One of the first things visitors do after dropping their bags in the hotel lobby of a place they’ve never been to is ask, “Where’s the bar?” The answer to that question often brings directions to built-in hotel bars, standardized sports bars, or forgettable franchised joints. Then, there are those occasions that lead you to “secret” bars tucked down alleyways or behind nondescript façades, or you happen to find yourself in a landmark hotel that is home to a legendary watering hole.
The Daily Meal set out to find the most iconic bars, famous pubs, and legendary cocktail lounges outside the United States (The Daily Meal will soon reveal its 150 Best Bars in the United States). The list includes dive bars, taverns, and Tiki bars, too. The list does not include nightclubs or establishments that function predominantly as live music venues, though bars that happen to feature live music were considered.
The inaugural list includes 150 bars from 64 countries and territories, with England having the most establishments at 16 and London having the most bars out of any city at 12. We offer choices in 91 cities; not just capitals like Beijing, London, and Paris, but smaller, remote places, too, including Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands, Lhaviyani Atoll in the Maldives, and Mustique in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Daily Meal’s list pays homage to bars that have become influencers. These are establishments whose bartenders have invented innovative drinks in their time that went on to become mainstays on drink menus all over, like American Bar at The Savoy, creator of the Hanky Panky (a variation of a sweet martini with sweet Italian vermouth, dry gin, and two dashes of Fernet Branca, a bitter Italian digestive, garnished with an orange peel); Harry's Bar in Venice, where the Bellini (one part white peach purée and three parts prosecco) was born; and Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands where the Painkiller (dark rum, cream of coconut, and pineapple and orange juice, topped with freshly grated Grenadian nutmeg), originated.The Daily Meal’s list pays homage to bars that have become influencers. These are establishments whose bartenders have invented innovative drinks in their time that went on to become mainstays on drink menus all over.
Newer bars were chosen for daring mixology and courage to stretch bartending boundaries, like Barchef in Toronto, Canada, which is pushing the envelope with molecular mixology. Still others, as is the case with tequila cantina La Capilla in the Mexican town of Tequila itself and with Academia da Cachaça in Rio de Janeiro, were chosen for impeccable and encyclopedic dedication to one variety of alcohol.
In choosing our 150 best, we called upon more than 100 experts who either live abroad or spend time there frequently, including — bar and restaurant critics, food and drink writers, and bloggers with wide bar-going experience (click here for a partial list of panelists). These experts were supplemented by The Daily Meal’s well-traveled, bar hopping editorial staff. We asked all the respondents to help nominate places to build upon our ballot of 2,000 contenders, then evaluate the selection and vote for their favorites, by region and then by country.
We asked our panelists to vote using the following six criteria:
1. DRINKS: From innovative cocktails and traditional offerings to regional and house specialties, please evaluate the bar's drink menu according to 1) selection 2) presentation and 3) fidelity to tradition and/or innovative excellence. Only select the bars you believe offer extraordinarily strong drink programs.
2. MIXOLOGY: Evaluate the quality of 1) drink preparation and "pour" 2) presentation and 3) adherence to hand crafted excellence.
3. BARTENDER: Evaluate the 1) professionalism 2) skills and 3) personality and style of the bar staff and how they contribute to preparing the finest drinks and the bar's ambiance.
4. DÉCOR/EXPERIENCE: From the bar's interior to the overall ambiance to the service of all staff, evaluate the bar for the overall experience it provides. Only select the bars that excel in these areas. (For very casual places, where ambiance and service are beside the point, judge how appropriate the surroundings are for the drinks being served.)
5. CUISINE: While not a requirement to make the list, The Daily Meal wishes to recognize bars that offer an exceptional food menu in addition to drink menu. From innovative menu options and traditional regional cooking to modern international fare to plating/presentation to quality and taste, please evaluate the restaurant’s cuisine according to 1) freshness 2) flavor 3) presentation and 4) either fidelity to tradition or innovative excellence.
6. ESSENTIALS: Vote for the bars you consider "don't miss" establishments, definitive of their city or region. (Think in these terms: You can't leave [given city/region] without drinking at…)
Every bar, then, had the chance to be voted on one time in the survey with each point of merit having equal weight. We did not discriminate according to location; no town, island, or enclave went unconsidered.
The drinking options today are seemingly endless, from bodegas and neighborhood pubs to cocktail lounges frequented by celebrities past and present. No matter the place, theme, or drink menu on offer, each bartender has the same goal – to make the best drinks possible using time-honored traditions and exceptional products while adding a personal touch, yielding a memorable, almost magical experience.
Any list like this one is bound to stir disagreements among discerning drinkers; even our own staff was divided on which bars should make the final cut.
After checking out The Daily Meal’s 150 Best Bars, share your compliments and critiques in the comments section below — or on Twitter using the hashtag bestbars — and let us know what bars you think should have been included, or should have been left out.
If you have imbibed at any of these bars, pin your favorite photos on The Daily Meal’s Pinterest board. Which bar made it to the top of the list? The answer might just surprise you.
Nestled on the top floor of the Albert Hotel, Star Lounge offers picture postcard views of Riga. While the food offerings are pedestrian, the drink menu offers the opportunity to sample Latvian-style cocktails like the Clavis Riga (Riga Black Balsam, rhubarb liqueur, apple juice, and syrup), the Innocent Balsam (Riga Black Balsam, peach liqueur, peach juice, and ice cream), and the Fruity Summer (Riga Black Balsam, currant, lime, orange, and ginger ale).
Located at the entrance of Eden Island, KONOBA is a bar, lounge, and restaurant designed by Albert Angel, who incorporated a nautical theme into the space. Sails serve as room dividers and refreshing drinks are prepared at the hull-shaped bar adorned with metal “fish scales.” The relaxed bar serves Mediterranean cuisine infused with island flavors indoors or on the breezy terrace overlooking the marina.
Editorial director Colman Andrews (@Colmanandrews) and The Daily Meal editorial staff contributed to 150 Best Bars.