Best cocktails in Charlotte? Here’s the definitive 2019 list of Charlotte’s 11 best cocktail bars

Best cocktails in Charlotte? Here’s the definitive 2019 list of Charlotte’s 11 best cocktail bars
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Thirsty? Here are the 11 best cocktail bars in Charlotte.

What’s the best cocktail bar? According to a According to a recent survey we sent to our 39,000 Agenda daily newsletter subscribers, here are the top five cocktail bars in Charlotte, ranked: #1 Dot Dot Dot, #2 The Crunkleton, #3 Soul Gastrolounge, #4 The Cellar at Duckworth’s and #5 Merchant & Trade.

Here’s what you need to know about the best cocktail spots in Charlotte.

One to watch: Billy Sunday, an award-winning Chicago cocktail lounge with an elevated bar menu of snacks, small plates and sweets. It’ll take 1,450 square feet inside Optimist Hall and plans to open later this spring.

Honorable mentions: Cotton Room, Queen & Glass, Backstage Lounge, Dogwood, Dilworth Tasting Room, Summit Room and Broken Spoke.

Fun fact: Outside of Soul Gastrolounge and The Punch Room, all of the remaining 9 top cocktail bars in Charlotte are new (only open for a few years).


Dot Dot Dot

People’s Choice #1 Cocktail Bar in Charlotte

Prohibition-style speakeasy in an old storage unit behind Park Road Shopping Center

Popular cocktails:

  • Old Fashioned ($14) — Elijah Craig 11-year personal selection bourbon, bitters, sugar, orange, cherry (served over ice)
  • Lily Wants a Pony ($12) — Tito’s vodka, Riesling, rosemary, lime (served over ice)
  • Hot Box ($18) — Baker’s bourbon, Islay scotch, house-blended sweet vermouth, hellfire bitters, pecan smoke (served short over ice)

Membership: $10/year

Vibe: Adult, laid back and sophisticated

Quote: “I tend to be pretty conservative on cashflow projections, but after almost one year, we’re hitting close to double our projected numbers,” said co-owner Conrad Hunter, who also owns Foxcroft Wine. “With about 10,000 members, our biggest challenge is accommodating everyone who wants to get in during peak hours.”

stefan huebner dot dot dot

Co-owner and bartender Stefan Huebner

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Most popular Dot Dot Dot cocktails: Lily Wants a Pony ($12, left) and and their Old Fashioned ($14, right).


The Crunkleton

Best new cocktail bar

Recently opened 84-seat cocktail bar and restaurant in Elizabeth

Cocktails: The Crunkleton focuses on classic cocktails like the Sazerac, Old Fashioned, Vieux Carré, Tom Collins and Manhattan – no Fireball. If you venturing out, go with The Dusty Cactus (tequila based).

Money: You don’t have to spend a ton of money at The Crunkleton — but you can if you want. It’s kind of fun that you can order a $3.75 Bud Light or a $230 pour of rare bourbon.

Membership: $10/year

Background: This is the Crunkleton’s second location. The original Crunkleton, on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, has garnered national attention for its Prohibition-era cocktails, most recently being named one of the Six Best Bourbon Bars in the South by Garden & Gun magazine.

Food situation: If you’re there with a meat-loving group, order the massive 36-ounce dry-aged tomahawk ribeye ($110). Or just get their signature burger. Unlike the original location, The Crunkleton in Charlotte offers food. I’m a big fan of their limited menu — it’s unapologetically a bar first, restaurant second.

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Merchant & Trade

Best rooftop cocktail bar

Chic rooftop lounge on the 18th floor of the Kimpton in Uptown

Popular cocktails: 

  • Beet It! ($13) – Deep Eddy Vodka, Domaine de Canton and Lenny Boy’s Beet/Ginger Kombucha
  • M&T Ol’ Fashion ($12) – Evans Williams Black, Demerara Syrup, Angostura Bitters

Vibe: Casual to start and clubby as the night goes on.

Getting in: There is a dress code and typically a line to get in.

Nearby restaurants: If you’re looking to grab dinner before/after visiting Merchant & Trade, check out two of Charlotte’s hottest new restaurants — La Belle Helene or Haymaker — both within 100 yards.

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Agenda related story: Best rooftop bars in Charlotte

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M&T Ol’ Fashion ($12, left) and Beet It! ($13, right)


Idlewild

Best casual cocktail bar

Cozy casual craft cocktail bar in the Novel NoDa development at 36th Street Station

Money: All custom cocktails are $13, but they’ve also got everything from $2 PBR to wine by the glass. Idlewild operates as a private club so you’ll pay $1 for membership the first time you visit.

No menu: Owner Vince Chirico chose to operate without a set drink menu, opting instead to let bartenders drive a custom experience according to a guest’s general taste preferences.

