Bar Louie is kicking it up a notch, both in the kitchen and behind the bar. For cocktail connoisseurs, that means a recently launched menu of sassy, creative libations: drinks like the cocoa-loco Kiss My Aztec, with Patron XO Cafe, cinnamon, and cayenne, or our pick, Elliott's Pepper ($10), made with cucumber-flavored Hendrick's Gin. We watched appreciatively while bartender Zachary Bridge muddled fresh red pepper in agave nectar. Next up: freshly squeezed lemon juice, the Hendrick's, and a dizzying shake over ice. Bridge even took the extra step of straining the cocktail into its glass over fresh cubes "to emphasize the crisp, clean flavors." Must have worked: Smooth as marble, slightly sweet, and salad-crisp, the drink is an ideal summer cooler. "We're really trying to wow our guests with our quality," says general manager Brian Metzger. "2012 will be our 'Year of the Bartender.'" — Elaine T. Cicora
Get it at 1352 West Sixth St., 216-452-5500, barlouieamerica.com.