Airport Bars Offering Better Drinking Options

Courtesy Book & Bourbon

Recent and forthcoming developments in notable airports around the country promise an improved pre-flight drinking experience.

For the amount of alcohol that’s consumed in airports, it’s a shame that the liquor selection offered at in-terminal bars is usually limited to only the biggest brands, and mixology rarely reaches beyond the Bloody Mary. Luckily there are a few exceptions to this rule, and some forthcoming developments give us hope for our pre-flight future.

On the heels of the craft distilling boom, some airports are embracing locally-produced liquor. High West, the (mostly) whiskey distillery in Park City, Utah, opened a bar/restaurant in the Salt Lake City airport a few years ago (Terminal Two, Concourse E; 801-322-6274; highwest.com), and earlier this year House Spirits of Portland, Oregon announced plans for a new tasting room at PDX (Concourse C; 503-235-3174​; housespirits.com). Rather than a restaurant, the tasting room—set to open in fall 2016—will offer the distillery’s entire portfolio of spirits for sampling and purchase, some distillery and tasting room exclusives, and even “mini classes” for those drinkers with longer layovers.

Restaurateur HMSHost recently announced both a bourbon-themed restaurant and a tasting room opening late this summer as part of a terminal enhancement project at Louisville International Airport. The pre-security restaurant, Book & Bourbon Southern Kitchen, will feature a library-themed design and offer more than 100 bourbons to try and classic cocktails in which to try them. The Bourbon Academy Tasting Room in the airport’s Rotunda will supply hard-to-find bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle and iPad-guided bourbon tasting flights.

While we wait for these new venues to open, there are a few bright spots in the otherwise bleak airport cocktail landscape—and surprisingly, two of them are chains. Root Down’s Denver International Airport location offers half a dozen classic cocktails including the Mai Tai and Aviation, as well as an equal number of signature drinks with ingredients like beets and coconut milk (Concourse C; 303-342-6959; rootdowndia.com). The Rick Bayless restaurant Tortas Frontera in three locations at Chicago O'Hare, also receives many compliments for its margaritas and micheladas (Terminals 1, 3, and 5; rickbayless.com).

But the well-recognized leader in airport mixology is One Flew South in Atlanta (Terminal E; 404-816-3464; oneflewsouthatl.com). Only partially open to the terminal walkway and with a host stand at the door, the restaurant offers a rare bit of intimacy and privacy compared to the large open food courts of the world’s busiest airport. The food offerings, served in a dining room with a dramatic forest backdrop behind the sushi bar, include both raw fish and southern-inspired international fare. At the cocktail bar, the dozen or so cocktails on the list are made with interesting and high-quality rather than merely popular brands of liquor, and the mostly-original drinks include ingredients like cayenne cider and chicory liqueur. (Try the Okey Dokey, made with cognac, dry vermouth, and bitter Cynar artichoke liqueur.) The cocktail program is overseen by Tiffanie Barriere, whose influence extends far beyond the airport as a consultant and trainer of bartenders around Atlanta.

While that’s still very few quality bars for so many travelers, here’s hoping that the better drinking movement in airports will soon take flight.

Image Credit: James Camp