Here's a toast to the end of the year, the start of the weekend, the perfect date, and every festive moment in between. Whatever you're celebrating, be sure to pick the perfect ceremonial beverage. From martinis and margaritas to highballs and absinthe, Cleveland's bars and bistros offer plenty of signature spirits to help you crystallize the memory of the moment. Here are some of the most memorable sips you could seek any time of year.
The Velvet Tango Room
India Lime Fizz
The classic effervescence of a "fizz" a mix of juice, soda, egg, or cream was widely popular in the early 1900s, which thoroughly fits the retro mood of the Velvet Tango Room. The Ohio City lounge feels like a Prohibition-era speakeasy, with its classic appetizers, live jazz, well-dressed patrons, and signature cocktails. Take their India Lime Fizz, a wonderfully frothy, rich, and potent concoction. "We have a voluminous cocktail menu, but our India Lime Fizz is certainly one of the most popular," says owner Paulius Nasvytis. Not just delicious, the drink is also famous: It was recently featured on the Food Network show The Best Thing I Ever Drank. You'll pay $16 for this kind of class — but hit this haunt during Happy Hour (4:30 to 7 p.m.) and steal it for $10.
2095 Columbus Rd., Cleveland; 216-241-8869; velvettangoroom.com
Sergio's Saravá brings Brazilian street life to Shaker Square. With a 24-seat bar, expansive indoor dining rooms, and 120-seat outdoor patio with live music, the place serves up South American flair in a tropical lounge setting. Completing the vibe, Sergio's caipirinha cocktail has become a Cleveland favorite. It features cachaça, distilled from sugarcane and one of Brazil's most popular spirits, mixed with fresh limes, sugar, and crushed ice. "The caipirinha is the national cocktail of Brazil," says chef-owner Sergio Abramof. "Try it. You'll not only be hooked, you'll be dancing the samba." Sergio's caipirinha is $7.25.
13255 Shaker Sq., Cleveland; 216-295-1200; sergioscleveland.com
The original Dr. Jekyll would down a potion and transform into the sinister Mr. Hyde. Eerily, at Jekyll's Restaurant in Chagrin Falls, patrons can order up a liqueur called absinthe that has similarly mind-bending properties. The sweet green elixir (which tastes like black licorice) was banned for nearly 100 years in the United States because of its potency and reputation for the weird. When it was re-legalized in 2008, Jekyll's began serving it to curious patrons, complete with a mini water fountain at the table, which helps dilute the powerful emerald drink. "Van Gogh purportedly lopped off his ear while on an absinthe kick," says beverage director John Poggemeyer. "It's served at a potent 124 proof, only an ounce at a time. It's $8.75, but the hallucinations are free."
17 River St., Chagrin Falls; 440-893-0797; jekyllskitchen.com
Pickwick & Frolic
The ultimate toast with friends, family, or co-workers calls for a communal beverage. Such a social refreshment can be found at Kevin's Martini Bar inside Pickwick & Frolic Restaurant and Club on East Fourth Street. It's called the Rainforest, and it's a delicious mix of Smirnoff vodka, Blue Curaao, pineapple juice, grenadine, and orange juice that tastes like a pineapple filled with OJ. When ordered by a group, it's poured theatrically into a stacked martini-glass pyramid, flowing like a waterfall into each awaiting glass. "The standing cocktail party is a specialty for which we hope to earn an exemplary reputation," says John Lorince, director of marketing. "Kevin's Bar and the Rainforest ($9.50) serve as a popular choice for those groups."
2035 East Fourth St., Cleveland; 216-241-7425; pickwickandfrolic.com
Modern Mex is Momocho's mantra. The progressive Mexican restaurant in Ohio City serves inventive spins on everything from seafood to taquitos to the best guacamole in Cleveland. Like any south-of-the-border bistro, Momocho crafts delectable margaritas, but its cucumber margarita might be one of Cleveland's most thirst-quenching libations. It's a combination of tequila blanco, fresh lime juice, GranGala orange liqueur, and fresh pureed English cucumbers, garnished with a red-chili-and-lime-salted rim. "It tastes like cucumbers," says chef-owner Eric Williams. "That's the favorite quote I hear from customers. Plus, it's not only a great drink, but it's good for you too." Sample a cucumber margarita for $8.
