Whether the décor is vintage or sleek, the lighting bright or delightfully dim, and the clientele international, local, or both, there's nothing quite like kicking back at the bar and enjoying the smooth sophistication of a cocktail.
We’ve stirred up some of the best places in Sonoma County where the barkeeps mix cutting-edge drinks and cocktails, but also know the value of a beloved Negroni and Martini. Here is a selection of some favorite Sonoma County bars from Underwood in Graton, to The Saloon in Glen Ellen to Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa.
California cocktails rock!
From its roots as an apple cannery center, Graton morphed into a dynamic destination when, in 1995, Matthew Greenbaum and Sally Spittles opened Willow Wood Market Café, followed by the sexy, speakeasy-style Underwood Bar & Bistro.
This led the transformation of the town into what Wine Spectator has described as “New York’s East Village meets Wine Country in this hip gathering spot for local elite winemakers and wine travelers alike.”
Wine and spirits guy Frank Dice creates classic tributes such as the Lulu (named for owner Sally), blending a long pour of Junipero gin with lime and tonic; and delights like an Old Havana Sidecar of Germain-Robin Old Havana brandy, Cointreau, and fresh lemon.
Underwood Bar & Bistro, 9113 Graton Road, Graton, 707-823-7023.
Stark's Steak & Seafood, Santa Rosa
From the dark, clubby rooms, to the vintage neon sign shining from the rooftop like a beacon in the night , classic steakhouse fare mixes with a modern culinary approach at Stark's in downtown Santa Rosa’s Historic Railroad Square.
Young and old gather for the vintage-chic mood, supping on corn-fed prime and dry-aged steaks, natural grass-fed beef and, of course, the classic cocktails that complement them so well.
Try the Rufus, a sweet-strong drink of Jim Beam Red Stag Black Cherry Bourbon, ginger ale, and lemon; or the playful Lucy in a tart blend of Sobieski Vodka, citrus, and peach bitters.
Stark’s Steak & Seafood, 521 Adams Street, Santa Rosa, 707-546-5100.
Thai Issan, Petaluma
In 2007, this longtime favorite traditional Thai eatery in Petaluma underwent an extensive revamp. After a decade as a family friendly dining destination, the restaurant added something extra exciting: a full bar, making it a hip after-hours hangout, too.
On some nights, DJs spin music in the Ultra Bar, and there’s real style to the sleek Asian decor with walls of backlit bottles that are turned into some of the town’s most creative cocktails.
One signature is the kiwi mint mojito, crushed with fresh herb and fruit and a squeeze of fresh lime. Lychee Passion is another delight, mixed with X-rated Pink Fusion Vodka and a real lychee nestled at the bottom of the glass.
Here’s where you’ll also find other uncommon temptations like Hou Hou Shu, tiny bottles of sparkling sake that remind of Champagne, plus Ty Ku, a coveted Asian citrus liquor packaged in a beautiful bottle that glows in the color of Kryptonite.
Thai Issan, 208 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, 707-762-5966.
Monti’s Rotisserie & Bar, Santa Rosa
The location is urban-central, in the bustling Montgomery Village Shopping Center. The menu and setting are a bit modern, featuring rustic Mediterranean cuisine in a cosmopolitan ambiance and showcasing nightly specials from the wood-fired rotisserie (mmm, love the CK leg of lamb and Liberty Farms lavender-roasted duck).
But a lot of the activity takes place at the bar, offering 40 wines by the glass, and an oyster and shellfish station. Test your endurance with the specialty drinks, since the bartenders are happy to make them “stiff,” like the unexpectedly delicious Smooth Criminal of Bulleit Bourbon, fresh lemon, OJ, and maple syrup that’s shaken then served straight up.
For some NorCal flavor, imbibe in a Twist of Fate, which adds a dash of Roederer Estate brut to Elderflower liqueur, Gordon’s Gin, and fresh lemon.
Monti’s Rotisserie & Bar, 714 Village Court, Santa Rosa, 707-568-4404.
The Saloon at Jack London Lodge, Glen Ellen
True, it can be hard to find hard alcohol amid all the vineyards in this Wine Country part of the world. And it can be easy to pass right by this small bar, tucked in the Jack London Lodge in Glen Ellen at the gateway to Jack London Historic State Park.
But venture into The Saloon, and find a turn-of-the-century historic room set with sofas and chairs and vintage memorabilia around an antique polished oak bar. The bartender has a skilled, generous hand with classic cocktails, and he pours until at least midnight (busier times find the door open until 2 a.m.). The clientele is mostly locals and, if you don’t have a favorite drink of your own, they’ll gladly recommend their favorite potent libation.
The Saloon, 13740 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, 707-938-8510.
Alexander Valley Bar, Healdsburg
Nestled behind the Medlock Ames tasting room sits a modern-day incarnation of a century-old hideout. Medlock Ames is better known for its organic wines, but it now showcases this delightful bar as well. A tin ceiling, dim lighting, and warm shades of walnut, oak, and redwood create a cozy cross between a turn-of-the-century saloon and modern cocktail den.
Lush organic gardens grow the ingredients for delicious seasonal quaffs. Fruit from Buddha’s Hand lime trees and pineapple guava bushes find their way into custom-crafted cocktails, spiked with licorice, cassis, and other fresh, edible mix-ins.
Drinks and proportions vary, but examples can include the Setenta y Cinco (Bellringer Gin, fresh picked mint, lime, and orange bitters topped with J cuvee), Boys n’ Basil (a 10 Cane Rum-style mojito with estate-grown boysenberries, blue basil, lime, and jaggery syrup), or a fiery Pascual (an Arette tequila margarita with Serrano peppers, cilantro, fresh lemon, lime, and agave nectar).
The speakeasy opens at 5 p.m. daily, and typically closes weekdays around 9 p.m., but can be open until 11 p.m. or midnight, or even later on Fridays or Saturdays.
Alexander Valley Bar, 3487 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-1904.
Willi’s Wine Bar, Santa Rosa
This charming roadhouse captures the casual, free-style nature of fine dining in Sonoma Wine Country. Graze through 30 international small plates, ranging from wildly inventive recipes to familiar comfort food, and be sure to ask for the perfect alcohol pairings.
The barkeeps will craft whatever you request, but for something different, try a wine cocktail like a Bellini or mimosa made with fruit fresh from the tree and Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs sparkling. Or, even better, just let the talented mixologists surprise you.
Willi’s Wine Bar, 4404 Old Redwood Highway, Santa Rosa, 707-526-3096.
Updated by Sonoma Insider Patricia Lynn Henley.