Whether you’re new to the cocktail scene or have been hanging around it for quite some time, the craft cocktail conversation has sustained significant attention, and the Lakeland crowd hasn’t been one to shy away from it. We asked your favorite local mixologists for their top picks so you’d be properly prepared to join in, too.

photography by Dan Austin

Some would say we’re in a craft cocktail renaissance, of sorts. A golden age for bartending creativity. However, the art of drink mixing has been happening for centuries, and the infamous cocktail has undergone numerous innovative comebacks spurred from both rediscovered classics to modern-day contenders. Fitzgerald made us all crave a Mint Julep with Daisy Buchanan, and Mad Men had us all asking, “Can I get an Old Fashioned?” Consistent cocktail cameos such as these prove that our country has had a sustained fascination for these beloved beverages.

     However, even with such popularity, the origins of the cocktail are vastly disputed. There are many stories and myths surrounding the name “cocktail,” spanning from etymology studies to quirky, old, folk tales. One popular story suggests that it refers to a rooster’s tail (or cock tail) being used as a colonial drink garnish, although there are no written recipes to such a garnish. The first published definition of the cocktail appeared in an editorial response in The Balance and Columbian Repository of 1806 saying that “the cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” Today’s modern-drink making doesn’t always necessarily come with the rooster tail garnish, but it does still remain close to this response. It is comprised of some of the best ingredients (fresh fruit juices, homemade syrups and bitters, and higher-quality spirits) along with the impeccable detail and intentionality from those who make it.

     The origins, and even the definition, of a cocktail may appear vague, but what is agreed upon is the endearment toward these specialty drinks. According to a 2016 report from Nielson CGA, nearly a quarter of all Americans regularly drank cocktails outside their homes. So, regardless if we truly know where the name “cocktail” comes from or the true technicalities that qualify drinks as such, we do know that cocktails have captured the hearts of the average American food connoisseur.

     What truly makes the cocktail experience special is in the experience itself. There’s a certain kind of magic to being able to sit at your favorite bar, indulge in a great cocktail, and converse with the person who created the unique recipe. There aren’t many places that can claim this charm, but Lakeland’s fond addition to the modern cocktail revival has added to the beauty of such experiences. And just like the drinks themselves, those making the drinks may be called an array of names: bartender, bar manager, mixologists. Whatever name you choose to go with, The Lakelander went out, sat behind the counter, and asked them personally what drinks would be their best pick for a Lakeland Cocktail Crawl.

POSTO 9  |  215 East Main Street  |  863.499.0099  |  posto9gastropub.com

Posto 9 brings the best of both worlds into one beautifully curated establishment. They are a neighborhood restaurant nestled in the heart of downtown while also incorporating the Brazilian influences of a destination dining experience. Posto 9 uses local ingredients to create well-prepared and -presented dishes with a bold Brazilian flavor.

Posto 9 pulled inspiration from the arriving spring season for their updated cocktail list. “When I think spring, I think ‘light’ and ‘fresh,’ and that’s what we did here,” says Bar Manager, Emerson Bamaca. Bamaca recommends the Bittersweet Thyme, a Bulleit Rye whiskey cocktail that is infused with thyme and sweetened with agave. This drink has sweet floral notes that are balanced by the bitters from the grapefruit. Paired with the Halibut Primavera, these bitter notes also complement the delectable sweet fish.

left: COCKTAIL Bittersweet Thyme Ruby red grapefruit infused Bulleit rye, agave thyme syrup, grapefruit bitters, carbonated water, grapefruit garnish DISH PAIRING Halibut Primavera Pan roasted wild Alaskan halibut, Dutch potatoes, asparagus, fennel, radish, Vidalia onion. right: COCKTAIL Caipirinha de Ouro Cachaca rum, Cointreau, passion fruit puree, lime juice, simple syrup DISH PAIRING Charred Octopus Salad (a favorite on the menu) Octopus, hearts of palm, heirloom tomatoes, olives.

Along with Bamaca, Executive Chef, Daniel Schubert also recommends the Caipirinha De Ouro with the Charred Octopus Salad. “The sweetness of the passion fruit complements the acidity that’s under the octopus, as well as the saltiness from the capers and chimichurri that goes on top,” says Schubert.

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RED DOOR  | 733 East Palmetto Street | 863.937.9314 | reddoorlakeland.com

Steps away from Lake Morton, the Red Door offers a stellar craft food and beverage experience. Their uniqueness is evident through both their offerings and execution. Once you step through the (literal) red door, you’ll find yourself in a warm and hospitable atmosphere. “We want you to come in and feel like we are cooking for you at home,” says Owner, Richard DeAngelis. The Red Door boasts of small plates and a rotating seasonal menu. Initially starting as a wine bar, the Red Door has also evolved into a full-scale gastropub including a full bar.

COCKTAIL The Midtown Redemption Rye, Grand Marnier, and blood orange bitters, orange twist garnish DISH PAIRING Moules Frites Prince Edward Island mussels, green curry sauce, kimchi, hand-cut fries, sriracha aioli

“What you want when you’re pairing food and drinks is either something that builds up the flavors in the drink or food, or something that cleanses the palate and allows you to go further with it,” says DeAngelis. His suggestion of pairing The Midtown (named as such because we are located midway between Tampa and Orlando) with the Moules Frites does just that. The drink itself is the perfect balance. Its heavy booziness is balanced with the light sweetness from the Grand Marnier. Paired with the spiciness of the different flavors found in the Moules Frites, this pairing does exactly as DeAngelis suggests.

