Photography by Jessica Kelly
The craft cocktail hype is evolving throughout WNY, keeping local bartenders on their toes. Restaurant owners and bartenders have to continually keep the creative juices flowing. We’ve seen plenty of innovative options lately, each bringing something special to the table; sweet, savory, spicy drinks consisting of local ingredients, fresh herbs, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and delicate garnishes. After some grueling research (yeah right), we’ve managed to narrow it down. Cue the Rocky music; here is the ultimate WNY “must try” cocktail guide!
The Dirty Oyster from Black and Blue
5493 Sheridan Dr / Amherst / Northtowns | (716) 839-2525
The Dirty Oyster from Black and Blue is very different, and takes adventurous taste buds to fully admire the flavor. The martini contains ice cold vodka or gin, olive juice, Bloody Mary mix and is presented with a garnish of a plump blue cheese stuffed olive and a raw oyster, freshly shucked. This drink is not for everyone, but if you’re a seafood lover like me, you’ll appreciate the fact that this martini is basically a large oyster shooter. I found it delicious, salty, and flavorful.
The Gazpacho from Vera Pizzeria
220 Lexington Ave / Elmwood Village / Downtown | (716) 551-6262
The Gazpacho will remain one of my favorite drinks of all time, regardless of the season. It’s spicy, refreshing, and hits the spot every time. It’s is made up of dry gin, fresh lemon juice, St. Germain, Sriracha hot sauce, and crushed cucumber. The Vera menus are constantly changing, but the bartenders are happy to whip up anything from a past menu should you ask.
The Ghost Mule from Savoy
149 Elmwood Ave / Elmwood Village / Downtown | (716) 768-3100
The Ghost Mule from Savoy is so packed full of flavor, it made a non-whisky drinker like myself fall in love. This blend of Jim Beam white whisky, Johnnie Ryan ginger beer, lime juice, and pumpkin liqueur topped with a lime slice, served in a copper mug, tastes seasonal- with the pumpkin; and refreshing- with the squeezed lime and ginger beer.
More drinks to try: While the Ghost Mule is the star of the show, Savoy has a menu full of fantastic cocktails like the Plum Sour with Lockhouse Vodka, sliced plum, fresh squeezed lemon juice, egg white, and simple syrup and the New York Sour with Bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, red wine float, and rocks.
Possible Pairing: Try the savory Fried Eggplant Caprese Salad consisting of fried eggplant, roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil leaves. Yum!
Luis Suarez from Més Que
1420 Hertel Ave / Hertel / North Buffalo | (716) 836-8800
The Luis Suarez from Més Que is a pristine peppery mix of sweet bells and hot habaneros. This cocktail forms a harmonious combination of Tequila, sweet bell peppers, mezcal rinse, fresh lemon, and habanero bitters.
Possible Pairings: The spiciness of the cocktail can be calmed with Més Que’s cheese plate consisting of Manchego, Maytag Blue, Boucheron, and Grana Padano or kicked up with the charcuterie plate featuring Chorizo, Andouille, Sopressata, and Serrano Ham.
The Wallflower from Merge
439 Delaware Ave / Business District / Downtown | (716) 842-0600
“The season that shall not be named” will be here before we know it and as Buffalonians we will be seeking out cozy, warm restaurants with cocktails sure to warm your soul. For this, we suggest The Wallflower at Merge which unites Hendrick’s, Galliano, rose water, orange juice, and a cranberry garnish. You’ll love the elegant decor that comes with your crisp cocktail.
Possible Pairing: Merge’s version of comfort food – the savory tart with goat cheese filled puff pastry, green bean frites, smoked apricot puree, carmelized onions and loganberry balsamic or their sage seasoned butternut squash bisque.
The Lavender Blueberry Lemon Drop Martini from Blue Lantern Lounge
6120 Seneca St / Elma / Southtowns | (716) 652-2583
The Lavender Blueberry Lemon Drop martini garnished with lemon, blueberries and a white & blue sugar rim from Blue Lantern has been Blue Lantern’s #1 selling martini by a long shot since it’s inception in 2009. Owners, Tom and Donna Pease (also owners of Philly Flattop food truck specializing in authentic Philly cheese steaks) collect flavors, tips, and techniques throughout their travels. Donna, creator of this beloved martini, had the idea after tasting lavender on a trip to San Diego. When she returned, she started experimenting with flavors she could pair with the lavender, and the rest is history!
