Nine Great Bars

Go out for drinks at one of these central-city hot spots.
nine great bars to try
Kentucky Arm Candy from Trophy Club. Photo by Marcus Meisler.

BARS ARE BACK, BABY. After two years of being cooped up at home because of COVID-19, people are finally coming out of self-imposed quarantine and looking for some fun. Luckily, Sacramento has no shortage of zippy bars and stylish cocktail lounges where you can let loose and socialize. Here’s a look at some of the top places right now to scratch your cocktail itch.

The Roost

the roost bars

You walk through a door inauspiciously marked “storage,” bang on another door using a door knocker and wait until a third secret door masquerading as shelves stacked with rolls of toilet paper swings open like magic. And just like that, you’re inside The Roost, a speakeasy-style bar tucked behind Bawk!, Rob Archie’s fried chicken joint on R Street. Open since this past November, the dimly lit, brick-walled space is an intriguing addition to Sacramento’s bar scene. The beautifully illuminated back bar soars to the mile-high ceiling, with six sets of shelves holding about 600 premium spirits; to reach the top shelf, bartenders have to scramble up and down a rolling library ladder. Once seated,
you’ll find your table set with cordial glasses for a complimentary sip of house-made punch to get you in the right frame of mind. Instead of scanning a QR code on your phone (so 2021!), you make your drink selection from a book-like menu that includes classics like the Old Fashioned, apéritifs (in case you’re heading out to dinner after), digestifs (if this is your last stop of the evening), champagne cocktails, Prohibition-era drinks and more. It’s Cliffs Notes for cocktails. But if that’s too much reading for you, the bartender will slip you a choose-your-own-adventure coaster and a tiny golf pencil. Simply circle your picks from three categories (vodka/floral/short and sour, for instance), and they’ll make you the perfect drink on the spot. The Roost is open evenings only (closed Mondays); reservations (made on Tock) are highly recommended. 1409 R St.;

THERE’S MORE: Cocktails come in snazzy Riedel crystal glassware, and the ice rectangles (not cubes) are custom cut and clear as Lake Tahoe.

drinks from the roost
Photo by Marcus Meisler

Tiger Bar

When the pandemic hit in 2020, this massive restaurant/bar pivoted repeatedly, morphing into a food hall and ghost kitchen, then spilling out into a nearby park with live music events before settling into its current incarnation: a hip lounge that packs ’em in on weekends. Located just a martini olive’s throw from Golden 1 Center, Tiger sits on the 700 block of K Street, a stretch that right now is home to some of the city’s most happening bars. The two-story interior has a filthy/fabulous vibe, with tufted velvet couches set against walls covered in raw graffiti. Revelers come for the music (live 8–11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, DJs after 11) and the fruit-forward cocktails, with names like Blueberry Yum Yum, made with rum, lemon juice, blueberry puree and edible glitter. Drinks here have a craft-cocktail sensibility, but thanks to the crowds, bartenders need to pump them out fast. So concoctions like the Cherry Bradshaw—a cherry cosmo nod to Carrie Bradshaw of “Sex and the City” and its sequel, “And Just Like That . . .”—are whipped up in big batches to speed service along. Even so, you might have to wait on the pavement outside for up to two hours before getting in the door. 722 K St.; (916) 269-1439;

THERE’S MORE: Tiger offers VIP accounts; pay $250 and get $300 in credit.


prelude retaurant and bar
Photo by Marcus Meisler

The loungey bar at this newly opened dinner house near the Capitol occupies the middle ground—both geographically and philosophically—between craft-centric Ella and fast-and furious Dive Bar. “Craft lite” is how Luke A’Dair, who developed the bar program here, describes it. Bartenders make every drink to order (no batching), relying on fresh ingredients and premium spirits. But when there are events at the nearby convention center, community theater and sports arena, it becomes a high-demand situation, leaving employees little time for the fancier fripperies of craft cocktailing. Specialty cocktails include the Lap of Luxury, a pretty, pink-tinged drink made with Tito’s vodka and lavender bitters and topped with a silky layer of aquafaba foam. Another popular option is the shrub margarita, made with Casamigos tequila (the brand founded by George Clooney and Randy Gerber) and a house-made shrub that changes with the seasons. Garnishes are elegant and simple: a fennel frond or a dehydrated wheel of citrus, clipped to the glass rim with a tiny wood clothespin. 1117 11th St.; (916) 898-1071;

THERE’S MORE: The fenced-in patio, with its clear view of the Capitol building, is a sweet hangout spot.

lap of luxury drink at bars
Lap of Luxury. Photo by Marcus Meisler.

