What are the the top 10 cocktail bars in Cork?

In this weekly series, KATE RYAN selects various top food hits in Cork.Today, she visits 10 of Cork’s best cocktail bars
What are the the top 10 cocktail bars in Cork?

Franciscan Well's 'My Mix Tequila'.

OF all the ten-of-the-best lists, this is the most difficult to whittle down. I love cocktails, and it seems I’m not alone. Across the city and county, we are spoilt for choice for quality makers of spirits, and Cork is home to the most-awarded mixologist in Ireland, Andy Ferreira, the man behind Cask.

So, what makes for a good cocktail? First and foremost, never hold back on the alcohol. There’s nothing worse than a drink that looks amazing but lacks punch and balance of flavour.

I like cocktail menus that change with the seasons; bright, fruity and floral summer flavours should rightly give way to darker, brooding and warming flavours for winter.

I would say my cocktail philosophy is influenced by how America shakes, stirs and sips its cocktails – gutsy and liquor-laden. Keep the classics classic and make signature drinks worth coming back for…

Cask Bar, MacCurtain Street, Cork. Picture: Miki Barlok
Cask Bar, MacCurtain Street, Cork. Picture: Miki Barlok

Cask, MacCurtain Street

Starting at the beginning, Cask was where Cork’s cocktail culture really put down roots. Since opening in 2017 on MacCurtain Street, Cask has gone on to win multiple awards with its bartenders representing Ireland internationally with seasonal-led and terroir-focused cocktails.

A seasonal and seasonal-inspired, farm-to-glass drinks menu is at the heart of Cask. The cocktail menu changes every 12 weeks and is based around wild ingredients available at that time of year. Local flora from coastline to woods, root to flower, is researched in depth to determine which flavours can be extracted and developed into truly unique cocktails.

Although time-consuming and complex to create, Cask’s drinks are accessible and fun, with each new seasonal menu focused on a theme and concept.

As part of their commitment to using local and Irish ingredients wherever they can, Cask is the only bar in Ireland that commits to only using ingredients grown in Ireland, outside of the spirits and modifiers.

The team puts collaboration with Irish producers and Irish products as central to their ethos and uses them whenever possible to present a true showcase of Irish cocktail culture.

Brick Lane, South Main Street

If you’re looking for something a little different in your cocktail, Brick Lane is for you. Settle in with some properly tasty bar food, affording you extra time to meander your way around a menu of delicious sounding cocktails.

They’ll make you any classic cocktail you like, straight up - no fiddles or twists - or else launch fully into their signature cocktails.

The Malfy Sour shakes up Malfy blood orange gin with fresh ginger, mint and lemon; the Penny Royal Tea mixes Whitley Neil rhubarb vodka and rhubarb and ginger gin with a citrus burst and magic butterfly tea made from pea flowers.

Philip Gillivan at The Shelbourne Bar, MacCurtain Street, Cork. The bar has over 400 Irish Whiskeys on offer for customers/patrons.
Philip Gillivan at The Shelbourne Bar, MacCurtain Street, Cork. The bar has over 400 Irish Whiskeys on offer for customers/patrons.

The Shelbourne, MacCurtain Street

Home to Cork’s best selection of Irish whiskeys, with over 400 unique bottlings. Its reputation for quality and expert knowledge continues to bestow the bar and its staff awards, year in year out.

What better place in the city to head to when a classic whiskey cocktail is the only thing that can slake your thirst?

Their classic Whiskey Sour is made with Jameson Caskmates IPA, keeping it pure Cork all the way; the only twist here is using a vegan-friendly product, called Foamee, to create the classic foam top in lieu of egg white.

Aside from their classics, the team’s expert knowledge of Irish whiskey fuels their creativity in creating signature cocktails. The New Cork Sour features Clonakilty Distillery Port Cask Whiskey with a merlot and maraschino cherry reduction, fresh lemon juice and orange bitters – oof!

 Bar Pigalle on Barrack Street, Cork. Picture: David Keane.
Bar Pigalle on Barrack Street, Cork. Picture: David Keane.

Pigalle Bar & Kitchen, Barrack Street

Pigalle Bar & Kitchen started out as a craft cocktail bar and evolved into a restaurant serving great drinks, so you know this place has form and experience in crafting serious cocktails that perfectly compliment the food on offer.

These are bold cocktails, using spirits as hedonistic as absinthe in their Sweet Delirium cocktail fused with a house-made Sweet Cicely syrup, a wild herb with a slightly anise flavour to compliment the absinthe. Or the Pisco sour, (Pisco is a light-coloured brandy produced in the wine regions of Peru and Chile), and paired with lemon, lime and a house made Velvet Falernum, a sweet liqueur typically flavoured with lime peel, almonds and cloves.

