Café au Cocktail: Drinks centered around coffee

When the night is young but the body is ready to go to sleep, that’s when caffeine and cocktails collide.

For the average bar-lover, the typical adult pick-me-up is a Red Bull and vodka, but what if I told you there’s another way – a better way? The coffee cocktail, my friends, is the answer. While your local dive’s best deal is probably a makeshift White Russian, restaurants and distilleries across West Michigan offer next-level specialty drinks that will keep you awake long enough for at least one more.

Well, it’s not all about the caffeine – some of these drinks just use a splash of coffee liqueur, but the placebo effect is strong. Not to mention that the acidic complexities of coffee pair perfectly with alcohol. You can sweeten the pot with cream and sugar or engage in bitterness with amaro and, well, bitters. Whichever path you take, it’s a delicious combination that’s perfect for capping off a dinner party or kicking off a party.

Here are some of our favorite cafe cocktails in town:


Long Road Distillers | 537 Leonard Street NW, Grand Rapids | 18 Washington Ave, Grand Haven

The original Irish coffee is hot coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar and cream. As usual, Long Road goes up a notch with Irish Up. Start with Long Road American Whiskey, then add Madcap coffee, brown sugar, demerara, vanilla whipped cream and coffee dust, all served hot. You can get it in GR or by the lake. Slainte!

Peanut Butter Burrito

Graydon Crossing | 1223 Plainfield Ave NE, Grand Rapids

The name might make this cocktail sound like a dessert monstrosity, but it’s more of a complex, layered treat incorporating all sorts of libations. The Peanut Butter Burrito starts with Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey, then the coffee comes as a cold brew espresso. Mix this with Averna amaro and for Pedro Ximinez sherry for an extra layer of bitter and sweet, then top it all off with Guinness Draft to keep this thing grounded. When you say “Jump”, the peanut butter burrito says “How high?”

Coffee of the world

A Bourbon | 608 Bridge Street NW, Grand Rapids

When coffee isn’t coffee flavored enough for you, chicory will do. This slightly earthy hazelnut root tastes very similar to coffee and they go together perfectly, which Café du Monde takes full advantage of. While the Benchmark bourbon serves as the base, the chicory-infused Eastern Kille coffee liqueur is the star of Java here. Then One Bourbon adds chicory syrup and homemade bitters to bring it to 11, all stirred over ice and served with an Ardbeg Scotch Rinse and Cream Float.

Spanish coffee (photo)

MDRD | 187 Monroe Ave. NW, 27th Floor, Grand Rapids

MDRD, the hit restaurant overlooking Amway Grand Plaza, is a love letter to Spain through all of its menus, including cocktails. Spanish coffee is so much more than its name suggests: Demerara Overproof rum, coffee and cream provide a nice classic base, with Torres Magdala orange liqueur adding a hint of citrus, plus walnut fresh nutmeg on top. This cocktail is served hot, perfect for spending the winter.

Cafe San Chez

Bistro San Chez | 38 W. Fulton Street, Grand Rapids

This cocktail at San Chez comes with a little show! First, they caramelize the sugar to the rim of the glass using Bacardi 151, cinnamon and fire, illuminating the restaurant like a solar flare. Then they add Kahlua, Fundador brandy and crème de cacao, all topped with hot coffee, Bailey’s whipped cream and a cinnamon stick. This should raise your body temperature by a few degrees.

Espresso Martini

Buffalo Traders Show | 950 E. Fulton St., Grand Rapids

Buffalo Trader’s is known for its wildly innovative cocktails that delve into the depths of mixologist knowledge. However, to pull off such feats, bartenders must also master the classics, and they do just that with this Espresso Martini, spicing it up with some bitters. Vodka, cold brew, coffee liqueur, Cynar and orgeat – it’s simple yet effective, accessible yet multi-layered, fun yet refined.

Black coffee

Stamped Robin | 128 Portage Street, Kalamazoo

If you like your booze as black as your coffee, this is the drink for you. Dark rum? To verify. Cold brew coffee? To verify. Spaulding’s coffee liqueur? To verify. Mix some demerara sugar and trinity bitters into the mix and you have a black coffee, black as the night in the French countryside. It’s a nice twist on the classic espresso martini.

Feb22 Sweets CafeCocktail2

Russian roaster (photo)

Eastern Kille Distillery | 700 Ottawa Ave. N.W., Grand Rapids

Eastern Kille takes the White Russian to another level with its own version, served silky smooth on nitro. They start with their own utility vodka, then add cold brew, coffee liqueur, cream, and chocolate bitters. No offense to the Russians, but I doubt they have it so well.

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