The World's 27 Greatest Bars That Capture the Spirit of Their City

Cocktail tap system in a bar
Photo by Oskanov / iStock / Getty Images Plus

by Telegraph Travel experts, January 31, 2019

What’s not to love about a good bar? Everything about them suggests the possibility and danger of adult pleasures: hushed voices, the rattle of ice in a cocktail shaker, conspiratorial laughter, the mingled scents of aftershave, alcohol and perfume. There’s no better venue for a first date, but they’re also the perfect place for a long-married couple to flirt and gossip and recover the intimacy that brought them together all those years ago.

Yesterday, the world’s finest drinking spots were crowned in the annual World’s 50 Best Bars selection, this year’s winner being Dandelyan in London. Rather than replicating this list, however, what appears over the following pages is a selection of bars that for Telegraph Travel writers – myself included – best sum up the soul of a city.

Luxury Travel Advisor’s ULTRA Summit

May 21-23, 2019 | Reunion | Kissimmee, FL

This exclusive, invite-only event focused on the luxury travel market brings together world-class travel agency owners and managers with the most opulent, luxury suppliers to cultivate collaboration, share insights, and help carve a path into the future of luxury travel.

The slight formality of a bar adds an important frisson. A pub is like a pair of elastic-waisted trousers, above all comfortable, but a bar should have a more tailored fit. It’s less casual, demands a little more care and attention and is therefore infinitely sexier. Think of Humphrey Bogart playing Rick Blaine in Casablanca, with his impeccably-cut dinner jacket. He is the platonic ideal of all bar-goers: world-weary, wise and still, at heart, a romantic. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” he says. And yet, we know and he knows that his and Ilsa’s meeting was inevitable and that it could only have taken place in a bar.

It has to be the right bar. Some edge is fine but no one wants to risk their life. A lone drinker of either sex should feel comfortable being there with a book. And if they choose, they should be able to call upon the counsel of the bartender, the best of whom fulfils the varied functions of psychotherapist, confessor and expert pharmacist.

Like Rick’s in Casablanca, the greatest bars distil the essence of a city. They are a shortcut to its movers and shakers, somewhere to do business as well as to be entertained. I love the cavernous hotel bars in ex-Soviet cities, with their disreputable sense that someone might be trading arms or selling secrets. But I also love a stickily raucous place like the Maple Leaf on Oak Street in New Orleans

There’s a reason that bars figure so prominently in novels and films. It’s because of their implied possibility that anything might happen. They are places where people from all walks of life can run into each other, fall in love, team up for a heist, or begin or end some extraordinary odyssey. Think of the Mos Eisley cantina in Star Wars, or Peter O’Toole, in full desert garb, insisting on a glass of iced lemonade after a thirsty drive from Aqaba. It’s in a bar that Yul Brynner recruits Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven. And Raskolnikov goes to one to steady his nerve after staking out the pawnbroker’s apartment in Crime and Punishment.

In the wrong bar, it’s the clientele that you have to worry about, but the most terrifying bar in all fiction has no one in it. It’s the bar in the Overlook Hotel in The Shining where Jack Torrance gets drunk on whisky poured by a ghostly barman. The closest thing I’ve experienced to it was at the Ghostbar in The Whitney, formerly the Victorian home of one of the richest men in Detroit.

And what to drink in a bar? That’s a matter of personal preference, but to me, the beguiling, colourful, bittersweet grown-up flavour of a bar has one perfect counterpart in a cocktail. Mine’s a negroni. Marcel Theroux

New York: Holiday Cocktail Lounge

If the worn facade of the East Village’s Holiday Cocktail Lounge could talk it would tell booze-fuelled tales of revolutionary fervour when Leon Trotsky was a regular. Since then, the bar has experienced a different kind of revolution: it went from dive bar to dimly lit den of creative cocktails, run by the the Leff brothers, marking the area’s transformation from a once-dodgy neighbourhood to a destination for discriminating food and drink lovers. I cosy up to the horseshoe-shaped bar to sip on the Holiday Cocktail, a citrusy libation of vodka, amaro, and sparkling wine. David Farley

• 75 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10003, US; 001 212 777 9637; holidaycocktaillounge.nyc

• The best bars in New York


Barcelona: Caribbean Club

There are some bars that travel writers should keep to themselves (and this will lose me some friends) but the Caribbean Club, a tiny speakeasy behind a wooden door bearing nothing but a brass plaque, is too good not to share. Founded by an alumnus of Havana’s legendary La Floridita, it combines Cuban swagger and nautical trappings with old-school Barcelona elegance, and has a rum collection that would sink Jack Sparrow. You won’t find a better prepared daiquiri in town. Sally Davies

