Nearly every large city in the world has a thriving cocktail scene these days, with modern bars and tucked away speakeasies whipping up flavorful, creative, and composed drinks. And who better to recommend where to find a worthy drink than those at the top of the bartending game? We asked some of the people behind a few very highly regarded bars to pick their favorite places to stop and enjoy a drink when traveling, including a Roman speakeasy, a Singapore gin emporium, and a modern dive bar in Barcelona.
Jerry Thomas Speakeasy, Rome
"Jerry Thomas is a great secret, hidden venue where you need a password to enter, which you can get off their website,” said Ryan Gavin, bar manager at NYC’s Gran Tivoli and Peppi's Cellar. “When I lived there, this was absolutely the best bar in all of Rome—they even make their own housemade vermouth and gin.” Once inside this red-walled speakeasy, you will find a variety of drinks made by mustachioed bartenders at the top of their game. While the process to gain access to the bar may seem mysterious, the atmosphere is welcoming and the conversation lively.
Panda & Sons, Edinburgh
In a country known for its whisky, there are also some excellent cocktail bars to be found. “Panda & Sons in Edinburgh, Scotland is a fun bar with great cocktails, atmosphere, and service,” said Kenneth McCoy, partner at NYC’s The Rum House. “It’s playful in a memorable way, a must if you’re in that beautiful city.” This is another speakeasy-style bar, which requires a bit of work to find. The menu is divided up into six chapters featuring drinks made with techniques like sous vide, fat washing, and fractional concentration. One of the original drinks that remains on the menu is the Birdcage, made with Johnnie Walker Gold, aperol, rhubarb and lemongrass shrub, and cinnamon and clove smoke.
Stockholm’s cocktail scene is growing due to the likes of Tjoget, a bar that is making a name for itself with an eclectic drinks program. “It's an honest bar where you're sure to have a good time,” said Gavin, “and they've got a great collection of spirits, cocktails, and an impressive in-house ice program. The food is amazing too." You’ll find drinks here made with everything from beetroot vodka to aquavit to cognac in the bar area, which are said to be inspired by flavors from the Middle East, North Africa, and Southern Europe.
Coupette is a recent addition to the London cocktail scene, opening in 2017 with a focus on Calvados and French-inspired drinks. “Coupette has single-handedly made me some of the best cocktails that I have had in recent memory,” said Erick Castro, co-founder of San Diego’s Raised by Wolves and Polite Provisions. “They are masters at taking drinks and flavors that you have experienced a million times, yet still flipping the script and leaving you speechless. Their currently famous cocktail, the Champagne Piña Colada, is a perfect example of this approach to drink making." Other recent drinks have included a Bloody Martini made with grilled tomatoes, and Apples, a drink that combines Calvados and cider.
Little Smith Ginza, Tokyo
Tokyo is known for its thriving cocktail scene, with precise detail paid to structure, ingredients, and even the ice used in drinks. Masahiro Urushido, head bartender and managing partner at Katana Kitten in NYC, recommends Little Smith Ginza, which he says doesn’t have a set drinks menu. “They serve so many classics and riffs depending on the guests' preferences. Beautiful technique, beautiful glassware, and one of the most exquisite and unique bar/interior designs around. The moment you are seated, you receive a small espresso cup-sized onion soup to warm up your stomach before the first drink. It's the perfect aperitif.”
In the lobby of Singapore’s Parkview Square you will find Atlas, a gin-focused bar with a beautiful menu that offers snapshots of different moments in drinking culture. "A bar overseas that I think is doing excellent work is Atlas in Singapore," said Marshall Minaya, beverage director at NYC’s Valerie and The Blushing Bar at Valerie (a bar that also specializes in gin). “They stock over 1,300 gins and their training program is excellent… All around a bar to aspire to be on the same level as.” In addition to its massive gin collection, Atlas also has an impressive champagne list with over 250 labels at the ready.
Two Schmucks, Barcelona
Barcelona’s Two Schmucks is starting to be recognized as one of Europe’s best bars. “The cocktails are great, the glassware and ice are beautiful, the beer is good and the food is all exactly what one wants while drinking,” said Will Wyatt, owner/beverage director of NYC’s Mister Paradise, who recently worked a guest shift there. “What set this bar apart was the easy, upbeat, almost divey atmosphere. The walls are covered in graffiti, the rockstar staff will most certainly do a shot with you, and the music is really just whatever the staff feels fits best at the moment. You have the same comfort you feel in a grungy dive, but everything you drink and everything you eat is served perfectly, quickly and with great, inclusive service.”
Bar Astor, Sao Paulo
Dante owner Linden Pride fondly remembers the first time he paid a visit to Bar Astor back in 2012. “As soon as I walked through the door, it felt like home,” he said. “The combination of the Parisian style bistro with the Brazilian big smile service created such a buzz.” Expect to find a multitude of cocktails to choose from, including the classic caipirinha. Pride said he plans to return. “With the new cocktail bar opening in the basement, Sub Astor, the venue really is at the top of my list every time I am in Sao Paulo.”
Belmond Hotel Taormina, Sicily
The wine in Sicily is, of course, fantastic—but there are some bars of note on this southern Italian island as well. Belmond Hotel Taormina is one that appeals in particular to Linden. “Everything seems to taste better in Sicily, but there was something especially transcending the first time I tried Alfio Liotta’s signature Chierichetto ‘Negroni,’” he said. “A perfect balance of artichoke bitter, with the round aromatic subtlety of Cocchi vermouth. Simple, delicious and one of the best accompaniments to one of the most spectacular views in the world.”
Duke of York, Belfast
Sometimes you are in the mood for something simple, like a classic, comfortable pub that has a whiskey list as long as the time it takes to pour a proper pint of Guinness. For The Dead Rabbit’s Jack McGarry, that pub is Duke of York in his hometown of Belfast. “Duke's bartenders are super hospitable and knowledgeable,” he said. “It has one of the biggest collections of Irish whiskey in the North.” Expect some live music most nights to go along with your pints and drams, and be sure to check out the historical memorabilia adorning the walls.