When we worked at a wine shop in New Orleans, loyal patrons enjoyed private tastings and the care with which the store proprietor selected wines and local spirits. We saw how he made sure that only products he truly loved landed on his shelves. Regulars appreciated our attention to their preferences and eagerness to share why we were passionate about a certain bottle.
As a cocktail enthusiast, we'll drive the extra mile to go to a store we know is well-stocked, has fair prices, and has excellent customer service. If a store specializes in something in particular, even better. If you're interested in a new spirit but don't know where to start, a well-stocked liquor store with passionate staff can steer you in the right direction. Perhaps you're looking to make a Manhattan but don't know what's the best whiskey to buy. Or maybe you want some expert guidance in what gin to serve in a gimlet. While creating a surefire best liquor stores in the U.S. is a tall order, we rounded up ones that locals raved about for customer service and knowledgeability. I looked for stores that bartenders frequented (some of these were opened by veteran bartenders) and if they specialized in anything in particular. Lastly, I focused on independent liquor establishments rather than big-box stores, to showcase the best in local booze experts.
Read more: 13 Liquors Your Home Bar Should Have
K & L Wines - Redwood City, San Francisco, & Los Angeles, California
Open since 1976, K & L has stores in Redwood City, San Francisco, and Hollywood. Located in the middle of Hollywood, the folks at K & L are no strangers to parties and particular tastes. Hollywood assistants might frequent the store to fulfill requests and fill gift baskets, but it's not about celebrities here, it's about quality wines. The people at K&L pride themselves on sourcing wines and spirits from around the world and offering them at decent prices for a loyal customer base. The staff are experts in their field, traveling abroad to buy directly from producers, which means they aren't paying for middleman fees, and thus offering the wines at a better price.
The store trades in fine wines, as well, buying well-stored vintages and auctioning specialty bottles online. K & L also offers wine clubs for multiple levels, be it based on price or region, with clubs like "Le Club Francais" or the "Champagne Club." It's well worth a stop either in Southern or Northern California whether you're a novice looking to start with the classic wines, or a wine-lover eager to scoop up a deep cut.
klwines.comMultiple locations in California
Five Star Liquor And Wine - Longwood, Florida
The daiquiri is an elusively difficult drink. It's only a blend of three ingredients, but striking the right balance of acidity and sweetness is an art. Selecting the right rum is paramount to the equation as well. But there are so many types of rum: dark rum, white rum, specialty flavored rum, etcetera. One shop that can steer you in the right direction is Five Star Liquor and Wine, run by Sam Patel.
In addition to rum, the store also offers an outstanding bourbon selection and specialty mixers you might not find in bigger stores or grocery stores. Stop by for a tasting in the small but mighty shop, where you can learn from the staff about new items that have arrived in the store, which includes rare releases from producers like Binder's Stash. Customers note the fine wines are not to be missed, and thankfully, Five Star Liquor and Wine's social media account alerts followers to new inventory.
instagram.com/fivestarliquorandwine(407) 389-07103861 Wekiva Springs Rd, Longwood, FL 32779
Red Spirit And Wine - Nashville, Tennessee
Red Spirit and Wines has customer service at the forefront. It's the little things that go a long way at Red: The preferences of regular customers are remembered, be it putting a couple of chilled bottles into a regular case order of white wine, or patiently helping someone find the right bottle for their dinner party. Oftentimes, liquor stores are a go-to for a big event, but not often is there a program so readily in place.
At Red, the staff will work with you for a big party or wedding, even prepping a "signature cocktail" for the event. Besides being one of the top places in town to get hard-to-find bourbon, it also partners with Drizly to deliver around the Bellevue neighborhood, so you could order from one of Nashville's signature barbecue spots and pair a whiskey alongside. The store offers thoughtful staff picks and a newsletter for customers to learn about new products or venture into a new liquor (like maybe a local Tennessee Moonshine).
redspirits.com(615) 646-14007066 US-70S, Nashville, TN 37221
Julio's Liquor - Westborough, Massachusetts
This year will be Julio's 50th in business. And Ryan Maloney, who worked at Julio's first as a stockboy, has owned it since 2000. The business is successful in part due to its employee loyalty and its commitment to educating customers. Located in a 20,000-square-foot space in Westborough, Julio's Liquor was named "Whisky Retailer of the Year" by Drink Insider for three consecutive years.
