Hey, did you know that May 13 is World Cocktail Day? We didn’t either! Now that we do, however, we think that it’s worth talking about this unique style of drink, including all its storied history.

Naturally, we also want to talk about where you can find the best hand-crafted cocktails in Indy, while we’re at it.

What’s the Big Deal with Cocktails, Anyhow?

You can’t just throw a little Coke into some rum or water into whiskey and call it a cocktail. Sometimes maligned as a “chick drink,” cocktails can range from fairly standard fruity concoctions with little paper umbrellas to sophisticated – even elegant – combinations of alcohol, sugar, water, other mixers and bitters.

Here’s the fascinating part about cocktails: Nobody is 100% sure where they started. England, India and the United States (among other countries) have all claimed that the cocktail originated on their shores. American innovation probably did push the cocktail into popularity during Prohibition, as speakeasy hosts looked for ways to dress up (or hide) the taste of sub-par bootleg spirits.
The only thing that’s certain is that the word was already being used to describe these drink sensations in print by 1798, although it was an American bartender named Jerry “The Professor” Thomas who popularized the term with his well-known recipe book. That recipe book is still in use today by bartenders everywhere, even though the cocktail has long outgrown its historical roots and become a craft sensation.

Where Can You Go for Great Cocktails in Indianapolis?

Hoosiers have long loved their spirits, whether that’s craft beer, whiskey, wine or some creative combination of additives and flavors, so it’s only natural that Indy’s foodie scene would be full of great drinking spots.

Here are some of our favorite places to go for a truly unique drink:

Hotel Tango – 702 Virginia Ave.

Located inside a remodeled carriage shop that has tons of antique charm, Hotel Tango is the place to go when you really want to feel a touch of history around you. These folks don’t just have bartenders, they have a whole “Flavor Innovation Team” that creates a rotating array of seasonal cocktails, each lovingly crafted by hand with spirits, syrups, bitters and tonics.

Union 50 – 620 N. East St.

If you have an elevated palate and like a dark, intimate bar with industrial-chic decor, you’ll love Union 50. The seaweed salads and chicken wings are incredible, but they pale in comparison to the drinks. We’d recommend that you start the night with a sweet “Pool Party” with honeysuckle vodka and hibiscus liqueur, before moving on to something elegant and refined, like the “Sage of Enlightenment.”

The Exchange Whiskey Bar – 301 Massachusetts Ave.

One of Indy’s newest hotspots is located in one of Indy’s oldest buildings, with vintage decor to set the stage for their true Prohibition-era cocktails and a great time. The Exchange carries more than 450 of the world’s finest whiskeys, so enjoy your Old Fashioned, try a “Sneaky Peat,” or maybe abandon all caution and go straight for the “Abyss.”

The Ball & Biscuit – 331 Massachusetts Ave.

The dim lights and copper bar echo the speakeasies of the past and the atmosphere at The Ball & Biscuit is decidedly great for when you’re just “in a mood” or in a mood for romance. Billed as “Indy’s Original Cocktail Bar,” they specialize in both the classic and the creative. If you’ve seen it, heard of it and just want to try it, they probably know how to make it.

Thieves – 915 Broad Ripple Ave.

Red neon and 1,200 square feet combine for a modern, avant-garde look Thieves, which suits their theme of champagne-inspired cocktails, like “The Booba,” with elderflower liqueur, Tito’s gin, berry juice and (of course) champagne. If mimosa-style drinks aren’t your thing, don’t worry – they’ve got plenty of original guard cocktails and other signature drinks to try.

Plat 99 – 333 Delaware St.

Plat 99 is a bright, airy, cafe-style mixology spot inside The Alexander that specializes in both vibrant drinks and a colorful, fun-filled atmosphere with a Cuban flair and glass lamps by renowned artist Jorge Pardo. You can find an Old Fashioned made with craft bourbon from Indy’s West Fork Whiskey Co., but we’d recommend that you give their “Bananarama,” with bourbon, banana cordial, lavender syrup and orchard bitters a try.

Thunderbird – 1127 Shelby St.

Located right on the corner of Fountain Square, the Thunderbird is a great place to hang out when you want to listen to some music with your drinks. The bar looks like a no-frills kind of place, but they don’t skimp on quality, especially with their drinks. You can get just about any drink you want, but why not try something special, like their Clover Club or a “La-Di-Frickin’-Da!” to liven up your night.

Cannon Ball Lounge – 141 Washington St. 6th Floor

Located inside Hotel Indy, this rooftop bar lets you dine on great food, enjoy a stunning view of the city in the late afternoon and evening, and experience some of the most innovative craft cocktails around. The Cannon Ball’s menu is extensive, so we recommend experimenting with whatever strikes your fancy – or asking your bartender for some guidance.

Nicky Blaine’s Cocktail Lounge – 20 N. Meridian St.

Hidden off Monument Circle, Nicky Blaine’s is the place to go when you’re “in the know” about Indy. It’s an underground cocktail and cigar lounge that will let you indulge your most bougie fantasies, all while sipping on Sidecars, Rob Roys and other fine spirits, and listening to some cool jazz beats.