Image Courtesy of Lilja Klempan
From got-it-all, big-box retailers to tiny shops with laser-focused collections, these retailers are ready to help shoppers get in the spirit.
We’re using “spirits shops” as a catch-all term for the broad range of venues that sell distilled spirits, including generic liquor stores, wine shops with carefully-curated spirit selections, sprawling chains and other purveyors large and small. Some specialize in specific categories, such as Kentucky bourbon specialists, while others have wide offerings.
Of note, some states are subject to alcoholic beverage control laws, which can limit access to many spirit bottlings. Some people opt to cross state lines to take advantage of broader options in non-control states; others pick up favorite bottles at distillery gift shops, package stores and other alternatives to government-run retailers.
For this list, we connected with dozens of bartenders, beverage directors, distillers, writers and hospitality and booze pros, and asked them for their favorite shops across the U.S.
Explore the Regions
This shop is “small but mighty,” says Matt Pietrek, author of Modern Caribbean Rum, with an “expertly curated collection of spirits (and wine) tailored to enthusiasts.”
NOLA spirits experts are unanimous in their fervor for this spot. It’s “the gold standard,” according to Mark Schettler, manager and bartender of Bar Tonique in New Orleans.
“I don’t think there’s any better place,” adds Neal Bodenheimer, owner of Cure in New Orleans. “They meticulously curate their library walls of booze and wine,” Bodenheimer adds. A further seal of approval: CureCo. has joined forces with the store for unique barrel picks sold in each of its bars.
LeNell, “the first lady of liquor,” has plenty of fans who have followed her relocation from Brooklyn to Birmingham. “You’ll recognize her signature touches at once,” says Abigail Gullo, creative director at Loa Bar in New Orleans. “A claw-foot bathtub filled with gin in the front window, a naughty boy cherub fountain and LeNell herself supervising over special barrel picks.” Expect hard-to-find liqueurs—a particular get in a control state—and entire wine selections dedicated to celebrating women and POC winemakers. It’s also become a community hub, hosting yoga classes and other gatherings.
Claiming the largest selection of wine, spirits and beer in the state, the offerings at this 15,000-square-foot emporium is “pretty solid,” according to Shaun Traxler, general manager of The Vault in Arkansas. “They’re our store that offers everything including the obscure amaro, aquavit, vermouth and the like. Their frequent barrel selections aren’t half bad either.”
Robin Robinson, author of The Complete Whiskey Course, praises this superstore for its huge selection. Further, this shop is a good bet for those who seek out bottles released in limited quantities: “They always seem to get the allocations,” says Robinson.
Best Spirits Shops in the Southwest, Southeast and Texas
“My absolute favorite liquor store in the Nashville area,” says Samuel Stephens, lead bartender at Henley in Nashville. “[Owner] Tim [Brinkmann] and his entire staff are all very knowledgeable and have a fantastic selection of wine and spirits across the board. As a frequent customer, I’ve been introduced to and educated about several of my favorite tequilas, whiskeys and gins alike.”
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
“We’re based in North Carolina, which is an alcoholic beverage control state,” explains Justin Rankin, lead bartender at The Katharine Brasserie in North Carolina. “This can sometimes put you in a pinch as the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) stores are closed on Sundays. Luckily, you can purchase bottles on Sundays from Broad Branch Distillery, a personal favorite that I use in several of The Katharine’s cocktails. This is a super nice thing to have if you ‘forget’ to purchase alcohol before the ABC stores close and are in need of a nice whiskey for a Sunday gathering.”
This bright and airy bottle shop “has an awesome, well-thought-out selection of craft spirits and wine,” says Baylee Hopings, brand ambassador for rum outfit Santa Teresa. “But more important than that, the staff is very knowledgeable and will assist you in finding something new and different based on what you like!” Vintage glassware and cocktail tools are also part of the draw.
Fort Mill, South Carolina
The original Frugal MacDoogal opened in Nashville in 1983, but this outpost, located just south of Charlotte, North Carolina, is considered a juggernaut in the Carolinas. It’s a “great option,” says Rankin. “They have been around for nearly 30 years and have a huge 21,000-square-foot location with a wide selection of liquor, wine and beer, and their pricing is generally on point!”
“Like being in a candy store,” says Bobby Dagostino, a board director with the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild, who makes the trip over the Ohio River from Cleveland—Ohio is a control state—to take advantage of this super-sized store with “very friendly and knowledgable” staff. There is also “an unbelievable selection of spirits” as well as brewing supplies, balloons and other party essentials, as the name suggests. Bonus: There is “a brewery and distillery on site, and a great selection of cigars, wines and more.”
“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” says Robinson. It’s not much to look at from the outside, but “this is where you get all the great bourbons you can’t find outside of Kentucky,” says Chris Morales, manager of Prosecco Restaurant in Chicago. “If bourbon is your drink, Toddy’s Liquors is your spot. Located downtown and with a drive-through, its juxtaposition as corner shop and library of classic or rare bourbon is always fantastic.”
Fort Worth, Texas
This beloved bottle shop is “the only real game in town,” and “is absolutely exploding with cocktail culture,” says Nico Martini, author of Texas Whiskey. Owner and hospitality pro Megan McClinton is, “a driving force behind the Fort Worth cocktail scene for years,” sources esoteric and unique spirits for the store and organizes collaborations with various bars. Woodford Reserve brand ambassador Random Ward describes it as a “bartender’s bottle shop,” adding, “it’s the one place I shop when I need samples or inspiration to create the drink strategies for our brands.”
Best Spirits Shops in the Great Lakes
Ann Arbor, Michigan
“Yes, it does look a little like a castle from the outside, ” says Tammy Coxen, owner of Tammy’s Tastings and host of the My Tiny Bottles podcast. But inside, “it’s a tiny shop with bottles all the way to the ceiling and really knowledgeable staff. If they don’t have a bottle I’m looking for, they’re happy to order it. Sometimes they’ll even give me a call to let me know something has come in that I’d be interested in. Plus every fall they host a holiday spirits tasting event, where I have the chance to taste a ton of different spirits, including high-end bottles I wouldn’t want to buy on spec.”
“While some Chicagoans might think of it as a corporate chain store, Binny’s has been privately owned since its inception in 1948 when Harold Binstein opened the first store at Clark & Sheffield, just a block away from iconic Wrigley Field,” explains Michael Trow, director of bar operations for RPM Restaurants, which have locations throughout the U.S.