World’s top 10 cocktail bars

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

The lovely folk at Lonely Planet have put together a list of the best cocktail bars on the planetcheers

  1. Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco

‘No pastime makes the stars so bright, as greeting dusk with rum’s delight,’ says a sign at Smuggler’s Cove (pictured left). Staff are known as ‘crew’, fishing nets suspend sea debris and Hawaiian shirts abound. It may look like Captain Jack Sparrow’s holiday home, but it’s far from naff, with the largest collection of rum in North America (over 700 expressions) and a cocktail list that reads like a history of the sugar cane spirit. This could be the finest modern take on the Tiki bar trend.

2. El Floridita, Havana  

From its flamingo-pink exterior to its ubiquitous salsa rhythms, El Floridita is unmistakably Cuban. It’s been around for 200 years, yet has a feel of the 1950s, a golden age when Constante Ribalaigua ran the show – known as ‘the cocktail king’ and inventor of the frozen Daiquiri. This was also the era that Ernest ‘Papa’ Hemingway could regularly be found propping up the bar with a Daiquiri in hand. Today’s cantineros (bartenders) in red blazers make around 3000 daiquiris a day for well-dressed locals as well as tourists. Take yours at the bar beside the life-size bronze statue of Hemingway.

3. The American Bar at The Savoy, London

The Savoy hotel’s iconic white-walled, retro-carpeted bar has stayed fairly faithful to its art deco origins, despite a mega-dollar hotel refurb in 2010. It has a mini museum at the foot of its entrance dedicated to the bar’s rich history – and its very rich drinkers – and its cocktail menu reads like a who’s who of Hollywood, with glitzy drinks dedicated to stars who have propped up the bar for 125 years. Staff (pictured above) in white suits have become celebrities in their own right, including Harry Craddock, the author of The Savoy Cocktail Book – bartenders reference his 1930 tome to this day.

4. High Five, Tokyo

There’s no menu at High Five, so it stands out from hundreds of fellow Ginza bars. Grab one of 12 seats at the bar and chat to Hidetsugo Ueno (described as ‘the godfather of bartending’ by famous US restaurateur and documentary maker David Chang), who whips up bespoke cocktails according to personal tastes. The bar stocks more than 200 whiskies, yet it’s ice that’s treated with reverence – carved into cubes for considered cocktail shaking (a ‘hard shake’ that moves ice more dynamically) or into ‘ice diamonds’, which dazzle in drinks.

Havana is home to El Floridita which was once Ernest Hemingway’s favourite bar

5. Bar Hemingway, Paris

This cosseted space within Paris’ Ritz Hotel attracts a sharp crowd often lured back by charming, white-suited bartender Colin Field (pictured below). He’s been here for 24 years, revived the French 75 cocktail and created the revolutionary Clean Dirty Martini – a dry martini with a Mediterranean flavour thanks to a mystifyingly clear ice cube made from olive juice. Yet despite his cocktailing prowess, Colin claims his love of English literature got him the gig. The bar (like many!) was a Hemingway haunt, and walls are decorated with hand-written letters from the legend. Decadent drinks cost €30 each.

6. Clover Club, New York

Look to Clover Club for the definition of a neighbourhood bar, a Brooklyn hangout in its 10th year of twisting the classics. It’s a narrow, buzzy room that has a cosy nook at the back with its own fireplace. It’s a modern reimagining of Philadelphia’s Clover Club, where lawyers and journalists would toast with the eponymous pink cocktail (pictured above). Owner Julie Reiner’s iconic version adds a splash of dry vermouth. Fellow pre-Prohibition classics on the menu include cobblers and punches.

7. Native, Singapore

Plenty of column inches have been dedicated to Antz, a cocktail on Native’s menu that includes creepy crawlies. It exemplifies the bar’s approach to using locally foraged ingredients – less shocking are curry leaf and turmeric – and local spirits, in a bar that cares just as much about terroir as the world’s top wineries. Founder Vijay Mudaliar also looks to the latest technologies, using a rotavap to distil subtle aromas such as pink jasmine into his creations.

8. Black Pearl, Melbourne

It’s a family affair at Black Pearl; when Tash Conte founded the Fitzroy bar, she worked with her sister in the bar, her mother and brother were in the kitchen and her father kept the books. Fifteen years on, Conte still refers to the team as family, even though it’s evolved to include world-class mixologists. Mum Mariane’s sausage rolls are still on the menu and banter at the bar is ever-present, which makes the bare-brick space feel homely.

9. La Capilla, Tequila

On a dusty road in a town called Tequila is La Capilla (‘The Chapel’), a sacred ground for agave lovers. It’s rustic, with adobe walls, plastic chairs and nothing in the way of signage. Focus is on hospitality – owner Don Javier Delgado Corona, now in his nineties, serves distillery owners and farm workers, who are all welcomed to write in a visitors’ guestbook. Here, Don Javier invented the Paloma cocktail (tequila, grapefruit, lime), but the bar’s signature creation is La Batanga (tequila, lime and cola), which he characteristically stirs with a butcher’s knife.

10. Nottingham Forest, Milan

For cocktail pomp and ceremony there’s Nottingham Forest. Despite the name, this bar in Milan looks every bit the wood-clad Brit pub (albeit with plants, animal prints and Buddha statues). Drinks are just as original, many requiring audience participation. Sip on test-tube Negronis or knock back pills, powders, potions, airs and emulsions. It’s molecular mixology at its best, with owner Dario Comini considered on a par with Italy’s best chefs.

Reproduced with permission from Lonely Planet’s Global Distillery Tour © 2019

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