• 5 Carrer de les Sitges, Barcelona; 0034 93 302 21 82; no website

• The best bars in Barcelona


Hong Kong: Sevva

If I’m out to impress visiting friends, there’s only one place to go. Sevva is situated atop a stately old high-rise in the centre of town, haloed by neon-washed Victoria Harbour and some of Hong Kong’s most impressive buildings. The up-close views are the most magical the city has to offer – I.M. Pei’s Bank of China, Sir Norman Foster’s HSBC, the neo-classical Court of Final Appeal. Head to the terrace and order a fruity number such as the Kama Sutra, rum laced with mango, passion fruit and lime. Lee Cobaj

• 25/F, Prince’s Building, 10 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong; 00852 2537 1388; sevva.hk

• The best Hong Kong hotels with amazing bars


Sydney: The Baxter Inn

The Baxter Inn is so well-concealed I ended up sipping cocktails in the wrong bar. Eventually, I was led through the unmarked door, down the grungy stairs and into the candelabra-lit den. Behind the 10-metre-long bar are 800-plus whiskies, many accessible only by library ladder. Behind the rollicking good-time vibe here is a team that ensures every drink is made with precision and served with panache. The Tennessee whiskey with fresh Granny Smith apple is a refreshing house special. Ariela Bard

• 152-156 Clarence St, Sydney; thebaxterinn.com
 

• The best nightlife in Sydney


Rome: Litro 

I love Litro, a hybrid wine bar, cocktail joint and slow food-style bistro in the Monteverde area of Rome. With its cool vintage décor it perfectly sums up the cultured, hip-but-not-pretentious vibe of this laid-back suburb, home to creative types. They specialise in natural wines – and mescal. Take a seat outside on the pretty patio and order a mezsconi – a Negroni in which the Mexican spirit replaces the gin. Lee Marshall

• 5 Via Fratelli Bonnet, Rome; 0039 06 4544 7639; no website

• The best bars in Rome


Los Angeles: The Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel

Nowhere does old Hollywood glamour like the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is why their Polo Lounge is always my first stop when I have friends visiting LA. There have been countless back-of-the-napkin deals made under the candy-striped ceiling – Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn and Clark Gable were all regulars – but my favourite spot is the bougainvillea-filled patio, where you can order a Howard Hughes gin cocktail (he lived in one of the bungalows) and keep a look out for familiar faces. Luciana Bellini

• 9641 Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills; 001 310 887 2777; dorchestercollection.com

• The best nightlife in Los Angeles


Tokyo: Gen Yamamoto

The atmosphere feels more restrained than riotous. But what Gen Yamamoto – a tiny bar in Azabu-Juban – lacks in party glitz, it more than compensates for in its quintessentially Japanese experience. It’s a cocktail take on a traditional tea ceremony – uber-mixologist Yamamoto san, dressed in lab-style whites, serves an array of cocktails (always seasonal, mixing spirits with a cornucopia of flavours such as Hokkaido prunes). What I love most? Not having to thumb through a menu – instead, sit back at the eight-seat counter and watch him work his magic. Danielle Demetriou

• 1-6-4 Azabujuban, Anniversary Building 1F, Minato, Tokyo; 00 81 3 6434 0652; genyamamoto.jp

• The best nightlife in Tokyo


Athens: Baba au Rum

If I had to pick one joint that sums up the late-night social scene, it’s this tropically tinged boozer. Louche smokers and discerning drinkers spill out onto the pedestrian alley. Inside, the décor is a mash-up of mid-century modern with a tiki twist, and the summery soundtrack – from reggae to rumba – is just as eclectic. Naturally, rum’s the thing to order: go for any of the signature daiquiris with house-blended botanicals. Lively but laid-back, hip but unpretentious, Baba au Rum is a pioneer of the resurgent spirit of Athens. Rachel Howard

• Klitiou 6, Athens; 00 30 21 1710 9140; babaaurum.com

• The best nightlife in Athens


New Orleans: Arnaud’s French 75 Bar 

When I think of New Orleans, I think of decadence and tradition, and this plush spot in the heart of the French Quarter connected to Arnaud’s Restaurant has both in spades. It’s a place unconcerned with fads and trends, so you never feel out of place. Sit back and order their house French 75 cocktail, plus a side of their must-have soufflé potatoes. After the first drink, head upstairs to the hidden Mardi Gras museum and return, newly impressed, for your second round of drinks. Paul Oswell

• 813 Rue Bienville, New Orleans; 001 504 523 5433; arnaudsrestaurant.com

• The best hotels in New Orleans


Madrid: Bar Cock

A favourite haunt of Ava Gardner and Francis Bacon, Cock (short for cocktail) has been going for nearly a century and is always packed with artists, actors and anyone who doesn’t have a nine-to-five job. With dark panelled walls, green leather banquettes and killer dry martinis, this classic bar has barely changed since I first went there in the 1980s. No one cares what you are wearing or how old you are, which makes it very smart indeed – and very Madrilenian. Annie Bennett