There are copycats out there, but don’t be fooled; The Blue Lantern was the official creator of the Lavender Blueberry Lemon Drop martini. Their perfectly measured blend of secret ingredients has everyone asking what’s in it, but that’s top secret information.
Possible Pairing: Tender meatloaf full of beef and veal, served with buttermilk mashed potatoes and glazed carrots.
More drinks to try: Hot Chocolate with Fireball whiskey, the Pumpkin-tini with Crop Organic Pumpkin vodka, Whipped vodka, pumpkin liquor and cream or the Cin-Fall Cider made with Fireball cinnamon whisky, apple cider and a crushed fireball candy rim.
The Spicy Margarita from Cantina Loco
191 Allen St / Allentown / Downtown | (716) 551-0160
The Spicy Margarita from Cantina Loco is a delightful combination of Sauza Gyro, Juarez spicy key lime sour, fresh jalapeno, ginger, and a chile salt rim. This drink is what really started my love for spicy cocktails! I will admit that the Cucumber 75 made with Milagro Silver, St. Germain, cucumber, lime, and Friexenet Cava is a close runner up, but the spicy marg takes first place in my book.
Possible Pairing: Pair this with a cheesy appetizer from Cantina Loco’s menu and you’ll be good to go! As far as entrées go, I personally recommend the California Fish Taco with crisp fried fish, cabbage slaw, pickled onion, and spicy sauce or the Koreatown with kalbi short ribs, kimchee, and spicy sauce.
The Water Lily from Tappo
338 Ellicott St / Business District / Downtown | (716) 259-8130
Tappo is a perfect place to visit with a group of friends! They’re famous for their $15 bottles of wine, champagne included. While that’s a fantastic deal, don’t forget about their beautiful selection of cocktails that are almost too pretty to drink. Soft purple in color, the Water Lily is an ideal fusion of flavors, consisting of gin, Crème de Violet, Cointreau, and lemon. Pleasing to the eye and the taste buds.
Possible Pairing: Their plates are always delicious and easy to share, so you have the opportunity to savor many dishes from the menu at once. I suggest the basil prawn risotto and the Brasciole.
The Green Mule from Joe’s Deli
534 Elmwood Avenue / Elmwood Village / Downtown | (716) 875-5637
My initial assumption of the deli was that it seemed like a great place to run in and grab a quick bite. I heard rave reviews about the restaurant, so I finally gave it a try after a night of beer and cheese tastings at Nickel City Cheese & Mercantile with a group of friends. Joe’s Deli exceeded my expectations! I was surprised to find a sit down restaurant with a full cocktail list. My drink of choice was the Green Mule, packed with Hendrick’s Gin, St. Germaine, mint, cucumber, fresh lime juice, and ginger beer. The food and drinks were phenomenal and definitely worth a try!
The Black Widow from Billybar
5590 Main St / Williamsville / Northtowns | (716) 634-2572
The Black Widow (try ordering it without saying baby…thank you Iggy Azalea) from Billybar is a blend of Blanco Tequila, lime, muddled blackberries and basil. The tangy and slightly sour blackberries muddled with the pungent basil really stand out as a powerful factor in the cocktail.
Possible Pairing: On top of having such an alluring cocktail menu, Billybar’s food is to die for. Their cheesy, perfectly gooey and spicy blend of stuffed hot pepper spread on toasted bread is just too good to share. They offer a variety of oysters daily and specials on certain types. Tuesday-Saturday from 4-5pm, Billy Bar has a “Shuck for a Buck” happy hour where they offer raw oysters on the half shell at a dollar a piece. Enjoy a dozen salty oysters with the fresh ingredients in the Black Widow and you’ll have yourself a perfect pairing.
