Bar guide: Palm Springs, California

Bar guide: Palm Springs, California

Seeking out the best spots for a whiskey cocktail in this sun-soaked Californian city

Bars | 15 Sep 2023 | By Virginia Miller

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Palm Springs (PS) is surrounded by the stunning San Jacinto mountains, with rocky mesas to snowy peaks that stand in striking contrast to the city’s inordinate number of palm trees. It is dominated by mid-century architectural design, a glory of 1950s and 60s homes, motels, and interior design shops. PS is famed for the countless movie stars who lived and vacationed there — from Sinatra to Elvis, Marilyn to Elizabeth Taylor — and is a major region for golf and resorts, with destinations such as Joshua Tree Desert nearby. It’s an artsy, LGBTQ+-heavy community, which doesn’t always translate to eats and bars worthy of a big city, but it does hold its gems. These 10 are among the best spots to drink in town.

Seymour's at Mr Lyons, Palm Springs. Credit: Virginia Miller

Seymour's at Mr Lyons
233 E Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA 92264
Opened in 2016, Seymour's is hidden inside Mr. Lyons steakhouse with roots dating back to 1945. The gorgeous bar has a retro-modern feel, with its palm tree, mountain views, and fire pit-flanked patio. The sloped-roof space is centred by a striking tiled bar with Tiffany lamps, couch, books, and old movies on the backbar screen. Beverage director and New Zealand native Steen Bojsen-Møller is the backbone of Seymour’s, his gracious, knowledgeable service rooted in his days in Los Angeles’ bar scene at what was then a notable farm-to-glass set-up at Library Bar at Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. His cocktails are among PS’ best, such as the vegetal, earthy Desert Flowers: Flor Del Desierto Sotol, carrot eau de vie, Amaro Angeleno, lemon, and demerara sugar. On the whiskey side, Little Owl is a bracing, elegant mélange of Rittenhouse Rye whiskey, IPA reduction, Bigallet China China, Vicario Nocino walnut liqueur, and orange bitters.

A cocktail at Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs. Credit: Virginia Miller

Bootlegger Tiki
1101 N. Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA USA
Bootlegger Tiki is easily one of the top drinking spots in Palm Springs and one of the better tiki bars in many cities. It’s intimate, to be sure, in a space that, decades prior to its opening in 2014, housed the Palm Springs location of Don the Beachcomber, one of the two 1930s fathers of tiki alongside Trader Vic. Bamboo and lauhala walls and ceiling are flanked by a tiny bar leading to an outdoor patio. Bar manager Danny Rowse, who bartended with the legendary Murray Stenson at Zig Zag in Seattle, and his wife Sammy Brookes ensure welcoming hospitality. Couple this with delicious, balanced tiki cocktails that don’t veer too sweet and you have a top tiki bar. Yes, rum dominates the cocktail menu, but you’ll find a range of spirits and creative, spot-on balance in drinks like Drunken Fist: Plantation OFTD rum, yuzu jam, lychee, kiyomi citrus, lemongrass, lemon, pineapple, banana.

The Lazlo at Bar Cecil in Palm Springs. Credit: Virginia Miller

Bar Cecil
1555 S. Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA USA
Bar Cecil is easily one of Palm Springs’ best spots for food and cocktails. Even the bar is tough to get seat at, so make a reservation or get there when the venue opens. It’s easy to understand why as you sit at the chic bar and savour gracious service from lead bartender Avery Underhill and team. The restaurant is named after British photographer Cecil Beaton, paying tribute to his bon vivant spirit with English wallpaper, woods and brass, teal bar seats, art, and book-lined bar. The cocktails are some of the most balanced and elegant in PS. Whiskey is showcased in house creations such as The Lazlo, mixing Buffalo Trace bourbon, Nixta corn liqueur, honey, Angostura bitters, and black sesame.

The bar at Truss & Twine in Palm Springs. Credit: Virginia Miller

Truss & Twine
800 N. Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA USA
Since opening in 2017, Truss & Twine is one of Palm Springs’ best cocktail bars, sister to James Beard award-winning restaurant Workshop Kitchen+Bar. T&T’s modern industrial space is centred around a huge rectangular bar. Owner/chef Michael Beckman and Joe Mourani opened the space with creative bar bites, while bar manager Brandon Glass and his team craft the cocktails. The majority are amped-up classics under the categories of Prohibition, Golden Age (1800s), Tiki, and Dark Ages (the overly sweet and juicy 1960s–1990s era of Cosmos and Long Island Iced Teas). A house cocktail worth sampling is the spirituous Velvet Touch (Redemption rye whiskey, Amaro Nonino, Pedro Ximénez sherry, and orange zest).

