Providence is decidedly not the tropics, but the most exciting cocktail innovations right now are coming out of the South Pacific – or, at least, our New England interpretation of what islanders drink. From retro classics served in ceramic coconut shells to new versions of favorite flavors, tiki drinks are all the rage in PVD right now.
Inside, Ogie’s Trailer Park is retro-chic, with huge chandeliers, kitschy art and a cocktail menu full of long lost classics like the Seelbach, made with bourbon and champagne, and the bright green Grasshopper, with crème de menthe. On the patio, though, is the tiki bar, with a separate menu that takes the retro factor up yet another notch, with oldies but goodies like the Blue Hawaiian, made with rum, vodka, blue curacao and sour mix, served in a tiki head, or an unfrozen Piña Colada in a coconut-shaped glass with – what else? – a paper umbrella. The off-the-menu Scorpion Bowls are a must-try if you’re in the mood to share. 1155 Westminster Street. 383-8200
By night, it’s a mixed-use performance space, hosting concerts, dance parties and a theatre company in residence. After work, though, there’s no better way to kick off an evening downtown than at Aurora’s bar, which has a definite tiki bent. They make a perfect Mai Tai (with “rum, rum, triple sec, lime, orgeat, crushed ice”) and Zombie (“rum, lime, secret ingredients, crushed ice”) but also take the tropical theme to a different level with cocktails like The Karate Punch, with rum, brandy, marashino, chai tea, lemon, Carpano Antica, tiki bitters, cinnamon and allspice. Don’t miss the frozen cocktails – there are always three on tap – like the Painkiller, with “rum, orange, pineapple, rum, lime, coconut, rum, rum” in it. 276 Westminster Street. 272-5723
You won’t find anything you could call mixology at Captain Seaweed’s, the local legend dive bar on Ives Street in Fox Point. What you will find is a backyard patio complete with a tiki bar (with pirates in permanent residence), tropical grass umbrellas and a koi pond. They do have Piña Coladas and Mai Tais up for grabs, but you’re better off to order a dollar beer and partake in the weekly lobster raffle, when you can win – you guessed it – two live lobsters on a bed of mussels. 162 Ives Street.
On Broadway, Julian’s is best known for killer brunch and a robust vegetarian/ vegan menu, but their beverage program is on point. The restaurant curates a beer selection that’s unmatched in quality and diversity – think selections from not just America, Belgium and Germany, but Italy, Denmark and Scotland – and has spirits so diverse that they provide a list of bottles for the table, like other restaurants have a wine list. But they’ve also got frequent entries into the tiki game, too. Right now, find the Captain, My Captain on the ever-changing list: Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, Lustau Dry Sherry, Velvet Falernum, fresh lime, pineapple juice and tiki bitters, over crushed ice, with a splash of grenadine. 318 Broadway. 861-1770
Feeling superior to the vodka-swiller sitting next to you as you smugly order a bourbon on the rocks is so 2013. The new frontier of spirit appreciation comes from south of the border. Fine tequilas and mezcals are as varied and nuanced as anything you’ll get from a Kentucky distiller. If sipping tequila is good enough for the Most Interesting Man in the World, it’s good enough for you. Here’s where you can get your añejo on in the city.
If you’ve never had Tortilla Flats $6 house margarita, well, where have you been? Owner Joanne Vincent swears it’s the “best $6 margarita you’ll ever have,” and she’s probably right. But it’s time to look past the salt rim: directly past, in fact, to the wall of tequila bottles behind the bar. The Flats has over 60 tequila and mezcal selections, most of which you’ve probably never heard of – like Don Julio 1942, Avion Reserva 44, El Tesoro Paradiso and Tequila Cabeza – but the convivial bar is a great place to spend some time studying up. 355 Hope Street. 751-6777
Say goodbye to tequila shots, and say hello to tequila flights. Federal Hill’s Don Jose Tequila serves upscale Mexican cuisine, but the place to be is at their Tequila Bar, where you can order flights of any three tequilas from their selection of over 70 bottles. Choose one silver (unaged tequila, similar to white whiskey… though please forgive us for comparing Milagro to moonshine), one reposado (aged for up to a year) and one añejo, (aged for up to six years; the best ones are aged in bourbon barrels). 351 Atwells Avenue. 454-8951
If sipping neat, room temperature tequila isn’t for you, well, there are other ways to look cool. For you, El Rancho Grande mixes up sophisticated tequila cocktails like the Paloma, made with grapefruit juice and a salted rim, to save you from your usual margarita. But if you must, Rancho also makes them in varieties like guava, pomegranate and passion fruit with high quality, blue agave tequila. 311 Plainfield Street. 275-0808
Tequila isn’t just for Taco Tuesday (although you should definitely not say no to their surprisingly delicious $2 tacos). Lola’s Cantina has a dedicated tequila menu, with selections you’ve heard of, and ones you definitely haven’t. If you’re finally ready to move past 1800 Reposado and Cabo Wabo Añejo, try their Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Extra Añejo or Don Julio Real Añejo. At $40 and $95 a pour respectively, you’d better not ask for lime and salt on the side. 525 South Water Street. 383-0220
For unexpected tequila cocktails, belly up to the bar at Cook and Brown Public House. Their smoky, floral Rose Perez features Pierde Almas Mezcal, Meletti 1870, Yellow Chartreuse, St. Elder, lime and bitters; the savory, bitter Flor-Bama has reposado tequila, Amaro Zucca, Priorat Vermut, Palo Cortado, hopped grapefruit and salt. You don’t have to know all those ingredients – just tell the bartender your flavor preferences (sweet? bitter? floral? citrus?) and you’ll be sipping on a cocktail you love in no time. 959 Hope Street. 273-7275
Booze on Tap
If wine snobs’ horror at screw top bottles is totally over, and boxed wine has moved from being declasse to being an option for decent wines at a good value, it’s time for you to get with the times, and get over your fear of booze on tap. City innovators are finding new ways of delivering your drinks to you, with delicious results.
