We’re lucky to have four seasons in North Carolina, with one of those seasons usually described as “mild winters.” And with the Triangle’s wealth of patios and rooftops, that would suggest an extended (if not year-round) outdoor dining and drinking season. At least that’s what I understood when I moved here at the end of last summer.
Though the last month’s cold weather and snow are the exception and not the rule, I am – along with the rest of you, I suspect – looking to remedy a serious case of cabin fever.
Here are five winter cocktails to sip al fresco, from festive apple cider mimosas to tequila-spiked hot chocolate.
The forecast? Warm and fuzzy.
Apple Cider Mimosa, Vita Vite
The mimosa is usually relegated to brunch, but wine bar Vita Vite sees no reason why the bubbly sipper shouldn’t get late-night billing. The bar’s Apple Cider Mimosa takes a starring turn on its winter menu, where fresh apple cider is mixed with Casas del Mar Cava. Though it hails from Spain’s Penedès wine region, this Cava is produced in the traditional French method of making champagne.
Vita Vite owner Lindsay Rice describes it as bright and bubbly, with notes of apple to complement the cider’s fruit and a light sweetness to balance its rich, earthy flavors. The downtown bar’s covered and enclosed porch offers ample seating by the fireplace, but the porch swing, situated just close enough to the fire and outfitted with blankets and oversized pillows, makes for an especially cozy perch. (Vita Vite recently announced it will open a second location in North Hills.)
Hot Spicy Spiked Cider, Whiskey Kitchen
With an army of 12 propane heaters anchored by a stainless-steel fire pit, Whiskey Kitchen in downtown Raleigh is primed for outdoor sipping, no matter how low the temperatures go (Bomb cyclone not withstanding). The large tables – which are made of poured concrete to absorb the heat – are perfect for group gatherings by the fire.
Warm yourself to the core with a cup of Hot Spicy Spiked Cider. Bourbon and apple cider simmer and reduce with orange and lemon slices and warming spices (like cinnamon, black pepper, star anise and allspice) before being poured to order with your whiskey of choice. If you’re looking to upgrade beyond the house bourbon, assistant manager Aaron Lambert suggests an American Rye whiskey like Virgil Kaine or Woodford, which add extra layers of citrus and spice.
Maple Sour at Level7
The thought of a year-round rooftop bar might incite shivers, but Level7 (at the AC Hotel in North Hills) fends off the open-air chill with Kindle heat lamps and a cozy lounge area outfitted with oversized chairs, couches and teak coffee and end tables. Head there before 5 p.m. to catch the sunset and order a round of Maple Sours, bar director Pete Horak’s riff on a whiskey sour.
To give the drink warmth, he adds Amaretto-infused maple syrup to a cocktail shaker along with Makers Mark, lemon juice and an egg white, shakes vigorously and strains it into a coupe. The drink is topped with a frothy egg white for added body and garnished with a cinnamon stick. If you find yourself lounging well past sunset, order stepped-up bar nosh like truffle-topped roasted potato wedges.
Pont Livornese at Mulino Italian Kitchen & Bar
Restaurateur Samad Hachby’s love for Italy came to light when he transformed Babylon, his Moroccan restaurant, into Mulino Italian Kitchen & Bar. Tables in the gorgeous outdoor courtyard remain the best seat in the house, and thanks to a clear paneled tent with retractable sides, you can dine by the reflecting pool year-round.
Cap off your meal with a Ponce Livornese, an espresso-and-rum-based digestif Hachby discovered while living in Assisi. He follows tradition by mixing dark rum, an extra-strong espresso shot and dark chocolate sauce, but creates a more well-rounded drink by sweetening it with honey instead of sugar and garnishing it with an orange twist instead of lemon. The drink is served in a small coffee cup to retain its heat, so sip slowly, stay awhile and order the house-made tiramisu. After all, there’s no greater love affair than chocolate and sweets.
The Bowie & Bing at The Durham
The Durham’s rooftop is a prime spot for summer sipping, but come winter, the roof transforms into a drinking den with après ski vibes. Retractable walls are put up to block the wind (when temperatures reach the high 50s the enclosures are partially opened), overhead heaters warm the space, and cabin-chic Pendleton wool blankets ward off any lingering chill.
Snag one of the cozy couch nooks and order the Bowie & Bing, a spicy-sweet, spiked hot-chocolate number. It features chocolate syrup made with Valrhona Manjari, a dark chocolate with dried fruit notes, which is mixed with steamed milk and tequila and served in a mug. Head barista Mark Daumen created the cocktail around the holidays; the unexpected-but-it-works combination of savory tequila and sweet chocolate inspired him to name the drink after one of his favorite Christmas duets, David Bowie and Bing Crosby.
Layla Khoury-Hanold is a freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter @glassofrose and Instagram is @theglassofrose. Her blog is glassofrose.blogspot.com.