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FRESCOS | 132 South Kentucky Avenue | 863.683.5267 | frescoslakeland.com

Frescos has grown from the quaint brunch spot to a fun downtown gastropub and craft cocktail bar serving fresh and unique dishes, weekly live music, and dozens of drink deals throughout the week, including bottomless mimosas and $5 martinis.

left: COCKTAIL Frescos’ Lemon Ginger Shine American Born Moonshine, lemonade, honey powder, ginger, lemongrass DISH PAIRING Brussel & Blue Dip Roasted Brussel sprouts, spinach, and blue cheese served with pita chips. right: COCKTAIL Georgia Peach Sour Peach-Infused Old Forester, Peach Schnapps, Shrub & Co. Peach Shrub, lemon, brown sugar syrup DISH PAIRING Maple Bourbon Glazed Airline Chicken Served with roasted butternut squash, Brussel sprouts, beets, haricot verts, potatoes.

Bartender, Lauren Barnhill, has two solid recommendations that highlight their well-stocked bar. Frescos’ Lemon Ginger Shine is made with their in-house infused moonshine and is the perfect pairing with any of their also homemade appetizers. The spicy piquancy from the blue cheese in the Brussel & Blue Dip goes well with the tartness found in the Lemon Ginger Shine. For those wanting to indulge on the sweeter side, Barnhill recommends the Georgia Peach Sour with the Maple Bourbon Glazed Airline Chicken. “The sweetness of the drink and the dish go really well together.”

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MOJO FEDERAL SWINE & SPIRITS | 130 South Tennessee Avenue | 863.937.4226 | mojobbq.com

The Jacksonville-based barbeque restaurant recently opened their doors in the Georgian Revival-style structure located on the corner of South Tennessee Avenue and East Lemon Street.

left: COCKTAIL Stolen Veil Cava rosé, Ford’s gin, lemon, grapefruit, rosemary DISH PAIRING Mojo Q Salad w/ Pulled Chicken Pulled chicken served on a bed of romaine lettuce. right: COCKTAIL Odd Couple Buffalo Trace bourbon, Hendrick’s gin, orange, cherry, rhubarb DISH PAIRING Kansas City Burnt Ends Crusty outer edges of beef brisket lettuce.

MOJO first began in 2003, and since then opened up eight locations throughout North Florida. Lakeland’s location keeps MOJO’s original identity of being a Southern-inspired barbeque joint with the aroma of smokiness lingering before ever stepping foot into the building. Yet, this location still keeps its Lakeland touch through the downtown architecture evident in its lofty archways, high exposed ceilings, and red brick walls.

Bar Manager, Colin Tull, says that when putting together the perfect cocktail pairing, “You want to pair something that’s complementary or contrasting.” So he gave us both options with the light nature of the Stolen Veil paired with the MOJO Q Salad, and a bold contrast of the Odd Couple (a riff on the Old Fashioned) paired with the best-selling Kansas City Burnt Ends.

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GRILLSMITH | 1569 Town Center Drive | 863.688.8844 | grillsmith.com

GrillSmith is a local American restaurant chain serving innovative food and cocktails. But this isn’t your normal, small chain establishment. GrillSmith has a wide menu offering, so there’s something for everyone. But their familiar offerings come with creative and reimagined elements.

General Manager, Brian Key, recommends the Smoked Old Fashioned. However, similar to their something-for-
everyone menu, he says it’s “a new twist on an old classic.” It’s made with one of the better bourbons around (Woodford Reserve) and is delivered on a cedar plank after it’s been smoked with the glass placed on top. This makes all the smoke formulate in the glass giving it both a great look and smell. This drink is meant to be enjoyed slowly, making it the perfect pair with a tender steak like the 1881 Reserve Rib-Eye. “A great drink like that, I want it paired with our best steak in the house,” says Key.

COCKTAIL Smoked Old Fashioned Woodford Reserve bourbon, simple syrup, Boston Bittahs®, Filthy® Black Cherry, orange peel DISH PAIRING 1881 Reserve Rib-Eye with two portobello fried mushrooms on top of it, PBR mac and cheese (guest favorite), fresh seasonal vegetables 16-ounce center-cut rib-eye, creamy horseradish sauce

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HARRY’S | 101 North Kentucky Avenue | 863.686.2228 | hookedonharrys.com

Harry’s originally started in 1987 in Jacksonville and since has expanded to five locations throughout Florida. The original store had a menu that was influenced by a couple of guys from Louisiana. Situated between Lake Mirror and Munn Park, Lakeland Harry’s also creates food and drinks with the same bold and unique flavors that are Nola-inspired.

COCKTAIL Cool Goose Martini Freshly muddled cucumber, Grey Goose, elderflower, and a hint of citrus DISH PAIRING Mahi Arugula Grilled Mahi topped with a light lemon beurre blanc finished with fresh arugula salad and rice

Bartender, Raven Jarrell, recommends the Cool Goose Martini paired with the Mahi Arugula. It’s a refreshing and light dish with the lemon beurre blanc bringing out the sweet, juicy flavor of the Mahi. Paired with the Cool Goose Martini, this has all the makings of the perfect spring/summer duo. “Nice and cool; nice and light,” says Jarrell.