The staff at Julio's locates hard-to-find spirits and boasts a robust beer section, with local brews and imports and a large selection of Belgian and Trappist beers. The store has also tapped into the non-alcoholic spirits market, offering an abundant selection for dry January. Plus, the store has hot sauces and tobacco. The expansive space is home to two tasting rooms -- the Angel Share Tasting room, with over 40 wines on tap, and the Jim Beam Cold Storage Warehouse, a spirits tasting room in a speakeasy style.
juliosliquors.com(508) 366-1942140 Turnpike Road, Westborough, MA 01581
Ewa Pantry - Ewa Beach, Hawaii
A local favorite, Ewa Pantry is tucked inside a strip mall in Ewa Pointe Marketplace. Its hole-in-the-wall demeanor is misleading, however, and the shelves inside are packed. The owners of Ewa Pantry stock quality scotch, tequila that's difficult to come by, and local craft beer like Hana Koa Brewery. The place is a reprieve from big stores like Costco that can have a monopoly on the island liquor market.
With flavored liqueurs like lychee and melon and shelves of obscure bottles, customers note it's a fun place to take a peek and look around, as you're sure to find something surprising, or exactly what you need. Many reviews note that Ewa Panty was the only place that had a specific whiskey or rhubarb liqueur that they were looking for. They also stock other provisions, like tobacco and cigars, candies, and seltzers.
instagram.com/ewapantry(808) 689-0000 91-1001 Kaimalie St, Ewa Beach, HI 96706
Leon & Son - Brooklyn, New York
In a city full of liquor stores, Leon & Son stands out with a deeply knowledgeable staff and intention to source from environmentally sustainable brands. The result is a packed shop highlighting the best liquors, wines, and specialty drinks from small producers in both the U.S. and abroad. This Clinton Hill gem has a wide selection of vermouth and natural wines packed into its storefront. If you're interested in learning more about wine, Leon & Son is an excellent resource both in person and online.
The website keeps an up-to-date online "journal" highlighting producers and vintages. Some posts give a first-hand account of trips to Germany or Portugal for tastings, and others interview innovative vintners. "Leon Circle" is the store's monthly wine club where staff will select three bottles (often difficult to find elsewhere) for club members to enjoy. But if you're a casual sipper, Leon & Son has an under $25 section of wines.
leonandsonwine.com(347) 689-9253 995 Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY 11238
The Austin Shaker - Austin, Texas
The Austin Shaker was opened by former bartenders Kirstyn Litchfield and David Maguire, after seeing a "for rent" sign in an old building (which happened to once be home to a liquor store in the '60s). They refurbished the building to open the first Austin Shaker, and have since expanded to Pleasant Valley and Oak Hill. Since Litchfield and Maguire are Austin bar veterans, specialty ingredients and barware are a focus at the Austin Shaker. Industry professionals and home bartenders come to stock up and test out new wares at the three locations.
With two bartenders at the helm of the shop, details matter. The Austin Shaker carries multiple kinds of salts for margaritas and plenty of bitter options that can add a je ne sais quoi to an otherwise straightforward cocktail. Customers are impressed by the breadth of options and the passion the staff displays for creating a meaningful cocktail experience.theaustinshaker.comMultiple locations
San Francisco Tequila Shop - San Francisco, California
While it's easy to find liquor stores that specialize in bourbon and whiskey around the country, fewer are focused on specialty tequilas and mezcals. Thankfully there is the San Francisco Tequila Shop. Davinder Singh Malhi and his father Nirmal Singh Malhi saved up to open a liquor store in Modesto, California in 1993. Over the years, the shop took a tequila focus, and when Davinder's son took over, the shop moved to San Francisco and became San Francisco Tequila Shop.
