It used to be that, with the exception of Yountville, which has long had restaurants that boast lively bar scenes (Bottega, for example), visitors did not drink cocktails in the towns of Napa Valley. Mostly people drank wine, much of it in winery tasting rooms.
But times have changed, and as the next generation of locals and visitors comes of age, a renewed interest in urban centers has brought energy and money to downtown. In 2018, the town of Napa alone saw hospitality investments totaling over $180 million. The development of hotels and restaurants has brought new opportunities for bar culture. That’s right on time because millennials aren’t just interested in Cabernet and Chardonnay.
Luckily, there are more and more spots in the Napa Valley designed for creative mixology. One of the first of these was Goose & Gander, which took over St. Helena’s historic Martini House in 2012 with a bar program created by Scott Beattie, the author of the organically minded “Artisanal Cocktails.” Though Beattie has since moved on, the drinks here have retained their charisma.In the garden, main dining room or speakeasy-like basement bar, you can sample three dozen fascinating cocktails. Take the 86 Dignity, an earthy elixir of sarsaparilla and Japanese whiskey that’s been “washed” (i.e. blended) with butter and infused with candy cap mushrooms. Root beer aromas hit your nose, and milk fats coat the rim of the glass as you sip. Oil floats are a current cocktail trend, and the gin-based Bee Real, a riff on a classic Bee’s Knees, is garnished with dots of Calabrian chile oil, which add beauty and savory panache. A fruity, rosy Cucumber Collins one-ups the traditional highball with the addition of yuzu, huckleberry and slices of the namesake vegetable, both raw and pickled.