Columbus has taken to the craft cocktail trend with enthusiasm. As more and more bars and restaurants around town began experimenting with innovative recipes, imbibers have become accustomed to — and expectant of — high-quality cocktails.
It’s a credit to the numerous mixologists around town who’ve stayed on the cutting edge of the cocktail scene, while still offering approachable menus for any palette. It’s also just as important that those working behind the bar — especially the group I talked to for this article — are as diligent in their craft as they are friendly and informative with patrons. They don’t just want to make great cocktails; they want to make the perfect cocktail for you.
Here are 10 places that have created some wonderful summer cocktails. It’s an eclectic group that features everything from speakeasies and fine dining restaurants to even a locally-adored dive bar/rock club. Craft cocktails aren’t just a trend — they’re an evolution in the bar scene that’s only moving forward every day.
Manifesto Tuscan Grato & Scotch Bar
21 E. State St., Downtown
Manifesto Tuscan Grato & Scotch Bar opened just last winter, but is already a top-notch cocktail destination thanks to bar manager Thomos Mughan, who previously worked at sister restaurant De-Novo Bistro (also a good spot for cocktails). For the summer, Mughan wanted to offer some fun and diversity while playing off Manifesto’s Tuscan aesthetic.
“We have a general Italian theme so I wanted to carry over Italian stuff; maybe some amaro [Italian herbal liqueur], some Italian bitters, and sparkling and spritzers they love. I like to cover a lot of bases, use a lot of different liquors [so not] everything has a similar profile,” Mughan said.
On the more refreshing side are two cocktails using prosecco: the Noon Affair — a sweet and sour concoction thanks to the grapefruit bitters — and the Afternoon Refresher. There’s also a beer cocktail, built around Six Point’s Apollo and Bulleit, and garnished with fresh raspberries, that Mughan “loves.”
Since Manifesto also takes pride in its selection of scotches, there’s the Moscow mule variation, appropriately titled Glasgow Mule that’s initially smoky and finishes with a slight bite thanks to Snap, a liqueur spiced with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
811 Highland St., Victorian Village
Basi Italia’s patio bar is an uber-inviting setting for outdoor imbibing — and has the excellently-crafted cocktails to match. Bar manager Phil Richardson has created a list using “simple, fresh ingredients that are at their peak to create flavors that represent the restaurant.” (Basi is also known for its wine list, so the house-made sangria is another good bet.)
Richardson said Basi’s cocktails are “kitchen-driven,” which means lots of fruit preserves and purees are incorporated. The best example is the Cheech, a light-orange drink with a compelling combination of ingredients. The grilled pineapple and habanero infused tequila is bold on its own, but the peach puree, Licor 43 (a Spanish liqueur using 43 ingredients) and orange-peach bitters make for a fruity-herbal compliment that’s impeccable.
Basi’s signature cocktail is the Highland Smash (bourbon, Grand Marnier, lemon juice, ginger syrup) that also mixes in a kitchen-made preserve to coincide with the season. Besides being a well-crafted recipe, the Highland Smash represents Basi’s whimsical approach to cocktails. There are five to six on a set menu, but the staff creates changing specials posted on a blackboard behind the bar.
The Jury Room
22 E. Mound St., Downtown
The Jury Room has more history behind it than any other bar in Columbus, and its cocktail list plays off that history while keeping things fresh and modern. Prohibition-era recipes are updated by using house-made, seasonally infused spirits and an affinity for locally produced products.
Keith Egert has built a cocktail list that incorporates the best elements of summer — light, refreshing recipes that are just flat-out fun. The Frances Miller’s Punch (OYO Vodka, Cointreau, lime juice, pureed strawberries and ginger beer) is effervescent with the right amount of sweet strawberry kick. It’s named for the woman who used to run a 19th century brothel where The Jury Room now sits — and her spirit has been known to haunt the tavern.