The shop sells sotol and raicilla as well as tequila and mezcal. Sotol is derived from a palm plant and is produced in Northern Mexico, while raicilla is derived from the agave plant's stem and produced in Jalisco, and both are worth exploring as unique expressions of agave and Mexico. At San Francisco Tequila Shop, there are many varieties of tequila and unique bottles to choose from to start the agave journey, with a dedicated staff ready to guide.
sftequilashop.com(415) 361-6588801 Cortland Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110
Keife And Co. - New Orleans, Louisiana
In a city of 24-hour bars, and home to "Tale of the Cocktail," where bartenders from around the country descend for a week of industry talk and tasting (and partying), there are quite a few well-stocked stores in New Orleans. It's a town built off of the hospitality industry and drinking lore, home to the Sazerac, the French 75, Peychaud's bitters, and hallowed halls of absinthe and whiskey. The cocktail experts at Kiefe & Co take their lineage seriously, and many a bartender in the city, from those who have worked the thirsty Mardi Gras crowds to the cocktail connoisseur crowd, will point you to their shop for all your cocktail needs.
In addition to picking up a rare bottle, you can rent stemware, place specialty orders, and create a customer profile so the staff knows your preferences and lets you know of something new you might enjoy. For a party or gathering, Keife & Co can also put together a cheese and charcuterie plate. This New Orleans institution's inventory is artisanal and refined.
keifeandco.com(504) 523-7272801 Howard Ave, New Orleans, LA 70113
Independent Spirits Inc. - Chicago, Illinois
Located in Edgewater, Independent Spirits Inc. focuses on the rare and interesting when it comes to spirits and wines, but that doesn't mean owner Scott Crestodina doesn't keep well-stocked shelves. Independent Spirits fills a niche that bigger liquor stores overlook by offering craft brews and rarified bottles, and Crestodina, who opened the shop in 2013, and his staff are excited about what they sell.
The tasting notes written on highlighted wines and spirits are thoughtful, even downright poetic, and spot on. Above the sections are drawings of the various wine regions made by Crestodina himself. Wines range from New to Old World, and customers can stop by for a weekly tasting to check out what's new at the store. Passion and a desire to share is what drives the staff here, so for an elevated cocktail experience, trust in the folks at Independent Spirits Inc. to help you out.
shop.independentspiritsinc.com(773) 989-21155947 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60660
Hollywood Beverage - Portland, Oregon
Hollywood Beverage is a Portland stalwart, and is purportedly the oldest liquor store in Oregon, opening shortly after Prohibition ended. It has existed in iterations since 1934, and proudly stocks Oregon wines, beers, and liquors. Owner Dan Miner seeks out brews and vintages from the Pacific Northwest to highlight the best the region has to offer.
Though the store prides itself in being locally focused, Hollywood Beverage also keeps a robust inventory for a wide spectrum of tastes, from big-company beers to imports from Belgium, and a selection of cigars, tobacco, and mixers that regularly beat out big-box stores on prices. The Gladstone location has beer and mead on tap, and with tastings every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Hollywood Beverage remains focused on its Portland clientele.
Surdyk's - Minneapolis, Minnesota
The Mid-Western powerhouse Surdyk's has been serving Minneapolis since 1934 when Joseph Surdyk opened the shop shortly after Prohibition. Now in its 4th generation, Surdyk is an expansive store where liquor is just one part of the equation. Over the years, the shop has expanded and changed locations to accommodate expansions into cheese and New World wines (Jim Surdyk spearheaded an expanded wine selection to include South American and South African wines in the '80s). It's quite an emporium. Even "cheese shop" is an understatement, it is a section that includes specialty meats, olive oils, and snacks.
Surdyk's is a gem because it keeps a pulse on beverage and culinary trends. It's one of the few liquor stores we found that had a dedicated sake section, a drink that has thankfully been released from the confines of sushi bars and is now recognized in the craft drink sphere. Customers appreciate the atmosphere -- chandeliers made from French antique bottle dryers hang from the ceiling -- and wide selection. But like with most family-run stores, it's the customer service that has kept the lights on all of these years. Wine consultants are on the floor to assist in buying, and the staff are knowledgeable and ready to help. If you missed a chance to go, you can still go to Surdyk's Flights Wine Market and Bar in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.surdyks.com(612) 379-3232303 E Hennepin Ave #2, Minneapolis, MN 55414
LeNell's Beverage Boutique - Birmingham, Alabama
Going from Brooklyn to Birmingham might be a big change, but perhaps that's what LeNell needed to live out the shop's saying: "Better drinkin' for better livin'." Owner and Alabama native LeNell Camacho Santa Ana first opened LeNell's in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood, when the area was still considered off the beaten path. She curated specialty items and even bottled her own whiskey for two years.
