Shake up a night out at these spots that really know their craft

Giuseppe's Ritrovo

What we love about the cocktails at this Italian restaurant in Bexley is that, no matter the trends they try-barrel aging, bottling-they never forget their Italian roots. That's why you'll see bitter spirits, like Campari and amaro, worked into many of the seasonal cocktails that slide across the marble-top bar. "Italy is always on my mind," beverage director Sean Ward says. Seasoned Columbus cocktail drinkers know Giuseppe's as that place with the flask cocktail (a Vieux Carre served in a chilled 6-ounce flask). But something only Giuseppe's regulars may know is they have one of the best selections of amari in the city (with one brand carried specifically for a regular because it's the one he drank in his hometown in Italy). This spring, Ward hopes to add beer cocktails and a modern touch, like using Campari locked in a gel-like sphere as a garnish for a white Negroni. Break the sphere, and your white Negroni turns into an original red one.

Barrel 44

"It's good right?" asks the bartender as she sees our reaction to a sip of the John Wayne-a longstanding signature made with bourbon, amaretto and orange at this Short North hole-in-the-wall whiskey bar. It's a little bitter, a little sweet and bright with tangy citrus. "You know what the trick is?" she continues. "You muddle half the orange in the amaretto first, then shake it just a bit." Much of our evenings sitting at the bar at Barrel 44 follow this pattern: cocktail, sip, enjoy, mixology lesson. These slightly buzzed teaching moments (and potent whiskey-forward cocktails) surrounded by a young, constantly in-flux crowd are what keep us coming back for more.

Brothers Drake Meadery

In the few years Brothers Drake Meadery has been open, the interior has gone from disjointed garage-like Short North space to warm and inviting watering hole. It's a meadery first-and if you still haven't tried their honey wine, trust us, you're missing out-but we applaud Brothers Drake's commitment to local. They've crafted a clever list of easy-drinking cocktails using local spirits and their mead, of course. If you see one with the Apple Pie Mead, order it. We're suckers for the refreshing Ohio Gold made with this mead, Watershed Bourbon, ginger liqueur and ginger beer. Go early if you want a chill night with friends. Go late if a more vibrant scene is your fancy, as crowds gather for live music.

Curio

Curio-the bar name has become a part of the local cocktail vocabulary, used by bartenders all over the city as an adjective to describe expertly concocted craft drinks. Newcomers to Columbus would never guess the apothecary-like German Village speakeasy has been around for only two years. Owner Travis Owens and his crew have rightfully earned their bar cred, putting spins on classic cocktails, like the smoke-infused Campari, which riffs on the Negroni, and others that are just plain fun to drink, like the vibrant green Jalisco with mezcal, Luxardo liquor, lemon, grapefruit, salt and soda.

Da Levee

A year ago, this once-dry Cajun and Creole joint shut its doors for two weeks to round out its New Orleans, Mardi Gras vibe. They added a metal-topped bar and tight cocktail list, refreshingly pulling inspiration from the pre-Prohibition South and committing to hand-crafting ingredients like simple syrup and grenadine. The drinks aren't complicated, but they're tasty and made by bartenders who know their stuff (and are happy to whip up something on the fly-just tell them what you like). The Count is a refreshing and tart mix of Hennessey, fresh raspberry syrup and soda, while the tall and pink Derecho is their spin on a Hurricane, loaded with rum, lime and orange juices and a little red soda for color.

Grass Skirt Tiki Room

This kitschy Polynesian tiki bar knows how to whip up a great cocktail-and not take itself too seriously in the process, evident by the paper umbrellas and plastic mermaids that garnish cocktail glasses. Grab a lei on your way into the Downtown bar, seemingly lit only by Christmas lights and neon-glowing lights that lap water patterns against the wall. Brighten up your visit with Pele's Curse, made with pineapple-and-black-pepper-infused rum, Cruzan vanilla, lime juice and cream soda. If strong is your thing, The Zombie is a potent mix of house-made demerara and grenadine, grapefruit juice and two kinds of rum (with a well-advised limit of one per customer).

