Crave 10: The best bars in Columbus

Shelley Mann, Columbus Alive

A new breed of bars excels in hand-crafted drinks

Finally -- finally! -- Columbus is getting the kinds of bars we've been lusting after for years. They're big-city bars, tended by people who can think outside the classic cocktail box. They're serving original, grown-up drinks that actually taste like booze, fueled by a wave of new artisan distilleries.

And bartenders are using those local spirits to create our city's signature drinks: Watershed Gin martinis, Oyo Whiskey Wonderlands (mixed with Cynar and OJ) and Brothers Drake mead-spiked ciders. It's an exciting time, and here are our picks for the bars doing it best.

No. 1


Curio is the real deal -- a bar designed for people who appreciate the intricacies of alcohol, built from the ground up by a guy who loves the stuff. Travis Owens left his bartending gig at Giuseppe's earlier this year to open his own place.

At this dim-lit, speakeasy-type hangout, he shakes up crazy good drinks using top-shelf liquors, small-batch spirits, fresh herbs and house-made syrups, bitters and infusions. Curio doesn't offer a food menu to distract from the ever-changing roster of drinks -- a few snacks of the cheese and cured meat variety are provided to tide you over before you head next door to Harvest Pizzeria for some pie. Curio, 491 S. Fourth St., German Village.

No. 2


Travis Owens recruited an all-star team of up-and-coming mixologists, including rising star Kendyl Meadows, as he transformed the bar at this cozy neighborhood restaurant into one of the city's buzziest cocktail destinations. That means he left Giuseppe's bar in capable hands when he set out on his own to open Curio. The new team is putting their own stamp on the drink list with an array of complex, bitter concoctions -- or just tell them what you're in the mood for, and watch as they mix you up a fab personalized drink. Giuseppe's Ritrovo, 2268 E. Main St., Bexley.

No. 3


This minimal-chic shrine to vintage cocktails is the best place to grab a drink before hitting a Short North restaurant. Mouton's bare-bones decor is a fitting backdrop for the menu of unfussy mixed drinks and artisan bar snacks -- like a wondrous bacon sashimi made with dry-cured La Quercia heritage bacon. Mouton, 954 N. High St., Short North

No. 4


The city's most famous bartender works her tail off consulting on drink lists at the city's best bars. But Cris Dehlavi's home base is M at Miranova, where you'll often spot her silhouetted against the stunningly backlit floor-to-ceiling bar, shaking up her signature cocktail creations with a big grin on her face. M at Miranova, 2 Miranova Pl., Downtown.

No. 5


With its red paper lanterns and gaudy gold accents, this Asian-themed bar could easily come off as kitsch. Instead the owners pull everything off pitch perfectly, and their fun place has quickly cemented itself as Columbus' hippest new lounge. Check out house-infused shoju, an Asian rice liqueur that pairs nicely with Japanese street food from in-house pop-up Freshstreet. Double Happiness, 482 S. Front St., Brewery District.

No. 6


We're worried about its long-term prospects -- the original Sidebar location in Dayton closed earlier this year, while our own outlet was forced to shut its doors for several days in October due to unpaid taxes. But as long as it's open, Sidebar deserves a spot on this list. Bartenders prepare beautiful pre-Prohibition cocktails (the Dark and Stormy and the Sidebar Sidecar are highly recommended) with meticulous care. Sidebar 122, 122 E. Main St., Downtown.

No. 7


Nobody does brunch drinks better than Milestone, where thirsty diners can choose between eight(!) Bloody Marys, including a fantastic Smoky Bacon Mary served with a bacon-strip garnish. And the regular drink list is great, too, with craft beers and fruity-in-a-good-way cocktails, like a Black and Blue Mojito with muddled blueberries and blackberries. Milestone 229, 229 Civic Center Dr., Downtown

No. 8


Thanks to its perch right on High Street in the Short North, Rossi offers the ultimate see-and-be-seen experience. The vibe is somehow simultaneously cozy and sexy, its glowing brick-walled bar consistently packed with beautiful people. A list of straightforward cocktails complements a sophisticated food menu from chef Andrew Smith. The Rossi, 895 N. High St., Short North.

No. 9


Serious about your whiskey? This no-frills tavern boasts a sizeable selection of whiskeys, bourbons and Scotches, and will serve them to you straight up, on the rocks (with proper ice cubes) or mixed into perfectly simple, perfectly strong cocktails. Barrel 44, 1120 N. High St., Short North.

No. 10


The chic Downtown spot boasts a knowledgeable bar staff, and it's one of a growing number of bars experimenting with barrel-aged cocktails. Bar manager Tomos Mughan's first attempt at barrel-aged Manhattans was an instant hit, selling out almost immediately. De-Novo Bistro & Bar, 201 S. High St., Downtown.