Lorenzo’s Revenge — named for Lorenzo English, a former Columbus mayor who disliked Miller, to put it mildly — is a cocktail similar to the Miller Punch, only using OYO whiskey and replacing the strawberries with bitters and St. Germain. It, like I’m guessing English was, is potent with a big bite.
491 S. Fourth St., German Village
When it comes to cocktails, this German Village speakeasy is possibly the most forward-thinking in its recipes. For summer, Curio owner Travis Owens decided to be more playful.
“In the winter we got a little serious, and this summer we brought it back to being more fun. It obviously comes through in the cocktails, but also with the bendy straws and the layered cocktails,” Owens said.
While the drinks present more of a summer feel, in both flavor profiles and aesthetics, the same amount of creativity and expertise went into building the menu. There are savory elements (celery bitters) that play off the sweetness and citrusy elements of seasonal fruits.
The Carolina Cooler is a wildly imaginative creation using cardamaro (a wine-based aperitif), Dolin Dry vermouth, Fernet Branca, lemon juice and Cheerwine (a North Carolina-based tart cherry soft drink).
The bartenders at Curio are also having fun experimenting with mezcal, a smoky, earthy liquor too often — and inappropriately — lumped in with tequila. The Boots Were Made for Oaxacan is the summer standout; “our play on a Paloma. It’s kind of grapefruit-y,” Owens said.
To experience an even wilder side of mezcal, give the Pablano Escobar a try — the smoky green monster has just a touch of pablano pepper spice.
2268 E. Main St., Bexley
This Bexley Italian restaurant, long recognized as one of the city’s best, was a leader in introducing Columbus to top-notch craft cocktails when it began its experimental program four years ago. The idea was to make drinks that matched the kitchen’s delectable dishes.
“Our initial onset was, ‘Let’s flip the script a little bit, do something creative’ … over time — as everyone knows how this whole scene and culture has taken off — we’ve embraced it and just tried to stay on top of our game,” said bar manager Sean Ward.
The entire bar staff is central in the implementation and success of the cocktails, even if the current list was the brainchild of manager Kris Misevski. Misevski is an avid The Rolling Stones fan who wanted to build a list paying homage to the band.
The house Viuex Carre (the menu states it’s “a sophisticated cousin to the Manhattan”) is served in a flask and has been renamed Jumpin’ Jack Flask. The Exile on Drexel & Main Street also represents the innovative work being done at Giuseppe’s.
“It’s a nice mix … the sweet bit of the Cherry Heering and aperol, but then it’s got a really nice dose of Hellfire bitters — a nice little kick [and] very well balanced,” Misevski said.
For other excellent examples of opposites attracting, see the Hey, Negrita! (the balanced composition of negroni and margarita elements) and the Hot Stuff (a mescal concoction that dances with a house-made mango-habanero cordial).
511 N. High St., Short North
DeepWood’s cocktails are as equally well-developed as the rich, decadent food. The extensive list of cocktails uses just about every spirit under the sun to create, as general manager Amber Herron puts it, “a balance of classics with modern interpretations and flavors.”
Many of the cocktails are named for Columbus icons or landmarks, but the standouts are often named for the staff. Bartender Ed Perkins has been crafting libations for years at DeepWood, and the Old Town East perfectly captures his knowledge. The simple rye cocktail (Old Overholt, walnut syrup, lemon juice and cherry bitters) is a nice twist on the old fashioned.
For something more in line with summer elements, the Pear Tree, which like the Old Town East, has been on the menu since day one, is fruity and sweet without going over the top. The Hampton Jitney is a lovely tequila-based seasonal that relishes in the tropical flavors and fresh basil aromatics.
The Rossi Bar & Kitchen
895 N. High St., Short North
Recognized as one of the most imaginative cocktail menus, The Rossi Bar & Kitchen caters to both the discerning drinker and the less initiated. It’s designed — with input from the entire staff to ensure diversity — to be approachable, but sophisticated.
