Drinks

Where to Find a Good Cocktail in Every SEC Town

Looking for a polished pre-game drink? Check out these college-town bars
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Catch 22

University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

Located in the heart of downtown Tuscaloosa’s entertainment district (and about a 20-minute walk from Bryant-Denny Stadium), Catch 22’s back bar is packed with bottles upon bottles of spirits, along with a wide variety of house-made infusions. These range from a peppermint candy-cane vodka used in a wintertime hot chocolate to one infused with a whole garden of vegetables that goes into weekend Bloody Marys. The best cocktail bet might be your favorite classic; the place has the ingredients on hand to make just about anything.

photo: Courtesy of Catch 22

Bordinos

University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

The section of Dickson Street adjacent to the University of Arkansas campus is home to a wealth of local boutiques, galleries, the Walton Arts Center, and many of Fayetteville’s top restaurants and bars. Dickson Street stalwart Bordinos has been slinging upscale Italian food and some of the city’s most sophisticated cocktails for more than a decade. From classic Old Fashioneds to a concoction of cherry liqueur and prosecco dubbed the Orchard Cherry Fizz, excellent options abound.

photo: FAYETTEVILLE FLYER

The Avondale Bar & Tap Room

Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama

Many bars in college towns cater to, well, college students, but The Avondale is a spot for grownups who appreciate quality beverages. Served in a cool and laid-back atmosphere, there’s a nice selection of craft beer, along with original cocktail creations, like the mix of vodka, grapefruit and basil spiked with peppers dubbed the Betty White, or the autumnal blend of cranberry, cognac and bittersweet amaro they call Satan’s Circus.

photo: Courtesy of The Avondale Bar & Tap Room / Nolan Jones

Mojo Hogtown Barbeque

University of Florida, Gainesville

Mojo is a mini-chain with seven locations throughout north Florida serving up smoked meats, and its Gainesville outpost also offers an impressive selection of whiskeys. But a rum-based tiki drink like a Mai Tai or Painkiller makes a surprisingly excellent pairing for a plate of pulled pork or ribs, and after dinner, any true cocktail geek should order a Fernet Daiquiri, a mix of two ultra-bitter Italian digestivo liqueurs with lime and sugar.

photo: COLE LECURTO

The National

University of Georgia, Athens

The idea behind the food at The National is to bring the simplicity of Mediterranean cooking methods to delicious locally grown ingredients. The sophisticated cocktails, on the other hand, are not so dressed-down. Almost all incorporate house-made infusions, syrups, and even sodas. Try The National’s own house tonic with gin, vodka, or bourbon, and if you’re a Pimm’s Cup fan, order a Pimm’s Cooler #2, made with a blueberry-white wine reduction.

photo: Courtesy of The National / Alvaro Santistevan

Belle’s Cocktail House

University of Kentucky, Lexington

Named for Belle Brezing, Lexington’s most famous madam who built a Victorian-era empire of brothels and bars, Belle’s is a thoroughly modern cocktail bar. There’s no printed menu; each day’s cocktail specials are written on a chalkboard and might include just about any ingredient you can think of.

photo: Courtesy of Belle’s / Victor Sizemore

Olive or Twist

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge 

The name suggests a martini-focused venue, but Olive or Twist’s menu is incredibly varied, with a cocktail to suit just about every taste. And if the list doesn’t offer enough choices, play “cocktail roulette” by specifying a style and a few favorite flavors and letting the bartender create something brand new. Weekend brunch features six types of Mimosas and four Bloody Marys.

photo: Courtesy of Olive or Twist

Snackbar

University of Mississippi, Oxford

Chef John Currence is without question the culinary champion of Oxford. City Grocery won him a James Beard Award, and he runs three other restaurants in town. Snackbar is the most cocktail-focused of the bunch, with indulgent dishes and a long list of original and classic cocktail recipes. Each drink features one special twist, like a blackberry-infused Mississippi-distilled vodka, or an ice cube made from green tea and citrus.

photo: Courtesy of Snackbar / Jeffrey Grimes

The Guest Room

Mississippi State University, Starkville

Even non-drinkers can enjoy a cocktail at this spot, part of a restaurant empire-in-progress being built by Starkville native Ty Thames. The “temperance” section of the menu features  two complex non-alcoholic concoctions, but there are plenty more options on the cocktail list for folks who enjoy the hard stuff, like the Deviled Hemingway, a Hemingway Daiquiri variation spiked with a Thai chile tincture.

photo: Courtesy of The Guest Room / Blake McCollum

Barred Owl Butcher & Table

University of Missouri, Columbia

Barred Owl specializes in whole-animal butchery, with a long list of house-made charcuterie, sausages, and more. When it comes to drinks, the spot’s a perfect place to become acquainted with shrubs—the vinegar-based fruit and herb syrups that were popular in colonial-era America. There are eight house-made options available, each mixed with a spirit and club soda to create a tasty refresher. The peach-tarragon-Szechuan peppercorn shrub, paired with vodka, is a highlight.

photo: LG PATTERSON

The Oak Table

University of South Carolina, Columbia

There might be two Columbias in the SEC East, but only one is a state capital, and at The Oak Table, you can enjoy complex cocktails and artisanally prepared local meats while looking directly across the street at the South Carolina state house. The food here features modern updates on classic meats and chops, and the drinks are just the same: Try one of the two Root Vegetable Martinis, featuring vermouth infused with beet or radish.

photo: Courtesy of The Oak Table / Andrew Cebulka

The Public House

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

The Public House is not where you want to go to watch a football game. It has no TVs. But once the Vols are off the field, this is the place to head for a sophisticated drink. The extensive cocktail list features all sorts of unusual spirits, house-made syrups for sodas both alcoholic and non-, and even pitcher cocktails that serve a table of four. Hungry? Order from the menu of flavored popcorn and pretzels, breads and dips, and even gourmet hot dogs.

photo: Courtesy of The Public House

West End Elixir Company

Texas A&M University, College Station

Claiming to be College Station’s first cocktail-focused bar, West End Elixir Company offers a menu of more than 60 mixed-drink options and has been going strong for two years now. It’s one of a very few spots where you can pregame: West End opens at 10 a.m. every Saturday that the Aggies are playing at home, serving Bloody Mary and Mimosa specials along with breakfast versions of the brick-oven pizzas that are a menu staple.

photo: WILLIAM GERDING

Bastion

Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

It’s not hard to find a great drink in hipster haven Nashville, but this spot in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood stands out. From a rotating punch of the day to the always-changing set of cocktails using flavors both local and seasonal, and from around the world, Bastion’s menu impresses. Unfortunately, its bar does not serve the amazing food from the attached tasting menu-style restaurant. But it does offer one single option that’s perfect on game day: nachos.

photo: Courtesy of Bastion / Andrew Thomas Lee

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