Don’t freak out when you order a Gin & Tonic at The Eddy and it comes… out of a spigot. What you’re going to get is a perfectly proportioned cocktail, served in about a quarter of the time it would take to get the bottles out, over ice that owner Jay Carr has cut – wait for it – by hand, with a chainsaw. 95 Eddy Street. 831-3339
We know, we know. Wine on tap doesn’t sound delicious but Rosalina proved us wrong at the first sip. Their environmentally-friendly tap system pours out one white (a Santa Barbara Chenin Blanc) and one red (a Paso Robles Grenache) in glasses, quartinos and litres. The good news is that you don’t have to pronounce the wines correctly to enjoy them. 50 Aborn Street. 270-7330
Bacon Infused Drinks
The idea that bacon makes everything taste better isn’t true in every circumstance. Bacon soda? Bacon gummy candy? Bacon toothpaste? No, no and no. But the salty bites of heaven have made their way into cocktails across the city. Vegans beware: not even your Bloody Mary is safe anymore.
Harry’s Burger Bar serves a lot of good drinks, including a great beer selection and adult (as in 21-plus) milk shakes, but don’t miss their Bacon Bloody Mary, made with house-infused bacon vodka and served with a bacon swizzle stick. Locations on North Main Street and Atwells Avenue.
The subterranean gastropub G Pub takes it one step further with their Bloody Mary, by including not one but two meats in their cocktail: it has Belvedere, house bloody mix and a bacon and beef jerky Barbecue dust rimmer. 61 Orange Street. 632-4782
You won’t find it on the menu, but Providence Oyster Bar infuses their own bacon Maker’s Mark. Next time you’re in the mood for raw bar, ask for a bacon-infused Manhattan to pair with your oysters. Their Appy Hour at the bar has $1 oysters on weekday afternoons. 283 Atwells Avenue. 272-8886
Next Level Whiskey
Ok, so you’re a casual connoisseur of Irish Whiskey, Scotch and American Bourbon. You’ve got a solid choice for a good drink wherever you go. Good for you. Now it’s time to take your whiskey game to the next level. There’s a whole other world out there waiting for you to explore.
Everyone already knows that The Avery mixes up a great cocktail – The Aviation, with gin, lemon, Creme de Violette and Luxardo Maraschino comes to mind – and that they’ve most likely got your favorite bottle behind the bar (as long as your favorite bottle doesn’t have the word “pucker” on it). What you probably don’t know is that a good portion of The Avery’s 80-bottle-deep whiskey list is devoted to Japanese whiskey, which gets better and better in quality every year. Try the Yamazaki 18 or the Hibiki 12, a blend of grain and malt whiskeys, some aged in plum liqueur barrels. Sip it with a drop of water or just one ice cube, to let the bright flavors and subtle floral notes shine. 18 Luongo Square.
You love bourbon, eh? Then you must all the spots in the city where you can get Blanton’s, the topshelf bottle that’s in short supply in Rhode Island because the Kentucky distillery can’t keep up with the demand from Asian markets (hence the Japanese whiskey revolution). There’s an even harder-to-find, better bourbon around: Pappy Van Winkle, the boozy white whale of whiskey, which is almost impossible to find in New England… But not at The Wild Colonial. They always offer whiskey (and other spirit) flights, but right now they’ve got a Premier Flight, with Pappy 12, Pappy 20 and Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon.
250 South Water Street. 621-5644
You can be a whiskey connoisseur anywhere, but you can’t be a Rhode Island whiskey connoisseur unless you’ve got some love for Sons of Liberty, the state’s only whiskey producer, which has been raking in awards and accolades since they appeared on the scene in 2011. This season, sip on their limited release Pumpkin Spice Whiskey, which comes in hand-numbered bottles from their South Kingstown distillery. Contrary to its name, Bottles Fine Wine stocks a lot more than just vino, including Sons of Liberty and their own private label whiskey. The store hosts free spirit tastings on Thursday nights.
141 Pitman Street. 372-2030
Not all Manhattans are created equal. If you’ve ever ordered one at a sports pub, you already learned this the hard way. Way, way on the other end of that spectrum, The Dorrance serves up your new favorite: the Bottle Aged Manhattan, made with Rittenhouse Rye, Cocchi Di Torino Sweet Vermouth and Angostura bitters, then left to mellow together to create a flavor and smoothness unlike any other. 60 Dorrance Street. 521-6000
Even the most devoted sippers of Basil Hayden’s on the rocks need a change once in a while, especially in the warmer months. Freshen up your palette with a next-level whiskey cocktail. Public Kitchen & Bar serves several worth trying, like the Whiskey Hollow (made with George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whiskey, maple syrup, cider, rosemary, lemon and an amarino cherry) and the Argyll Manhattan (with Rittenhouse Rye, Carpano Antica Vermouth, bitters and Islay Scotch – yes, Scotch). The Country House, with Rittenhouse Rye, elderflower liqueur, chamomile agave and strawberry lemon, is light and sweet enough to please even the wariest whiskey drinkers. 120 Francis Street. 919-5050