It’s the most wonderful time of the year … for camping out in a tinsel- and twinkle-light-strewn pub and getting nice and toasty on an array of seasonal cocktails, from spiked eggnog to booze-laden peppermint mochas to mulled wines. These days, most major American cities have designated outposts for this activity, in the form of holiday-themed bars. If you’re looking for an easy December-cocktail fix, companies like Miracle and Sippin’ Santa sponsor temporary shrines to festive imbibing all across the country … but for more interesting alternatives (including some bars that stick with the holiday motif year-round), try these 9 destination-worthy holiday watering holes.
Brooklyn, New York City
A heavily acclaimed cocktail atelier in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Carroll Gardens, Leyenda is the brainchild of legendary bar proprietor Julie Reiner of Clover Club and her protege, Ivy Mix. Right after Thanksgiving, Leyenda transforms into Sleyenda, a holiday-inspired wonderland festooned with sparkly garlands, wreaths, and stockings. Behind the bar, the skilled Leyenda mixologists whip up seasonal drinks like the Coquito Ho Ho (Espolon reposado tequila, Oloroso sherry, Braulio, coconut liqueur, coconut, cinnamon, egg), the frozen Candy Striper (Leblon cachaça, coconut, vanilla, maple, lime, peppermint, cardamom), and the Tannenbaum & Tonic (Ford’s gin, house maple cider shrub, balsam fir aromatics, tonic). Best of all, Leyenda donates a portion of Sleyenda proceeds to feminist-leaning charitable causes.
Manhattan, New York City
Technically, Rolf’s is a German restaurant rather than a “bar.” But if you want to post up at the bar counter with a warm mug of glühwein and enjoy the beyond-impressive holiday decor at Rolf’s, you’re more than welcome to do so. This Gramercy Park classic has a well-deserved reputation for its elaborate Yuletide visuals; figurines, garlands, lights, and other in-season items cover every available surface, and the large and lavish ornaments hanging from the ceiling always make regular appearances on Instagram throughout the month of December. For a festive experience that doesn’t feel cheesy (and doesn’t smack of SantaCon-related woes), Rolf’s is an unforgettable move.
While we’re on the subject of Teutonic-influenced holiday drinking venues, the popular (and temperature-controlled) Wunder Garten beer garden in D.C. hosts a two-week-long annual holiday pop-up known as Winterfest, where visitors can partake of timely treats like cheese fondue, spiked cider, and cocoa, seasonal beers, fire pits, and heated cabanas, an artisanal craft market, a Christmas tree lot, and all the twinkle lights you could ever want. Winterfest wraps up its run on December 22, though, so you’ll want to head over ASAP.
New Orleans, Lousiana
— Snake and Jakes NOLA (@snakeandjakes) December 22, 2016
The appeal of “Ugly Sweater Parties” and other examples of holiday kitsch largely involves the ironic tackiness of it all. It’s silly, it’s corny … and that’s why we love it. In its own weird, special way, a quirky dive bar that proudly features Xmas decor all year long makes so much sense — and New Orleans residents who want to experience such a place for themselves can make it happen at Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge. Yeah, Snake & Jake’s has abundant Christmas lights and an inflatable Santa, but it’s a dive first and foremost. They’ve got cheap beer, craft beer, delightfully grungy environs … plus, they’re open on Christmas Day. Now that’s what we call “holiday spirit.”
Like Snake & Jake’s, Lala’s Little Nugget keeps their “funky Xmas-themed dive bar” thing going all year long. The decor at this North Austin saloon fully embraces holiday cheesiness, including everything from a twinkle light-framed portrait of Elvis to antique snowman figurines to a “leg lamp” like the one from A Christmas Story. In terms of cocktails, they have a few thematic offerings, like Grandma’s Eggnog and Peppermint Hot Cocoa. And if all of the holiday whimsy (and the reasonably priced drinks) work up an appetite, Do-Rite Barbecue can be found right next door, serving up brisket and pork by the pound, along with side dishes and house specialties like barbecue tacos and spicy queso.
There are two types of people in this world: Those who consider Die Hard a holiday movie, and those who emphatically do NOT. If you fall into the first category, Chicago’s The Sixth cocktail bar has a pop-up designed for you, aptly called “Yippee Ki-Yay.” Not only can you get a seasonal selfie with John McClane and Hans Gruber standees and pose in front of a “‘Die Hard’ Is A F*cking Christmas Movie” poster, but you can also order Die Hard-inspired cocktails like Nakatomi Plaza (bourbon, curry-infused shochu, green chartreuse, pineapple simple syrup, lime, cinnamon bitters, and Angostura bitters, set on fire) and the We Got Everything In This Mug, Man (gin, apple cider, cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, citrus peel, rosemary, turmeric, honey, ginger).
Obviously, Christmas isn’t the only December holiday worthy of bar-theme recognition. In Chicago, Wrigleyville’s Greystone Tavern undergoes a month-long transformation into 8 Crazy Nights!, a drinking establishment completely dedicated to the fun, the food, and the festivities commonly associated with Hanukkah. Visitors can enjoy libations like the Manischewitz Sangria Bowl and the Gelt Martini while snacking on latkes, matzo ball soup, and spiked jelly donuts and playing board games like Connect 4 (replacing the discs with gelt), Apples To Apples: Jewish Edition, and the Schmear Build-A-Bagel card game.
Fans of historic drinking spots and fans of holiday lights can discover a happy compromise at Coach House, a relaxed pub that calls itself the oldest tavern in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale. Launched in 1959, Coach House looks every bit like a classic dive; it’s got giant flat-screens for watching sports, an array of beers both on draft and by the can and bottle … and, during the holiday season, so many strings of colored lights that Coach House finds itself saddled with a $1,500 per month electricity bill.
Los Angeles, California
When stylish travel-inspired Arts District bar Here and Now dresses up for the holidays, they do it in a big way. Their festive revamp includes whimsical glassware, a hearty menu of seasonal snacks (like “Christmas Poutine” with fries, cranberry, gravy, turkey, and cheese curds), and highly inventive cocktails like Yule Shoot Your Rye Out (rye whiskey, gingerbread syrup, bitters) and Put On Your Yarmulke (Monkey Shoulder whiskey, Manischewitz, allspice dram, grapefruit cordial, honey, lime, hibiscus, and aquafaba). Like Sleyenda, Blitzen’s also incorporates a charitable initiative into its festivities, with a cut of all proceeds going to People Assisting The Homeless.
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