“It’s really fun how it works here. We have a really talented bar staff, and we have meetings [where] everyone brings their best ideas,” said bar manager Jillian McLaughlin.
Everyone’s best ideas result in a wealth of outside-the-box concoctions that cover the spectrum of succulent and sweet to complex and even spicy. The Michelone Mendoza Sour is a more-skilled whiskey sour served with a malbec float. The cocktail’s beauty is matched by its flavor and complexity. The Hot Damn (using blood orange and jalapeno-infused tequila) has something for every taste bud, and each sip plays off the last, adding new elements.
“That’s what we’re going for — something with enough complexity that it’s good to the last drop. The whole time you’re going, ‘What’s going on here?’” McLaughlin said.
954 N. High St., Short North
Mouton is probably best known for its pitch-perfect re-creations of the classics, but also a place where recipes are tweaked and artisanal creations are born. The four seasonal cocktails currently available were conceived with the past in mind, but also boast cutting-edge aspects.
The standout is the Caipirinha (a Brazilian cocktail using cachaca) that’s transformed by the addition of a beet shrub created by bar manager Logan Demmy.
“For the summer list I wanted to create things that were recognizable, but the Caipirinha is a little bit further away,” Demmy said.
Using beets, a sovereign blanc vinegar and sugar for the shrub, the earthy — almost dirt-flavored — elements of beets disappear and something special comes through. The Caipirinha is a little sweet, a little citrusy with a touch of beet flavor — basically indescribable in its complexity.
The margarita also has an unconventional twist using tequila infused with Yerba Mate. While the Pimm’s Cup doesn’t venture as far, it mixes pisco with the traditional Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur.
Demmy said the first time he drank a cocktail was at Mouton a few years ago. He’s come a long way since that first drink; now an established mixologist for certain.
M at Miranova
2 Miranova Pl., Downtown
Thanks to Cris Dehlavi, M at Miranova has been on the forefront of the Columbus cocktail scene for a decade. Dehlavi is truly a tastemaker, and she prides herself on staying on the cusp of the newest — and best — trends. That dedication is well represented by M’s summer cocktails.
The classic Aviation cocktail has been charged with CO2 to add carbonation. It’s what Dehlavi calls “the star” of the seasonals, and the perfectly re-created recipe is only amplified by the effervescence.
For an even bolder recipe, see the Lemongrass Cooler. Tequila infused with peels of lemon and lemongrass is mixed with cilantro and topped with ginger beer. The result is a magically refreshing drink, and the sprig of cilantro garnish adds a great aroma to take in before sipping.
“I think using herbs is immediately what you think about in the spring, summer,” Dehlavi said. “Cilantro is something I love using in cocktails, and this is the first time it’s made it onto a menu at M. Cilantro is tricky because it’s a savory herb.”
Tricky or not, even cilantro haters will be all-in for this summer libation.
887 Chambers Rd., Grandview
Everybody knows the beloved Tree Bar is one of the best bars to watch live music. But were you aware they also have a strong cocktail program? Originally conceived by Chris Manis, a well-respected consultant and mixologist, co-owner Ryan Haye has added a few to the cocktail list since its inception last fall.
“Growing up everyone had that cool uncle with a really well-stocked bar in his basement with all this weird paraphernalia on the walls,” Haye said. “I wanted to re-create that. I want people who come in [to] be surprised we have a great bourbon list, craft beer and serve great cocktails.”
The Stiffler Mule is a Moscow mule using Effen Cucumber vodka. It’s hard to make a mule more refreshing, but the Effen Cucumber does just that. Haye is also a margarita aficionado, so make sure to use the simple — proper — recipe for the popular cocktail. On the more creative side is the Sunny Side of the Street, which uses caraway liqueur, gin, lemon, Luxardo and an agave syrup to create a cocktail unlike any other.
Tree Bar serves these admirable libations during its “cocktail hour” from 7-9 p.m.