This is the real deal, reminding me of my favourite kind of cocktail lounge, ones hidden behind ordinary looking black doors. Which leads me nicely onto my next pick…

Arthur Maynes, Pembrooke Street, Cork
Arthur Maynes, Pembrooke Street, Cork

Upstairs @ Arthur Maynes, Pembroke Street

It’s hard not to fall in love with the vibe at Arthur Maynes, but Upstairs with its cosy bar and quirky, old-world feel is where you can while away the wee hours as though you were in a different place and time altogether.

The cocktail menu changes really frequently, so anytime you do pay a visit, you can be sure that there is something new to get your taste buds locked onto.

As much thought goes into naming them as their construction: Meet your Maker with Maker’s Mark whiskey, or Lee Water made with smoky flavours of Mezcal and lime.

Whatever your potion of choice, it’s always best washed down with one of Arthur Maynes’ sharing boards.

The Monk, Franciscan Well, North Mall

Taking inspiration from the 700-year history of the site of the Franciscan Well, The Monk, which opened above the FranWell bar in 2017, is a haven for cocktail enthusiasts from the beery delights that pour below decks.

That being said, the inventiveness and creativity of the brewery team does hold some influence in the cocktails where whiskey-barrel aged beers and beer-barrel aged whiskeys showcase the yin and yang between beer and spirits, offering up balance and surprising new flavours.

Reconstruct Your Faith is a deconstructed smorgasbord of Jameson Black Barrell Irish whiskey, Bulliett Bourbon, Shannon Stout, Port and Fino Sherry reduction, and smoked orange peel. Put it together and faith, in all things, will be restored.

Or find me channelling my inner pirate as I savour Notes of a Dirty Old Man: Ron Diplomatico rum, Wray & Nephew overproof rum, spiced apple iced tea, fresh lime, basil and Calvados apple brandy… shiver me timbers.

Cian Daly demonstates how to make an old fashioned Cocktail at Electric, South Mall Cork. Pic: Shaunagh O'Connell
Cian Daly demonstates how to make an old fashioned Cocktail at Electric, South Mall Cork. Pic: Shaunagh O'Connell

Electric, The Boardwalk, South Mall

As you should expect from someone with a distillery in their business portfolio, Ernest Cantillon’s reinvention of Electric includes a cocktail menu that makes fair use of the gin and whiskey made by his Kinsale Spirit Company.

The refreshing citrus and floral notes of Kinsale Gin are perfect in both the classic Tom Collins and Negroni.

For their Whiskey Sour, their own Red Earl Whiskey, with its flavours of sherry and Rioja from barrel aging whiskey for a massive 49 months in total, lends a complexity to the humble sour.

The River Club at The River Lee Hotel, Western Road

Whether inside at the distinctly New York vibe bar, or on the covered terrace overlooking the River Lee itself, The River Club is a schmooze-y, upmarket venue to settle in and enjoy their range of sophisticated cocktails with a distinctly Cork flavour.

The Honeycomb Old Fashioned pairs Powers Three Swallow Irish Whiskey, house made honeycomb, orange and bitters. Safe Harbour ripples Kraken spiced rum, lime, and ginger beer with a Beamish float; Razza Girl blends Mór berry gin, Longueville House Irish apple brandy, vermouth, fresh raspberries and lemon.

On the terrace, the long-running partnership with Fox Flowers is currently inviting us to live La Dolce Vita amongst the blooming flowers, citrus and lush cooling foliage.

A special summer menu of six new cocktails has been curated to partner with the Italian vibe, such as Ad Maiora Semper, (Towards Greater Things), a beautiful pairing of Beara Ocean Gin, Lillet Blanc, elderflower cordial, hibiscus, herbal tonic, and topped with Prosecco. Amore...

White Rabbit Bar & BBQ, MacCurtain Street

Best known for cooking up the best BBQ food in the city, White Rabbit Bar and BBQ is also well known for the best collection of American bourbons and whiskeys in Ireland, with 150 different bottles, some incredibly rare. Imbibers can enjoy tasting flights of bourbons, and bourbon whiskey cocktails that are as inventive and delicious as the food!

With two experienced mixologists to hand, owner Stephen Vaughan provides free rein to experiment, and that includes barrel aging whiskey in small batches of five litres at a time in virgin American oak. It’s an approach to seasonal cocktail invention that is months in the making, all with careful planning.

My advice is grab a seat at the bar, order a plate of BBQ, and trust the bartender to shake you up something really good to go with it.

Sketch at The Imperial, Pembroke Street

A visit to Sketch comes with an open invitation to unleash your inner Grace Kelly, and if she had been from Cork, maybe she too would have started her night out with the Eau De Champagne, a sparkling combination of Taittinger Champagne, Glendalough rose gin, and homemade rosemary syrup, followed by the wonderfully pithy-named cocktail Boreen, a shot of infused Ballykeefe poitín with lemon and fresh basil.

Who knows? But the cocktail I’d reach for unequivocally is the ‘Cello Spritz, if only for the homemade limoncello, and I’d stay for the Ketel One vodka and a prosecco top. That’s how summer should taste!

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