Mai Tai from Buffalo Proper
333 Franklin St / Business District / Downtown | (716) 783-8699
Buffalo Proper is the kind of place that you immediately feel welcome from the second you walk through the door. The staff is exceedingly helpful and accommodating, the ambiance is breathtaking, the menu eccentric, and the drinks…words cannot do justice to the creativity. The first drink I had the pleasure of tasting was made by the owner, Jon Karel. It’s always nice to see the owner in the action, getting to know customers and figuring out what everyone loves. It’s what separates the good from the great. All I had to say to him was, “I heard you have this cool Tiki-” and he was already whipping up a flavorful Mai Tai (generally consisting of rum, lime juice, orange curacao, and orgeat syrup which is almond-flavored syrup) in a fun Tiki glass topped with fresh fruit!
The Mai Tai is my personal favorite, but don’t be afraid to let the bartenders be creative. Trust me, they know what they’re doing! Mention what kind of liquor you enjoy and let them show you what they can do.
Possible Pairing: Don’t forget to enjoy some small plates and see what’s on special. I loved the charred pork belly and beef tartar with blue cheese ice cream I had last time I visited.
“Jam Session” from Ballyhoo
211 S Park Ave / Cobblestone District / Downtown | (716) 240-9901
Just recently opened, Ballyhoo is already making a name for itself. They’re bringing a technique to the table that I have yet to see in Buffalo; shaking their drinks with flavored jams. “Jam Sessions” as they call them, can be concocted to fit your flavor preferences. How it works; you choose a flavor of jam (Apricot, Crystal Orange, Cranberry Cointreau, Victor is Plum, Tiptree’ Orange, Grapefruit, Three Citrus Fruits, Red Currant, Orange and Tangerine), “choose your poison” and then they rock it out with house-made mixes and garnishes like edible pansies, fresh fruit, and star anise. These cocktails are truly unique. I tried a few jam sessions flawlessly assembled by the talented Joey behind the bar. My favorite – the red currant jam, rum and homemade sour mix. Rich in flavor, I loved that the jam sweetened the drink to perfection. Pair that with one of the delicious “links” for a little something savory to offset the sweet.
Blood Orange Jalapeno Margarita from jojo Bistro & Wine Bar
5493 Sheridan Dr / Williamsville / Northtowns | (716) 204-8663
I’ve always been a fan of JoJo’s because of their delicious flatbread pizzas, and their zucchini fries served with a fresh basil and pesto dipping sauce. Trust me, once you try those zucchini fries you’ll be hooked. Consider yourself warned. JoJo’s has an award winning wine menu along with a “Bring Your Own Wine Night” every Monday. However, my drink of choice is by far the Blood Orange Jalapeno Margarita, a blend of blood orange puree, jalapeño house-infused tequila and lime. I’m a sucker for anything that’s both sweet and spicy.
The Flamingo from Oshun
5 E Huron St / Business District / Downtown | (716) 848-4500
The Flamingo from Oshun is fascinating. You have to be careful with the food you choose to pair this with because of the strong tart flavor. The Flamingo combines vodka, sparkling wine, and Campari which tints the drink pink and creates a bitter bite. It didn’t pair well with the deep fried calamari over pineapple tamarind glaze, basil, and grilled corn salsa. The array of strong flavors created a divide. However the sharpness from the Campari in the cocktail paired well with the briny oysters, salty clams, poached lobster tail, and shrimp with fresh squeezed lemon juice I had for an entrée. When you order such an acerbic cocktail, make sure to pair it with flavors that aren’t quite as harsh.
Possible Pairing: I particularly enjoyed the drink with the Onset (Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts) and Osterville oysters (Malpeque). The oysters were so briny and flavorful, with deep shells filled with crystal clear water. The shells were so clean and white after each slurp, I was sure I’d find a pearl! Yes, they were that perfect. If you’re a shellfish lover, I suggest giving the Flamingo a try.
Keep in mind, restaurants and bars are constantly working on new creations to keep their drinks seasonal and fresh. If you don’t see these on menu, don’t be afraid to ask the bartender if they can whip one up!
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