with layers of color that can only come from fresh ingredients. If you’re looking for a drink that’s as vivid as your personality, pick up a Blue Ricardo. The electric blue tint comes from the Blue Curacao, but the taste is all island, including passionfruit, coconut, pineapple, lemon and the house light rum. Even the Piña Colada is a handsome libation, served in a thick glass chalice and garnered with the proverbial umbrella.
George’s at the Cove
There are few locations as quintessentially San Diego as George’s at the Cove. With ocean views that span for miles, paired with the sound of crashing waves and sea lions below, it would take a particularly delightful drink menu to draw visitors’ senses back inside—which is exactly what George’s provides. Snag a seat on the coveted seaside balcony at the bar upstairs and peruse a menu full of classic and contemporary cocktails alike, spotted with covetable, compounded adjectives like "hand– crafted," "house–infused" and "fresh– daily." If you’re looking for something your grandfather—or great–great grandfather—would be proud to drink, grab an Old Fashioned with Bulleit Rye, house gomme syrup, Angostura bitters and orange (circa 1869), or a Negroni with No. 3 London Dry Gin, Campari, Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth and orange (circa 1910). For something a little more fantastical and fruity, go with a punch. The Brain Cloud comes in small or large beveled bowls and features Absolut Elyx, St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur, cider, falernum, lemon and black tea. Perfectly refreshing and as stunning as the waves below.
Cat Eye Club
Hidden on the bustling streets of downtown San Diego you’ll find this retro cocktail lounge, nestled between the jarring storefronts of overstated mainstays. Step into the moody lights and palm fronds of the Cat Eye Club, where you might expect to see Don Draper hidden in a corner, accompanied by his latest vixen. You won’t find Draper, but you will find a collection of the finest and funnest cocktails in town. Cat Eye Club pays homage to the burgeoning nightlife culture of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s with its devotion to classic and tiki cocktails. It’s not just the flavor that holds to the principles of the period—one glance at these drinks will transport you instantly to a luau with the Kennedys. The Ghost of Black’s Beach comes robed in a skull mug, reminiscent of some prized exchange with island natives, and is adorned with fresh fruits. Sip on the complex flavors of Appleton v/x, Benadictine, lemon and falernum syrup for a quenching tiki tryst. True to its name, Strip & Go Naked will release your wild side; served in a giant sea shell and embellished with exotic flowers and fruits, this flavorful favorite will inspire you before your first sip. After ingesting this beautiful punchbowl of Kill Devil Valor West Coast Gin, Smirnoff Vodka, Ballast Point Longfin Lager, orange juice, lemon juice and pomegranate syrup, you’ll want to strip down to your coconut shells and join that luau.
On the trendy corner of Adams and 30th, Polite Provisions pays tribute to its apothecary heritage in the form of a traditional, pharmaceutical–esque cocktail lounge. Advertising themselves as manufacturers of local tonics, elixirs and cures, Polite Provisions will cure any malaise or malady with the sight of their kaleidoscope of simple, pastel–hued aperitifs. Polite Provisions is like a good period piece, complete with white marble, polished brass, and bowler hat–clad barkeeps. The clean simplicity of the bar is paired perfectly with the vendibles themselves—delicate, muted cocktails infused with fresh fruits and mild spirits and served in dainty coupes and snifters. Indulge in one of their cocktails on draft, fresh and fizzy cocktails to tickle your tastebuds and nose. Our favorite, the First Lady, features London Dry Gin and Blueberry & Lily’s Lavendar Soda for a light and floral sip. Even the spirit–forward selections come in crystalline cannikins, delicately adorned with orange rinds and drizzled across a single glacial cube. To make the most of PP’s unique spirits, try their Troy Baker, made with Polite Provisions’ Private Barrel W.L. Weller Reserve, Bianco Vermouth, Suze and chocolate bitters.