A cocktail at the Tailor Shop, Palm Springs. Credit: Virginia Miller

Tailor Shop
140 W Vía Lola Unit A
Palm Springs, CA
Opened in September 2021, Tailor Shop fits the cliches of a moody, dim, speakeasy-type bar, from aproned bartenders to velvet banquettes and leather chairs. Thankfully, there are no passwords or such gimmicks and the seductive atmosphere makes for a good date night or chill drink. Drinks are served from a central wrap-around marble bar. On the whisk(e)y side, there’s usually a Scotch and an American whiskey cocktail on the menu, like bracing but tart Silk Lining: Kentucky Peerless bourbon, Amaro Nonino, Aperol, rhubarb, and lemon.

Pink Cabana in Palm Springs. Credit: Virginia Miller

Pink Cabana
44–985 Province Way
Indian Wells, CA
Dating back to the 1950s, Pink Cabana at Sands Hotel & Spa is oh-so Palm Springs, a retro oasis with modern Moroccan flair. Designed by Martyn Lawrence Bullard and inspired by PS’ mid-century tennis and racquet clubs, the open-air restaurant and bar sits poolside in a green garden that highlights the restaurant’s black, white, green and pink design. Green-and-cream chequered-tile flooring, tropical green-leaf wallpaper, brass bar stools, and wicker chairs set the backdrop for Mediterranean food and a popular brunch, paired with aperitifs, digestifs and easy-drinking cocktails. It may not be a whisk(e)y haven, but they can craft cocktail classics or add bourbon to their popular Turkish Coffee (iced or hot), alongside house drinks such as Ruby Sipper (bourbon, ruby port, ginger lemon, and Creole bitters).

A cocktail at Little Bar, Palm Springs. Credit: Virginia Miller

Little Bar
73560 Palm Desert Drive N. #B
Palm Desert, CA USA
Located in a nondescript Palm Desert strip mall, Little Bar is a cosy rock music bar. It’s the ultimate locals bar where staff and patrons alike chat at the bar. It’s also home to perhaps the most gratifying old-school cheeseburger in town. It’s flanked by a front patio, with a dimly bar and custom “wallpaper” of ticket stubs and backstage passes from the former owner, a music promoter. This beloved funky spot turns out cocktails above dive quality, but they’re not at all fussy. It offers plenty of American whiskey, also in multiple cocktails, like Accidental Date (Bulleit rye whiskey, amaro, local medjool date syrup, and a salted lemon wheel) or Cowboy Cocktail (Buffalo Trace Bourbon cream, Buffalo Trace whiskey, cold coffee, walnut liquor, allspice liqueur, and chipotle bitters).

A cocktail at The Reef, Palm Springs. Credit: Virginia Miller

The Reef
411 E Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA 92264
The Reef is a divey-tiki venue in the Caliente Tropics Resort, exuding more Hawaii than Palm Springs vibes. The hotel’s history – open since 1964 – makes it another tiki and mid-century aficionado's destination. There’s outdoor seating next to the swimming pool, rock-lined architecture, and the indoor space is replete with vintage tiki art. The Hawaiian food and cocktails are old-school tiki. As expected, cocktails are rum-heavy (and the bar also has a line of house-branded rums), but whiskey tributes include the Eastern Whisky Sour, mixing bourbon, orange and lemon juices with orgeat for nutty roundness.

The bar at 4 Saints in Palm Springs. Credit: Virginia Miller

4 Saints
100 W Tahquitz Canyon Way

Palm Springs, CA USA
One of the best features of the seventh-floor 4 Saints restaurant, atop the Rowan Kimpton Hotel, is its up-close views of the San Jacinto Mountains. The leather banquettes and a marble-and-wood bar are an ideal spot to take in the majestic Rocky Mountains pre-sunset. With a global whisk(e)y selection of roughly 50 bottles, 4 Saints is also ideal for a dram. There is typically more than one whisk(e)y cocktail on the menu, such as Highway 111 Old Fashioned (date-infused Evan Williams bourbon, Sazerac rye whiskey, demerara sugar, and chocolate mole bitters), or Some Like It Scotch (Dalmore 12 Years Old, Cocchi Americano, chamomile, and citrus).

Billy Reed's in Palm Springs. Credit: Virginia Miller

Billy Reed’s
1800 N. Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA USA
Billy Reed’s Restaurant Bakery & Bar is a full-on 1975 relic: a huge old-school multi-room venue that’s still packed, serving more than 15 million meals since opening. Such restaurants have mostly died off in the 2020s, but this Victoriana-meets-1970s space with a live pianist, suited waiters, and buffet lines stays blessedly true to a bygone era. The bar is graced with pressed tin and Tiffany glass, an ideal perch to watch the bustle with an Old Fashioned in hand.

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