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!
Underwood Bar & Bistro, Graton
The picturesque burg of Graton is tiny, but it’s the heartbeat of western Sonoma County, centered between Occidental, Santa Rosa, and Sebastopol.
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.
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 The 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 into the 22-room 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. Plus, you can dine on upscale Italian cuisine from the menu at Umbria Glen Ellen, located next door.
The Saloon at The Jack London Lodge, 13740 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, 707-938-8510.
Updated by Sonoma Insider Patricia Lynn Henley.