14 Sep The History of Black Craft Mixologists & 9 of the Best Black-Owned Cocktail Lounges in the U.S.
By Natelegé Whaley
The Black Roots of “Craft Cuisine”
In the past decade, “craft cuisine,” referring to a trend in which creators bring an innovative approach to traditional foods and drinks, was a buzzy word. Lauren Michele Jackson wrote in Eater that the burgeoning craft industry, comprised of predominantly white-founded businesses, “consistently engages in the erasure or exploitation of people of color.”
During the reclaiming of craft or artisanal culture, the stories of Black craft makers – especially in alcohol – resurfaced, such as Nathan “Nearest” Green, an enslaved Black man who taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey. In the Prohibition era, Black bootleggers were a financial backbone of the Black community. In Sacramento, CA, Black-owned nightclubs were popular hotspots serving bootleg liquor. In Montana, Bertie “Birdie” Brown, a Black woman, made a famous moonshine. In Denver, Black bootleggers “Daddy” Bruce Randolph and George Morrison, Sr. also brewed alcohol. Today, Black-owned craft cocktail bars have a more substantial presence in the market, stretching from the Bay area to New Orleans..
“We as people are just natural creatives,” says Keitris Bourgeois, a manager at NOLA Art Bar in New Orleans. “Our cocktail culture is more than a cognac over ice or popping bottles. I’ve seen ladies want a French 75 or Pimms Cup. Our male patrons order top-shelf Moscow Mules or an Old Fashion,” she described of the bar’s popular drinks.
Here is a look at a few Black-owned cocktail bars and lounges that are serving up unforgettable experiences inspired by the diaspora’s culture.
NOLA ART Bar – New Orleans, LA
The NOLA Art Bar is a craft cocktail art gallery featuring a Caribbean and Creole tapas menu and a daily happy hour. One stand-out gin cocktail is the “Bramble,” made with Sipsmith London Dry Gin, Crème De Mure (blackberry liqueur), lemon juice, simple syrup, lemon wheel, and fresh blackberry. The food may also keep you there a while. One option is the Charcuterie board, filled with Gournay cheese, Rosemary Manchego, aged Parmesan, Prosciutto, Genoa salami, Calabrese salami, and dried cranberries, to name a few. For those who prefer outdoor drinking, the NOLA Art Bar courtyard awaits.
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Sobre Mesa – Oakland, CA
Chef Nelson German says the idea for Sobre Mesa, which means “over the table,” is inspired by the natural conversation that happens after enjoying a meal with loved ones. German is of Dominican and African ancestry and has created a menu of cocktails drawn from those roots. The signature Sobre Mesa has a unique blend of Mosswood light rum blend and Dominican rum, a Sobre Mesa mamajuana mix, lime, and grapefruit. Choose from tapas, like the roasted stuffed ripe plantain, filled with avocado, Impossible meat ragu, olive, soy chorizo, and Wanda’s chow chow hot peppers.
Parlor Den – Atlanta, GA
Atlanta’s Parlor Den is an intimate cocktail lounge where you can settle into cushy crushed blue velvet sofas while sipping on “Unbothered,” a cocktail made of fresh brewed coffee, rum chata, brulot, dem syrup, and bitters. The food menu also has alluring bite options, like the Lobster and Grilled Cheese, made from grilled lobster, crab, pineapple habanero sauce, and Havarti cheese, served with the Symphony Potato Chips. This item is best with the “Millionaire” cocktail. Parlor is also available for private events.
67 Orange Street – New York
When in Harlem, 67 Orange Street is the spot to indulge in elevated craft cocktails, bar bites, and appetizers. “The Color Purple,” created by Garrett Hendricks, a former mixologist of the establishment, is a splendid mix of Empress Gin, St. Germain, Creme de Violette, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, lavender bitters, and blackberries. The menu is oozing with salivating small plates to munch on, like spicy popcorn with lime powder, ancho chili, cotija cheese, and sea salt. Bar kits for sale allow you to recreate the 67 Orange Street feel at home.
Did You Know?
According to the owners of Hands, a spirits advisory and investment company, there were more women bootleggers in the 1920s than men. “One reason was because the law, at that time, would not search women, so they had more freedom during prohibition,” Hands co-owner Dia Simms told Forbes.
Trez Art & Wine Bar – Houston, TX
Another place to enjoy beautiful art and craft cocktails in the south is Trez Art and Wine Bar in Houston. While tasting an Aquamarine — comprised of Altos tequila, lemon, grenadine, and blue curaçao — and rosemary jerk lamb chops, take in the works of local and national artists, featured on the walls of Trez. Carla Bisong, the owner of the local Bisong Art Gallery, curates the works on display. For those who prefer a lighter buzz, wine is also on tap. Also, seasonal desserts are available for your sweet tooth.
Bar 5015 – Houston, TX
The Backyard Bar & Kitchen at 5015 is one of the “it” places to be on evenings and weekends in Houston, especially for brunch or Sunday Fun-day. They pay attention to the details when it comes to their cocktails, concocting elixirs that pair perfectly with the vibes in their backyard bar. Try The Southmore, a tequila and agave nectar margarita with a sangria swirl, or the Mrs. Brown’s Doughnut Martini.
Bin 1301 Wine Bar – Washington, DC
If you love both music and mixology, then Bin 1301 Wine Bar is the place to be. Located on the infamous U St. corridor, this classy wine and cocktail spot features gourmet African, Caribbean, and Cajun cuisine to go with their elevated cocktails. To enjoy the fullness on the experience, check out one of their weekly curated jam sessions, come for one of their firework shows, or attend one of their Saturday mixology classes.
Copa – St. Petersburg, FL
Have drinks around the world without leaving Tampa. Copa’s fare is inspired by two local brothers who own and operate the place, include one who is a former international soccer player. Their wide selection of wines, beers, and signature wine-based cocktails compliment an international menu, with authentic flavors from Latin America and the Caribbean – all with a tapas style Mediterranean twist. Try one of their craft cocktails, like the Cocopeño Mojito, made with coconut puree, jalapeño, lime, mint, sugar, and plantation Caribbean rum, or the Tokyo Drip, which includes sake, Haku Suntory vodka, elderflower, lemon, and saporro.
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The Roger’s Garden – Brooklyn, NY
Good vibes only at The Roger’s Garden. The funky, colorful, eclectic art in their intimate outdoor lounge area is an instant mood booster. Pair the vibes with one of their island-inspired cocktails, like the Kee Kee – a tropical blend of coconut rums, vodka, and nutmeg – or the Frozen Batida Banana, a frozen twist on the classic Caipirinha cocktail. Oh, and they also have a juice bar, which kids are welcome to enjoy until 7.