The beautiful Central Coast town of Monterey, California, has always held a special place in my heart. It’s where I spent my early childhood. But it was only as an adult that I could truly learn to appreciate it, especially where drinking was concerned. Even though Monterey is an established AVA with a noteworthy wine scene, I tend to visit for the tropical libations, craft cocktails, and whiskey. Considering how much there is to do there—from sightseeing to Laguna Seca car events to wine tasting—it’s good to have options to suit every mood and craving. Here are my favorite places to imbibe in Monterey.
When I’m in the mood for a casual night with a Black and Tan, a shot of whiskey, and some fish and chips, I head to this underground British pub, located in historic Downtown Monterey. It opened in 1998 and has been voted the best pub in Monterey County Weekly for 19 years. (They first won in 2003, winning every year until 2014, then won again in 2015 and held the crown ever since.) There’s plenty on offer: about 20 beers on tap, including English ales and Irish stouts, plus a list of Irish whiskey and scotch. On dreary nights when the fog rolls in, there’s something comforting about sitting at the bar and digging into a bowl of chowder between sips of ale.
Like Stokes Adobe, which is just up the street on Polk, this restaurant features excellent cocktails and food and is also situated in a beautiful historic building. But while Stokes feels a bit more like a special occasion spot, Cella, which sits in the National Trust Historic Site Cooper Molera Gardens, has a neighborhood restaurant vibe. For food, you can stay low-key with burger or opt for scallops or duck breast. And beverage manager Joshua Perry’s creative, culinary-inspired cocktail menu is compelling enough to grab a drink before dinner or even just as a jumping-off point for the night. Explore his original cocktails, such as the Golden Elote with butter-washed mezcal, Amaro Montenegro, corn distillate, piloncillo, and lemon juice.
Wherever I travel, I always look up the tropical bar scene; it just doesn’t feel like a getaway without a Piña Colada. Fortunately, Monterey has Hula’s, with a second location up the coast in Santa Cruz. It may not be at the level of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco or False Idol in San Diego, but it’s still a welcome respite. I usually like to stop here during a scenic walk along the coast from Fisherman’s Wharf to Pacific Grove. I’ll park myself and my dog on the patio out back and order pupus of coconut shrimp rolls and seared ahi wontons or a slow-roasted pulled pork sandwich. The drink menu features original cocktails as a well as standards, such as the Mai Tai, Zombie, and Tropical Itch, but my go-to is the Painkiller or the virgin Piña Colada if I still have sightseeing to do.
Pearl Hour is a must for a nightcap of creative cocktails and live jazz. The bar by Katie Blandin, owner of cocktail catering company Bar Cart Cocktail Co., is located up the street from Hula’s on Lighthouse Avenue. On Wednesday and Sunday nights, a live band packs the bar. Fortunately, the large patio out back, which is illuminated by candles, a firepit, and hanging lights, presents plenty of seating away from the crowds. Peruse the extensive cocktail menu of classics, signatures, seasonal drinks, shots, spritzes, spirit-free options, and even a monthly zodiac-inspired drink. Just keep in mind that on nights when there’s live music, to keep service quick, the menu isn’t available.
For ghost stories and well-crafted cocktails, stop by this historic two-story adobe townhouse, which was built in 1833. Originally constructed to be a private residence, it has housed several different restaurants over the years, including Gallatin’s and Restaurant 1833. But after a four-year vacancy, it’s now a Michelin-recommended modern cuisine restaurant with the ghost stories intact. Just order Hattie’s Old Fashioned (Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, apricot, aromatic bitters, and citrus essence), named for Hattie Gragg, a socialite who was the last person to have lived in the adobe before passing away in 1948. Even though the menu by beverage manager Matty Eggleston is constantly being updated, this Old Fashioned will stick around. Like Hattie, apparently.
This whisky den on downtown’s Alvarado Street welcomes every kind of whisk(e)y drinker, from straight-sipping aficionados to casual cocktail imbibers. A serious scotch collector himself, owner Michael Sawhney wanted to share his extensive collection, knowledge, and passion for the spirit with the world. After a couple of years building the bar, with delays courtesy of the pandemic, he and his wife LisAnne finally opened the doors in 2022. The bar, which includes a bottle shop in the back, offers flights categorized by price and region. Take a $100 Glenrothes tour or a $27 one featuring California whiskeys by Redwood Empire Distillery in Russian River Valley. Or stop by for a Sazerac or Manhattan. They also welcome dogs, even keeping a stock of dog biscuits behind the bar.