Darling Aviary

darling avery
Photo by Marcus Meisler

Like crows descending on downtown Sacramento after a day in the fields, people in search of a good time flock to this bird-themed bar and restaurant on K Street. Opened in October 2020 by the folks behind The Flamingo House in midtown, the dark, sultry ground-floor bar is one of the most eccentrically beautiful spaces in Sacramento. It was designed by Dacy Kolsky (who also did The Flamingo House) to resemble a Victorian aviary crossed with a futuristic Tokyo neon bar—it looks like a Hollywood prop closet exploded. Computerized LED lights bathe the room in vibrant colors that change to suit the mood of the crowd, while vintage birdcages hang from the ceiling and a large metal peacock perches on the bar. Most impressive is the giant gilded birdcage that doubles as a DJ booth and a spot where customers can take selfies. With its cozy banquette, velvet-upholstered stools and high-top tables for two, the ground floor is the perfect spot for an intimate têteà-tête over avian-named cocktails like the rum-based Bird’s-Eye Chai or the mescal-forward Oaxacan Sheartail. But if you want to party, head upstairs to the rooftop patio, known as The Nest,\ where you can enjoy a boozy frozen fruit slushy along with your four-napkin cheeseburger. The nesting picnic tables were designed to collapse to create a dance floor for live music and DJs on weekend nights. 712 K St.; (916) 758-5715;

THERE’S MORE: Up on the roof, shade sails and a high-end misting system will keep you cool in the hottest weather.

bars and drinks from Darling Avery
Photo by Marcus Meisler

Trophy Club

trophy club
Photo by Marcus Meisler

Since late 2019, more than 700 people have ponied up hundreds of dollars apiece to join this membership-based bar next to Golden 1 Center. If you’re not a member, don’t despair; you can still get in by knowing the password of the day, posted on the club’s Instagram Stories. It’s all part of the fun at this speakeasy-style bar, accessible through a hidden door in the alcove entrance to Flatstick Pub, a rowdy beer bar where customers play mini golf. (The two bars have the same ownership.) Once the host lets you in, you’ll pass through a velvet curtain into a different world that might have you thinking, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” It’s all very swank, with sleek gold starburst chandeliers, emerald green velvet banquettes, a mirrored back bar and a piano where musician Doug Matson plays live music every Thursday from 7 to 10 p.m. The cocktail menu, printed to look like a Prohibition-era newspaper, features seven “club cocktails”—proprietary drinks created by the club’s three bartenders—and three classic drinks from different periods in history—say, a Garibaldi (from 1860), a Bijou (from the 1890s) and a Mai Tai (from 1944). The spring menu includes a Colt’s Neck Collins, a refreshing cocktail made with applejack, cognac, lemon juice and cascara cola syrup, and Punsch Drunk Love, a custardy concoction of Kronan Swedish Punsch, pisco, Galliano and an egg yolk. But the bartenders here really pride themselves on creating drinks on the fly to create a one-of-a-kind experience for each customer. “Our in-house creativity is damn near limitless,” says bar manager Tony Hicks. 630 K St.; (916) 872-0772;

Kentucky Arm Candy
Kentucky Arm Candy. Photo by Marcus Meisler.

THERE’S MORE: Hicks stocked the bar with some of his favorite spirits, including Writers Tears’ Irish whiskey (“tastes like vanilla birthday cake”) and Casa Dragones tequila.

Punsch Drunk Love
Photo by Marcus Meisler

The 7th Street Standard

7th street standard
Photo by Marcus Meisler

At the 17-seat bar on the ground floor of the new Hyatt Centric hotel at Seventh and L streets, your order starts with the cocktailer’s version of 20 Questions. The bartender quizzes you—What’s your favorite spirit? Are you team refreshing or team aromatic? What flavors don’t you like?—before setting to work. The goal is a well-balanced drink that meets the Goldilocks standard: not too sweet, not too bitter, just right. Open seven days a week from 11 a.m. till 10 p.m. (midnight Fridays and Saturdays), the bar caters to a diverse crowd of hotel guests, business folk and arena goers. You can order snacky foods—things like mini lobster rolls and sweetbread nuggets—from the bar menu or an entire meal from the regular menu, overseen by the highly regarded chef Ravin Patel, formerly with Ella. Upstairs, on the sixth floor, is a second bar called Clayton Club, a sexy indoor lounge that opens up onto a rooftop patio offering jaw-dropping views of downtown Sacramento. One half of the menu is devoted to classic cocktails that fall into the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” category, including cosmopolitans and amaretto sours. The other half features “vogue” cocktails, with drinks like the Marq-I, a fruity, refreshing quaff made with Hendrick’s gin, bergamot and peach liqueurs and orange bitters, and the dramatic Black Dahlia, a savory tequila cocktail tinted deep black from the addition of activated charcoal and garnished with a crunchy red pepper ring. 1122 Seventh St.; (916) 898-1100;

rooftop bar at 7th street standard
Photo by Marcus Meisler
clover club from the 7th street standard
Clover Club from The 7th Street Standard. Photo by Marcus Meisler.

