My editorial best of the year picks were published at Food Republic over December 2015 and January 2016 in a series of articles covering the best in US and international travels, hotels, meals and drink — here is a link to each article I contributed to and my favorites summarized below:

– Best Drinking Experiences, International
– Best Drinking Experiences, West Coast
Best Drinking Experiences, The South
– Best places (cities, hotels, restaurants, bars) in national and international travel
– Best meals: International Edition
– Best meals: Midwest & Southwest Edition
– Best meals: The South
– Best meals: West Coast Edition

The French flag represented in a drink at Le Syndicat, Paris

The French flag represented in a drink at Le Syndicat, Paris

Le Syndicat, Mabel, Little Red Door & Le Mary Celeste (Paris, France)

Inventive cocktails at Mabel, Paris

Inventive cocktails at Mabel, Paris

Returning from Paris just four days before the horrors that happened November 13, I am even more eager to cheer on the thriving cocktail/bar scene. I would give a four-bar tie to cocktail havens where I experienced the most gracious service I’ve ever had in Paris.

Le Syndicat wows with inventive cocktails (like Calvados with fresh carrot and celery juice), French-only spirits (Cognac, Armagnac, absinthe, pastis, eaux de vie, etc.) and bartenders with a cheeky sense of humor in an intimate space. Mabel is a husband/wife-run gem (he’s from France, she’s from New Jersey) in the back of a grilled cheese shop where co-founder/bar manager Joseph Akhavan’s wife grills up oozing cheese sandwiches while he crafts complex, delicious cocktails in the back bar.

Little Red Door offered the warmest welcome, thanks to Remy Savage and his team. The bar is hidden behind a red door (naturally), the kind of place where bartenders sing along to tunes as they craft expert cocktails from a broad range of spirits. Le Mary Celeste is a charming, romantic spot in the Marais, with drinkable cocktails that pair beautifully with French oysters and small plates pulling on ingredients from Mexico to India.

Mourad (San Francisco, California)

Mourad's Curry & Milk

Mourad’s Curry & Milk

Serving high-end California-meets-Moroccan cuisine, Mourad, from ever-talented chef Mourad Lahlou of long-timer Aziza, is one of the great openings of 2015 — and since Anthony Parks came on board this fall as bar manager, it’s also a cocktail destination.

Parks’ drinks pull from the kitchen in unexpected, even thrilling ways, as with the creamy-yet-light joys of Curry & Milk. Umami & Mint surprises with a lush, nutty element of toasted sesame oil mixed with Plata tequila, agave, cucumber and mint. Expect the unusual but with harmony and balance.

Fragrances/The Curtain Club (Berlin, Germany)

Fragrances' artful cocktails

Fragrances’ artful cocktails

Centrally located in Berlin, two of the city’s best bars are both in the Ritz-Carlton Berlin both run by bar manager Arnd Heissen. The first, Fragrances, is an upscale cocktail sanctuary and one of the world’s show-stopping bar concepts, a museum-like exhibit with spirits bottles and ingredients displayed next to fragrances that inspired each cocktail, from Giorgio Armani to Yves Saint Laurent.

In the main lobby, the Curtain Club is a completely different experience but no less wonderful. Where Fragrances is refined, Curtain Club’s long bar, dark woods and fat armchairs buzz with locals and travelers, set to live music around the grand piano. Heissen and his talented team of international bartenders keep the vibe playful with an only-in-Berlin sense of humor and the most engaging presentation of a classic Blue Blazer cocktail anywhere set to music (the lights go down and each bartender has their own song and choreographed interpretation of the flaming 1800’s drink).

Edmund’s Oast (Charleston, South Carolina)

Edmund's Oest The Red Wedding ($12) – homage to MSO; Elijah Craig 12 year bourbon, Averna, hibiscus-Blenheim’s ginger ale-thyme sweet tea ice cubes; boozy initially and opens up as cubes melt

Edmund’s Oest The Red Wedding (bourbon, Averna, hibiscus-ginger ale-thyme sweet tea ice cubes)

Edmund’s Oast is one of Charleston’s food and drink treasures. On the north side of town, it’s well worth catching an Uber to. The massive space and outdoor patio evoke a sophisticated, modern beer hall and tavern. Impeccable house charcuterie and dishes are a draw, paired beautifully with the impressive beers, a wall of changing drafts with a good 15 of them brewed in house and many other rare, fascinating beers (think subtle peanut butter and jelly beer or Underluker, beer aged in Underberg bitters casks).

They also excel at cocktails, thanks to head bartender Jayce McConnell, like Olde Thyme Punch or classic Chatham Artillery Punch on draft, or Mountains of Madness combining Vicario Savage Cherry liqueur, Stranahan’s whiskey, a blend of three amari, chocolate and aromatic bitters, dusted with an amaro powder McConnell makes himself adding a textural, herbal kick.

Midnight Rambler (Dallas, Texas)

Teaches of Peaches at Midnight Rambler

Teaches of Peaches at Midnight Rambler

Midnight Rambler is a Texas gem — and my biggest surprise this summer as I spent weeks across the state catching up on/researching restaurants and bars. Akin to cocktail pioneer Tony Conigliaro‘s Drink Factory in London, Rambler houses a tiny but robust cocktail lab hidden in a back room, packed with expensive equipment from sous vide to centrifuge. Expensive equipment doesn’t make a bar great but owners and New Yorkers’ Chad Solomon and Christy Pope do just that, bringing world-class sophistication to Dallas. Solomon trained with Conigliaro and Pope and Solomon have worked in many of NY’s best bars (Milk & Honey in the early days, Pegu Club), founding Cuffs & Buttons in 2006 with cocktail pioneer Sasha Petraske.

For the cocktail geek, Midnight Rambler delights with touches like Texas cedar wood-infusions. But for the average drinker, all this “fuss” isn’t spelled out so it can be just a cool place to drink downstairs in the chic Joule Hotel. The bar also delights the passionate music lover (like myself) with LP shelving artfully lining the staircase.

Honorable Mention:

Saison (SF), Benjamin Cooper (SF), Oddjob (SF), Mace (NYC), The Up & Up (NYC), Bar Goto (NYC), Gen (Tokyo), Bar Bennfiddich (Tokyo), Bar Calvador (Kyoto), Rare Form/Fairweather (San Diego), Kettner Exchange (San Diego), Julep (Houston), Sanctuari (Houston), Moving Sidewalk (Houston), Midnight Cowboy (Austin), Proof + Pantry (Dallas), Rapscallion (Dallas), Victor Tangos (Dallas), Lebensstern (Berlin), Le Croco Bleu (Berlin), The Gin Joint (Charleston), Bar Jackalope (LA), Bon Marche (SF).

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