After a spell in Baja, California, she returned to the South, ready to embrace the South, Birmingham, and the new energy pouring into it. Industry professionals note her impeccable taste and appreciate the verve she brings to the new LeNell's in Birmingham. The shop stocks small-batch whiskeys and biodynamic wines, and LeNell is passionate about being at the shop and serving the community that comes to buy a bottle and swap a story.
lenells.com(205) 536-35571208 32nd St N, Birmingham, AL 35234
Housebar - Washington, D.C.
One of the newer contenders on this list, Housebar is located in the Navy Yard neighborhood of D.C. and was voted "Best Neighborhood Liquor store" by Modern Luxury D.C. Housebar believes "everyone at any time deserves a better drinking experience at home," and owners Clyde Davis and David Jones seemed to have pulled that off. The neighborhood has taken to the shop, enjoying the weekly tastings and dedicated staff who are eager to help direct them toward a unique bottle.
A Black-owned business, Housebar features women and minority-owned brands. Non-alcoholic drink enthusiasts are pleased to find a wide selection of NA offerings, making it, again, something for everyone. The store offers tastings, a stocked snack section (including a freezer with local products like boozy ice cream and empanadas), and even its own app to create a streamlined ordering experience. Customers also note the music and atmosphere. It's a shop made for hanging out.
housebar.com(301) 778-78931299 First St SE Suite 101, Washington, D.C. 20003
Argonaut Liquors - Denver, Colorado
For a huge store (40,000 feet!), Argonaut keeps its customer service and staff knowledge at the forefront of its business model. That's maybe because it's a family-run business that has been operating for over 50 years. As the largest liquor store in Denver, Argonaut has also made environmental friendliness a priority, installing solar panels on the roof.
But back to the booze: the store carries wines, beers, and spirits with weekly rotating sales lists. In-store events like a holiday wine and cookie pairing or a session on biodynamic and organic wines showcase items from the vast inventory, but you can always ask the sales staff on the floor to help you in your search. Argonaut seems to have a community bent, sponsoring quite a few local organizations, so although it's as big as the chain stores, it also focuses on the local Denverites who rely on it for their special occasions and everyday drinking.
argonautliquor.com(303) 831-7788760 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80203
Westport Whiskey & Wine - Louisville, Kentucky
If you're in Kentucky and looking for whiskey, chances are you'll have a plethora of options to choose from. Whiskey production has been a defining feature of the state since the 1700s, when immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and Germany brought over their expertise. The Bourbon Trail takes you to the defining bourbon distilleries in the state, but if you're in Louisville and looking for a good bottle, check out Westport Whiskey & Wine.
In the tasting room, winemakers and distillers frequently host events to teach about their products. A number of wine clubs, based on price point and red or white preference, are available for customers to try out new options. The shop carries a solid collection of wine and other spirits, so while it can satisfy the Bourbon-head's cravings, it has plenty to offer those in Kentucky looking for a whiskey break.westportwhiskeyandwine.com(502) 708-13131115 Herr Ln #140, Louisville, KY 40222
Liquor Dan - Tucson, Arizona
If you're in Tucson, Arizona, and looking for a select bottle of tequila, then -- as the store's slogan goes -- "Liquor Dan is Your Man!" The store has kept a loyal customer base for over 50 years. Dan Don opened Liquor Dan in 1965, and while he has since passed the reins to Nil Kay, it continues to serve the Tucson area.
It's a family-run establishment that has thrived over the years thanks to its attention to guest satisfaction and fair prices. Customers praise this establishment for its packed inventory and dedicated staff and rave about the selection, making it a go-to for party stocking and home bartending. A few note the hard-to-find tequilas the store keeps stocked. It's hard to beat winding down with a Tucson sunset, the desert mountains in the background, and a unique bottle of tequila or mezcal picked up from a local shop.
liquordan.com(520) 294-43136121 S 6th Ave, Tucson, AZ 85706
This list was compiled based on personal visits, recommendations from industry folk, and store reviews. Gathered from reviews and research, we featured independent stores that had high local praise for customer service, an established presence in the community, and staff expertise. Stores with strong selections of specialty spirits also factored in to rankings.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.