6 American Bars Serving Light & Tasty Aperitif Cocktails

Jugo De PumaJugo De Puma

The Jugo De Puma cocktail is like "sunshine in a glass," at Perch, in Richmond, VA.

With low alcohol and a high refreshment factor, these drinks are perfect for summer.

Summer drinking is a funny thing. Between vacationing, spending time with friends and family, and just enjoying the warmer weather, we tend to eschew heavier drinks—like whiskeys, red wine and even straight-up martinis—for lighter, brighter, less alcoholic fare. And though rum and gin are still seasonal crowd pleasers, cocktails mixed with lower alcohol aperitifs, like the popular Negroni, are making a strong showing in bars and restaurants across the country.

Meant to stimulate the appetite and usually dry rather than sweet, an aperitif is also a refreshing way to help stretch out drinking on a hot, sunny day. Thankfully, mixologists are taking your day drinking into consideration and creating menus chock full of these delightful cocktails. So, here’s to you, summer.

1. The Beehive, San Francisco

This Mad Men-inspired cocktail lounge, located in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission district, is a unique conglomerate of old and new. And though its signature, namesake concoction is a laid-back affair of gin, honey, lemon and ginger, it’s the cocktails mixed with traditional Martini & Rossi Ambrato and bitter, like Bachelor #3 and Moda Royale, that caught our eye. For something tart, the Thunderbird is Campari-forward with a hit of lime, tonic, thyme and passion fruit, while the Quimbara is a celebration of an alcoholic slushie, swirled with Aperol, rum and lime. Nostalgia is served on all levels, with a retro food menu including fondue, though with these lighter drinks, you might want to gravitate towards the ceviche, coconut shrimp and fish sliders.

2. Peppi’s Cellar, New York City

Jason Scott, a Sydney native, has brought his speakeasy aesthetic to this brazenly retro-cool cellar bar in Nolita. Just down the narrow stairs in the back of sister restaurant Gran Tivoli you’ll find a long, wooden bar, exposed brick, carved out booths and a small stage advertising a piano, where live music is allowed one night a week (the bar doesn’t have its cabaret license). The GT Spritz was created to match the classic American Italian style of the food upstairs, using the bitter notes of white vermouth and falernum to mingle with the sweet of the Italian prosecco. The namesake Amaro-Palooza is a cavalcade of sweet, sour and bitter, combining, among other things, Campari, triple sec, egg white and orange juice over clinking ice cubes. A limited bar menu is also available for some light bites.

3. Urbana, Washington D.C.

Tucked away under Kimpton’s relatively modern Hotel Palomar near Dupont Circle, Urbana boasts a popular bar scene with a daily cocktail hour. In addition to $1 oysters and a satisfying raw bar, you can choose from an aperitif-heavy cocktail list. We especially like the Constituent Cup, an Italian spritz using Nardini Taglatello, fennel liqueur, lemon and sugar to mimic the flavors of an English favorite, the Pimm’s Cup—while the seasonal Piccola Perla infuses vermouth with chamomile and the Suits Get Crazy combines rum, tiki bitters and aperol. The bar menu also includes smaller, Italian bites and snacks to round out your experience.

4. Bar Clacson, Los Angeles

A neighborhood hangout in the city of angels, this airy, international spot boasts a bodega upfront, serving paninis and bruschetta, as well as cheese and charcuterie boards. Once you grab your snack, snake your way back to the long wooden bar or hang out at the full-size petanque court. A notable list of spritz and sherry-based drinks include Campari and whiskey forward Garibaldi and the Clack_Dack, shaken with Amaro Angeleno, cracked pepper, blood orange and lime. The bar’s riff on a classic spritz, served long, will help you get through the day, combining white wine, lemon juice, prosecco and water. A seven day a week happy hour offers $10 cocktails along with small bites.

5. Ticonderoga Club, Atlanta

Head to the back of dining and retail hub, Krog Street Market, and you’ll find this laid back, cocktail-forward restaurant. The lovechild of Greg Best, Paul Calvert and Regan Smith, three of Atlanta’s most renowned mixologists, it presents a rotating menu of exhilarating cocktails. Summer offerings include the Hootchy Cider Punch made with Amer Ticon, house bitter and dry cider, as well as a cocktail featuring Cognac du Peyrat, Dubonnet, and orange bitter, playfully dubbed the Space Ghost. And don’t forget to grab a bite from the eclectic menu, which boasts clam rolls and fish and chips as well as roasted moulard duck and a vegan noodle bowl. The one thing you’ll never be at the Ticonderoga Club? Bored.

6. Perch, Richmond, VA

A southern twist on laidback luxury, this homey restaurant features a stylish yet industrial bar serving up a long list of low alcohol cocktails. Housed in a long-running, former Chinese restaurant, owner Mike Ledesma falls back on his years as a chef in Hawaii as well as his Pilipino heritage in both food and décor—bringing the Pacific Rim to this little corner of Virginia. The Jugo de Puma is sunshine in a glass with its watermelon shrub, Aperol, Citadelle and Galliano, while the Shinosaka Golf Club combines Japanese whisky, apricot liqueur and Rainwater Madeira and the Mexican Peach Cobbler plays sweet and smoky with tequila, Manzanilla, lemon and smoked peach slices. A full list of bitters and amari is also available and a happy hour menu includes cocktail specials as well as a bar menu with nibbles like Furikake peanuts, fried lotus chips and fried chicken banh mi.

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