1835 Fulton Rd., Cleveland; 216-694-2122; momocho.com
Prosperity Social Club
The Hot Bonnie
Prosperity is a classic working-man's bar, updated for a new generation. The 1938 Tremont barroom is where hip Clevelanders from both sides of town go to enjoy fine pub grub, good beers, low-key bands, and the famed Hot Chocolate Social, a sweet vodka concoction also known as the Hot Bonnie — in honor of owner Bonnie Flinner. The toothsome sweet drink contains Ghirardelli hot chocolate, Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur, Stoli Vanilla Vodka, Grand Marnier, whipped cream, and delectable chocolate morsels — all for a similarly sweet $8. "Call it whatever you want; we'll know what to make you," says Flinner. "Customers come in just for it. It pairs very well with the wood-burning fireplace and a snowy Cleveland night."
1109 Starkweather Ave., Cleveland; 216-937-1938; prosperitysocialclub.com
The Greenhouse Tavern
Vin Chaud & Spiced Cider
When discussing downtown's Greenhouse Tavern, "inventive" and "environmentally conscious" are two tags that come to mind. The fantastic French- and American-inspired bistro is a farm-to-table restaurant and the first certified green eatery in Ohio. This time of year, the Tavern's signature drinks are barrel-aged vin chaud ($9) and spiced hard cider ($10): Both are similarly stylish, green, and local. French for "hot wine," the vin chaud is warmed, spiced, fortified vino, served in a sake carafe with a brandy snifter and a garnish of organically grown raisins and orange peel. "For the spiced hard cider, we follow tradition on the mulling process, simmering the cider with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and citrus, and then we infuse our bourbon with cinnamon and Ohio maple syrup," says barkeep Kevin Wildermuth. "Then the bourbon and cider are married in an old Scotch whiskey barrel."
2038 East Fourth St., Cleveland; 216-443-0511; thegreenhousetavern.com
Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Bloody Mary Buffet Bar
Most folks associate Great Lakes Brewing Company with Ohio's best beer. But besides fresh, hand-crafted suds, the pub serves up awesomely refreshing Bloody Marys, which are ideally enjoyed on Saturday mornings at the Bloody Mary buffet bar. Choose from two dozen vodkas (including specialty house-made infusions), then load up on taste enhancers like garlic, pepper, onion, habaero, horseradish, sun-dried tomato, rosemary, and basil. "Our buffet offers over a dozen hot sauces, a dozen or so Bloody Mary mixes, different spices, and an array of garnishes that usually include shrimp, bacon, and hand-stuffed olives from the West Side Market," says bar manager Pete Gerome. A single visit to the buffet bar will set you back $7.50.
2516 Market Ave, Cleveland; 216-771-4404; greatlakesbrewing.com
Paladar Latin Kitchen
& Rum Bar
As Northeast Ohio's first Nuevo Latino restaurant, Paladar excels in food and spirits infused with Caribbean and South American flavors. Its trademark spirit is rum, and its hidden gem is the Paladar Libre, the cantina's version of the vintage Cuba Libre, created on the island nation around 1900. "We make ours with Kraken Black Spiced Rum, Bacardi Coconut Rum, Licor 43, Coke, and fresh lime," says general manager Sean Latona. "Then we serve it on the rocks." It's a Havana-style highball that Bacardi once called the world's second-most-popular drink. It's yours for $8.95.
28601 Chagrin Blvd., Woodmere; 216-896-9020; paladarlatinkitchen.com
A suburban drink retreat at Rockside Corners, the Blonde is an upscale cocktail lounge that brings sophistication to the Independence shopping district. While the lounge does well with martinis, wine, and light fare, its customers come back for its classic Old Fashioned. "It's the perfect combination of bitter and sweet," says co-owner Kim Augustine. "We fill the glass with ice and a premium bourbon of your choice, mixing it with muddled maraschino cherries, an orange slice, raw sugar, and blood-orange bitters." The drink complements the lounge's swanky retro character, which promotes quality eats and drinks without loud music, televised sports, or obnoxious TGIFers. The Old Fashioned is $9; at Happy Hour (Tuesdays through Fridays, 4 to 7 p.m.) it's only $5.
6901 Rockside Rd., Independence; 216-328-8780; gototheblonde.com
Anatomy Nightclub + Ultralounge
The Anatomy Martini
When you're cavorting the night away at a trendy Warehouse District club like Anatomy, you need fuel to hang with Cleveland's hippest crowds. The truly voguish will pony up to the bar at this ultra-slick dance club and order the Anatomy Martini, a mix of Bacardi Grand Melon Rum, Watermelon Pucker, a splash of pineapple, and champagne. "It's a fruity-tasting martini with a special fizz surprise," says the club's Tino Roncone. "While some martinis simply add soda, we add a champagne floater for something special." Buy two, then see if you can give one away on the dance floor.
1299 West Ninth St., Cleveland; 216-363-1113; anatomycleveland.com