Background: This style of bartending is an ode to famed bars in New York City like Milk & Honey and Raines Law Room where Chirico worked as lead bartender.

idlewild cocktail bar in charlotte

idlewild-5

This Penicillin is topped with a traditional float of Laphroaig — a single malt scotch — but of course I misheard and thought they said it was topped with La Croix, a sparkling water beloved by basic millennials like myself. We all had a good laugh.


Sophia’s Lounge

Best cocktail bar for celebrity sightings

Sophisticated Uptown spot with a NYC-cocktail-lounge vibe

Must-try cocktail: Higher Education ($14) — Maker’s Mark whiskey, egg white, amaretto, black walnut bitters (served up)

Money: Cocktails range from $13 to $16, and small plates range from $10 to $24.

Dish: Tuna Tataki ($14) — togarashi, edamame, fresno chili, micro cilantro

Recent celebrity guests: Lebron James, Kendall Jenner, 2 Chainz and Luke Kuechly.

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The Cellar at Duckworth’s

Best underground cocktail bar

Speakeasy with a gastropub menu underneath Duckworth’s in Uptown

Most popular cocktails:

  • The East Village ($14) — Manhattan-inspired cocktail with Bourbon and Amaros, topped with caramelized Orange Oils
  • The French Buck ($14) — A twist on the classic French 75 (Gin, Prosecco, lemon) with fresh ginger added
  • The Cellar Smash ($14) — Vodka, ginger, herbal flavor, citrus, elderflower

cocktail-bar-at-cellar-at-duckworths


Haberdish

Southern-inspired restaurant in the heart of NoDa with beautiful large bar area to the right when you enter

Popular cocktail: Mint Julep ($10) — bourbon, fresh mint, sugar, shaved ice

Group cocktail: Happy Go Lucky Champagne Punch ($12/$25/$52) — champagne, vodka, gin, lime juice, grapefruit-blood orange tea syrup

Fun story: USA Today recently highlighted Haberdish’s “The Apothecary Cocktail” as one of ten must-try CBD-infused beverages in the country. But with recent legal changes, Haberdish could no longer served CBD oil in the the cocktail, so they created a workaround — the gin-based cocktail is now served with a small vile of CBD oil, which you can pour into the cocktail.

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Taste testing Haberdish’s tequila cocktails. Haberdish’s bar program is run by Colleen Hughes


Soul Gastrolounge

The OG cocktail spot in Charlotte

Cool small plate, sushi and cocktail lounge in Plaza Midwood

Two cocktails to try:

  • Floating Roots ($14) – Ron Zacapa 23 Rum, cherry chai cola, garam masala and vanilla cashew ice cream foam (on tap)
  • Sancho ($13) – Milagro Reposado, roasted corn, saffron, lime, smoked salt and house chili bitters (shaken)

Money: Cocktails range from $12 to $14.

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Pork belly tacos are a must-order small plate at Soul.

inside-soul-gastrolounge cocktails

Soul’s beverage program is led by Kel Minton.


The Punch Room

37-seat cocktail bar on the 15th floor of the Ritz in Uptown

Vibe: Glamorous 19th-century club decor with an upscale speakeasy feel.

Money: Cocktails ranging from $16 to $44. They’re the most expensive cocktails in Charlotte.

punch room gulf air cocktail

Gulf Air ($19) – lime leaf, avocado leaf, charred jalapeno, orange, lime, Topo Chico sparkling mineral water, Centenario Plata Tequila. The Punch Room’s cocktails are led by Ryan Nolen, the creative director of bar operations at The Ritz. 


Bardo

Hot new small plate restaurant in the Gold District loved by foodies

Must-try cocktail: No Fig Deal ($13) — Old Forester Signature Bourdon, balsamic glazed fig, honey, bitters.

Money: Cocktails range from $12 to $14.

Dish: Aged ribeye ($23) served with kimchi butter, Carolina gold rice and wakame.

Bardo cocktail

Cooling Effect – Lunazul Reposado, arbol & guajillo peppers, aloe, agave and lime ($12).

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Bardo’s bar is led by mixologist Amanda Britton.


Zeppelin

Small plate restaurant that converts into a cool cocktail bar in South End

Popular cocktail: The Uncle Eddy ($16) — Waygu fat washed bourbon, slow ginger syrup, buckspice bitters, king cube, candied ginger and cold smoke. It’s that cocktail dramatically served in a smoke-filled glass dome that you’ve seen on Instagram.

Money: Cocktails range from $11 to $16.

Dish: The #1 most popular dish at Zeppelin is their Point Judith Calamari ($11) — Korean chile, yuzu, pickled bacon dashi gel, serranos and shishitos. It’s a must-order when you go.

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Zeppelin’s Fogle Fizz ($11) — gin, yuzu lemongrass cordial, butterfly pea flower syrup, sparkling water and dehydrated lemon. Zeppelin’s bar program is run by Charlie Nguyen. 

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