The mint julep may be most associated with the Kentucky Derby, but that doesn't mean you can't order one any other day of the year. The refreshing Southern cocktail, best enjoyed on a lazy summer day, isn’t anything fancy—it’s basically just crushed ice, a hefty pour of bourbon, muddled mint, and simple syrup—which makes it ripe for creative interpretations. And bars across the country are getting into the spirit with innovative twists on the traditional. In honor of this month's National Mint Julep Day, celebrated May 30, here are eight bars, both below and above the Mason Dixon line, mixing up mint juleps worth traveling for.
1. DOC CROW’S SOUTHERN SMOKEHOUSE & RAW BAR // LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY
If you’re based in bourbon-centric Louisville, and your downtown location is colloquially known as “Whiskey Row,” then you’re pretty much obligated to serve an out-of-this-world julep. Doc Crow’s, with its signature “Near Eastern Julep,” delivers and then some. Bartenders here start with plenty of crushed ice and Old Grand-Dad bottled-in-bond bourbon, add in ginger-infused simple syrup and Becherovka, an herbal bitter with a spicy-bittersweet twist, and substitute basil for the usual mint. Sip your poison at the bar, or grab a table with friends and pair it with a Southern specialty like shrimp and cheddar grits, Texas-style brisket, or fried pork chops.
2. PARLIAMENT // DALLAS
Creative cocktails are always on the menu at Parliament, but this beloved Dallas haunt loves to elevate their menu for special occasions. To celebrate the Derby this year, they rolled out five special Kentucky-inspired cocktails, including the Southern Belle, a revivifying riff on the traditional julep. Rhubarb sugar and strawberry-infused Maker's Mark bourbon combine with lots of mint for an extra-refreshing flavor—perfect for keeping cool in the Texas heat. (And on those rare occasions when the sun isn't shining, not to worry —Parliament offers happy hour deals not only from 5 to 8 p.m. daily, but any time it's raining outside!)
3. JULEP // HOUSTON, TEXAS
Meanwhile, down in Houston, bar proprietor Alba Huerta—the recipient of many awards and accolades for her inventive drinks—is such a fan of the classic cocktail that she named her establishment simply Julep. Designed to spotlight the best of Southern comfort food, you'll find plenty of fried oysters, pulled pork, and yes, mint juleps. Since it opened in 2014, Julep has spotlighted many versions of its namesake drink—like its headline-grabbing Sparkling Julep, made with Gamay bubbly, cognac, mint, and turbinado syrup—although its classic julep, with its blend of Four Roses and JW Dant bonded-in-bottle bourbons, plus turbinado to add a gentle hint of molasses-style sweetness, never goes out of style.
4. THE LEADBELLY // NEW YORK CITY
This heralded Lower East Side joint serves up oysters from both coasts, along with a selection of well-curated small plates, all the better to enjoy with a thirst-quenching julep. Leadbelly bartender Colin Asare-Appiah told Town & Country magazine he was inspired to give the bourbon-and-mint sipper a 21st-century makeover after reading up on the centuries-old drink. "Research showed me that there were gin, genever, and cognac varieties," he said. "Vodka has been the modern-day hero of the cocktail bar scene, and so I decided to use a well-crafted vodka and add fresh spearmint with cucumber." Can’t make it to NYC anytime soon? The recipe is available online so you can still try the invigorating vodka-cucumber concoction at home.
5. KINGFISH // NEW ORLEANS
Beloved fourth-generation bartender Chris McMillian, arguably the nation’s foremost julep maker, may no longer helm the bar at this French Quarter institution, but his legendary juleps live on in the more-than-ample hands of current lead bartender Justin Gerhmann. Bourbon and peaches are natural allies—peach brandy was often used as the base for juleps mixed in the 1800s—and the Kingfish version celebrates that delectable pairing by combining peach syrup with Maker’s Mark bourbon and mint.
6. BLUDSO’S BAR & QUE // LOS ANGELES
Located just a few blocks south of Santa Monica Boulevard, Bludso's Bar & Que caters to Angelenos with a taste for big Texas BBQ flavor. Recently earning the top spot in LA.Eater’s list of essential barbecue spots in the area, the family-owned restaurant is beloved for its authentic, slow-smoked ribs, brisket, chicken, and more. Naturally you'll need something to wash all that down with, and while Bludso's boasts plenty of craft beers and local wines, don't skip their juleps, which are pre-kegged and—quite delightfully—served on draft. The boozy treat is made with Evan Williams bourbon (a Louisville favorite) and, despite the unusual on-tap twist, is still served traditionally in a silver cup with heaps of crushed ice.
7. TEDDY & THE BULLY BAR // WASHINGTON, D.C.
This Dupont Circle tribute to our gallant 26th president claims to serve all that Roosevelt held dear, gastronomically speaking (think steaks, fried chicken, house-made cornbread, and, of course, wild-game dishes starring bison, boar, and venison). Their cocktail list, though, is where Teddy & the Bully Bar really shines, serving classic drinks inspired by “the golden era of American cocktails,” or roughly the period between the early 1800s right up to Prohibition. The chicly appointed interior, with its faux taxidermy, gas-powered light fixtures, and restored antique stove, is the perfect setting to sip on Teddy’s berry-licious julep, which combines Woodford mint-infused bourbon, fresh mint, and strawberry shrub.
8. FIG & OLIVE // CHICAGO
As its name suggests, Fig & Olive is best known for their Mediterranean cuisine and love of all things olive—they swap out butter for olive oil in nearly all their recipes—but their creativity doesn't end with food. Originally based in New York but now with eight locations across the country, this upscale dining experience features a plethora of classic cocktails with a decidedly modern twist. Their Chicago location features a Fig & Walnut Julep, which begins with Four Roses bourbon but then turns the usual julep recipe on its head. Elderflower liqueur, muddled black figs, citrus, and shaved-walnut garnish transform this front-porch-sipping Southern staple into a Mediterranean medley.