THERE’S MORE: The name Clayton Club is a tip of the fedora to Sacramento’s original Clayton Club, where Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway used to perform.

interior bar

Bottle & Barlow

This popular R Street watering hole is an exercise in one-stop shopping, a place where you can get a switchblade pompadour from celebrity barber Anthony Giannotti, then relax over an espresso martini or a whiskey shot and a PBR. The barbershop and the bar exist side by side in a shotgun building that has a sleek art-deco design crossed with a punk-rock-and tattoos vibe. Bottle & Barlow’s owners took a cautious approach during the pandemic, closing completely for five months before reopening with heightened precautions. Now, with the staff fully vaccinated, they’re back to business as usual, serving serious cocktails with unserious names like the Snake Oil Merchant (scotch and apple cider vinegar topped with smoke foam) and Tequila and Some Shit. As the menu cheekily notes, “we know you stopped reading after tequila, but it also has agave, lemon, orange, cardamom and bitters.” Riffs on classic cocktails include the Old Fashioned Perfected, made with a house-selected single-barrel bourbon from Few, and the Kiss & Tell, a White Linen doppelgänger featuring Aperol in lieu of elderflower liqueur. Acknowledging consumers’ growing interest in spirit free drinks, Bottle & Barlow devotes an entire section of its menu to nonalcoholic cocktails, starring distilled NA spirits from Britain’s Seedlip. Juices, bitters, spices and egg whites add complexity and interest without the buzz. 1120 R St.; (916) 379-7719;

THERE’S MORE: No food is served here, but you can bring in your own
from a nearby restaurant or food truck.

Midtown Spirits

There aren’t many places where you can drink a cocktail made with alcohol distilled on the premises. This is one of them. It’s owned by Jason Poole, a former bartender who made a name for himself in 2012 when he placed second in a national bloody mary contest. Poole took his winning recipe and bottled it for sale under the name Preservation & co., then expanded the line to include cocktail mixers, sauces and pickles that he produced and sold out of a warehouse on 19th Street. In the middle of the pandemic, he and partner Dave Abrahamsen opened Midtown Spirits, the first distillery to debut in the city since Prohibition. It’s a far cry from the typical distillery tasting room, with a full-service bar, a restaurant and a roomy street-side patio where you can hang with your pooch after an outing at the popular bark park across the street. From the dining room, you can view the gleaming 400-gallon hybrid still in action. Right now, Poole makes vodka, gin, coffee liqueur and, coming this summer, rum; whiskey, which takes longer to age, is several years off. Midtown Spirits also makes its own infused vodkas in 22 flavors that include sweet tea, apple cinnamon, dill pickle and, for you heat freaks, habanero. Adult slushies are available year-round, in fun flavors like cookies-and-cream and mangonada. 1717 19th St.; (916) 243-6991;

THERE’S MORE: The house-distilled gin has bright, citrusy notes. “It’s gin for people who don’t like gin,” says Poole.

The Green Room

the green room
Photo by Marcus Meisler

It’s called The Green Room because, well, there’s a lot of green stuff here, from the solid fence of faux ferns enclosing the sidewalk patio to the multitude of plants suspended in macramé holders from the skylighted ceiling. But there’s another meaning, too: In showbiz terms, the green room is the place where performers hang out before they go on stage. Owned by the folks behind Bacon & Butter and open from 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays–Saturdays, this Green Room is designed to be the place where you start your evening before going on to the main event. (Or, for people who like to be tucked in at a reasonable hour, where you end the night before heading home to watch Netflix in bed.) The concept is happy-hour-all the-time, featuring craft cocktails with a twist: There’s a mule (thanks to Putin, we don’t say Moscow these days) made with apple cider and cinnamon; a spicy avocado margarita with a salty Tajín rim; and a Paloma topped with macerated blueberries, so you can have a little nibble while you sip. The food menu offers noshy plates that beg to be shared with the table, such as fried cauliflower poppers, chicken wings and deviled eggs—and a pretty darn good smash burger that you’ll definitely want to keep all to yourself. 3839 J St.; (916) 475 1801;

Margarita. Photo by Marcus Meisler.

THERE’S MORE: The daiquiri is garnished with a chunk of fresh banana, brûléed by the bartender just before serving.