Level Dining Lounge

If sleek and hip is the atmosphere you're craving to pair with an after-work cocktail, Level is your scene. Glowing neon pink pillars and white chairs surrounding a four-sided bar give it a club-like vibe, but there's no pressure to dance. You'll see plenty of couples and groups of friends gathering over sweet (and some not-so-sweet) vodka drinks and spins on '90s classics, like the margarita-meets-cosmopolitan Silver Cosmo with tequila, Cointreau, lime and white cranberry juice. While vodka is the staple customers go to at Level (the bar is lined with flavored variations), bar manager Josh Herndon admits he's looking to pick up more Scotch, bourbon and whiskey (his personal favorite), which is starting to come in flavors, too, like vanilla, honey and cinnamon.

Mouton

Bar manager Logan Demmy views the window-lined Short North Mouton as a social bar, first and foremost. Sure, they can mix a good cocktail (look closely at the signature drinks-most are reimagined and renamed classics). But he'd rather see groups gather to enjoy the company, not fuss over what they're drinking. That's why this spring, Mouton will roll out a new draft cocktail program to get craft drinks in hands even quicker. Expect something familiar, like a Moscow Mule with slightly spicy house-made ginger syrup. Why? "It's a totally different experience for both the bartender and the customer," Demmy says. "You can spend more time garnishing and presenting the cocktail for the guest." Soon they'll have one beer on tap, too. (Insider tip: Mouton's slowly expanded their nosh offerings, so check the chalkboard for the day's charcuterie board and locally baked sweets.)

Strongwater Food & Spirits

The drinks at Strongwater hit the sweet spot between you've-seen-them-everywhere infused cocktails and high-labor crafts. We say "bravo" to their self-editing philosophy, especially since it resulted in the Strongwater Rye-Bulleit rye infused with port-brined peppercorns and habanero peppers that adds mouth-tingling heat to any bourbon-based cocktail. Our recommendation: Get it in the Franklinton Mule for a hot rendition of the classic Moscow Mule. For now, this out-of-the-way, manufacturing-facility-turned-bar offers a short cocktail list, but we expect it to grow as the restaurant does. Open since fall, they started serving food in January, and we recently caught chef Will Johnston collaborating with the bartenders to craft the Franklintini-a bright pink dirty martini with pickled-egg brine.

Till Dynamic Fare

We were hooked the second Branden Yearsley brought out a tray of mismatched punch glasses filled with creamy and sweet brandied milk punch that took roughly 24 hours to create. It was clear to us the bar manager at Till is working magic behind the restaurant bar. While there are only a handful of house cocktails (including the refreshing Kentucky Spritz with bourbon and Till's homemade ginger soda), Yearsley has much more in his repertoire and often crafts drinks on the fly per a customer's mood. For example, one customer requested a drink with kombucha, which resulted in a riff on the French 75 with Watershed Gin, mango kombucha and a dash of sherry (a drink that just may make it on the next menu). (Insider tip: The punch we tried was during a Columbus Brew Adventures' Distillery tour, which regularly stops by Till. It's during these visits Yearsley says he tests out new cocktails in the works.)

Veritas

The reason the cocktail list at Veritas is longer than the menu itself? They wanted to not only push their signature drinks, but to remind diners of long-forgotten classics, says bar manager Nicole Hollerman. "Maybe they haven't thought about having a Champagne Cocktail in a while," she says. "It's opening doors to the possibilities." When the Delaware restaurant opened, the philosophy was to think about cocktails in a pre-Prohibition sense, meaning scratch-made ingredients and emphasis on presentation. And it's snowballed from there. Most mixers are made in house by Hollerman-including vinegar, kombucha, Irish cream and ginger beer. And don't be surprised to hear a drink was inspired by found vintage glassware (a small obsession of Hollerman's), like the Martinez Flip. The normally hearty cocktail (the original recipe calls for a full egg and lots of sugar) is pared down to fit into 2-ounce cordial glasses, using a quail egg to make the perfect indulgent portion.