• 16 Calle Reina, Madrid; 00 34 91 532 2826; barcock.com

• The best bars in Madrid

Moscow: Pereletny Kabak 

My favourite bar in Moscow is Pereletny Kabak, “The Flying Inn”, named after a novel by G. K. Chesterton. It has only been open a year but it already feels like part of the fabric of the city. It’s a tiny, subterranean space in a 19th-century building, with an adjoining bookshop and gallery, so it has a raffish, Bohemian atmosphere and matching clientele. They serve wine, food and cocktails, but here, I’d drink vodka neat, in the Russian style. Marcel Theroux

• 10 Mansurovskiy Ln, Moscow; 007 495 637 2158; flyinginn.ru

• The best nightlife in Moscow

Rio: Pavão Azul

In the middle of Copacabana, this is the essence of Rio distilled into one gloriously no-frills drinking hole. Arriving late when no tables are free, one is erected on top of a street bollard in moments.  If I’m feeling hungry, fresh shrimp pasteis with chilli sauce arrive by the basket. Cold beer is ferried between tables non-stop in large bottles, shared like wine and refreshed before you realise you’ve finished it. The caipirinhas are essential. Doug Gray

• 66 Rua Hilario de Gouveia, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro; 0055 21 2236 2381; no website

• The best nightlife in Rio de Janeiro

Paris: Le Connétable

This is my go-to late-night bar for its Parisian spirit. You won’t find a mixologist-curated cocktail menu in this eccentric Marais spot, but your drinks (a glass of wine, a generous G&T) will be served with gusto. The crowd is a mix of chatty locals, fashion types and curious visitors. There’s often live music around the piano, either from professionals or tipsy patrons. You’ll have stories to tell afterwards. Hannah Meltzer

• 55 Rue des Archives, Paris; 0033 142 774140; leconnetable.net
 

• The best bars in Paris

Chicago: Aviary

Cocktails meet molecular gastronomy at Aviary, sister bar to the world-renowned restaurant Alinea. When you order, you may not know what form your beverage will take, but you can count on drama, art and surprise – kind of like Chicago itself. If it’s available, request In the Rocks. It’s a personal favourite and, while the ingredients change, the vessel is the same: an egg-shaped ice orb that you shatter with a mini slingshot. Kate Silver

• 955 W Fulton Market, Chicago; 001 312 226 0868; theaviary.com

• The best hotels in Chicago

Singapore: Native

Singapore has its fair share of swanky bars but you can’t do better than Native for something unique. The bar flies the flag for all things local. From locally foraged pink jasmine blossoms, Thai rum and Indian whisky to local weaver ants, owner Vijay Mudaliar is out to win fans with his unlikely pairings of Asian flavours. Part of the pleasure of drinking here, for me, is savouring its rustic wood-heavy setting on the upper storey of a conservation shop house. It’s hard to find but worth the effort. Evelyn Chen

• 52A Amoy Street, Singapore; 0065 8869 6520; tribenative.com

• The best nightlife in Singapore

Buenos Aires: Los 36 Billares

Buenos Aires is one of the world’s pre-eminent bar-hopping cities – there’s even a government body charged with conserving the “bares notables”. Los 36 Billares, which opened in 1894, is one of these. It’s staunchly traditional and still has billiard tables beneath original Tiffany lamps. Old-school waiters waft away any attempts at gentrification. For food, I go for a portion of fugazzeta (onion-topped pizza) or a meat empanada. Cynar is my favourite digestif, followed by a carajillo – espresso with rough local brandy. Chris Moss

• 1271 Avenida De Mayo, Buenos Aires; 0054 11 4122 1500; los36billares.com

• The best hotels in Buenos Aires

Lisbon: Four Seasons Hotel Ritz

My favourite bar in Lisbon, in the heart of the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz, comes with a vibe that picks me up even before my drink arrives. It spills out onto a flower-filled terrace overlooking Eduardo VII Park. The hotel bridges Lisbon past and present; built in 1959, it now hums with 21st-century intrigue. My tipple is the Ritz Mojito; rum, Louis Roederer Rosé, raspberry juice, sugar cane syrup and Agua Castello. Delicious. Mary Lussiana

• 88 Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca, Lisbon; 00 351 21 381 1400; fourseasons.com

• The best bars in Lisbon

Mexico City: Zinco

A musician on a train once told me that if I was ever unsure of what to do in a new city, I should find the nearest jazz bar. I did just that in Mexico City and now have a regular hideaway in the otherwise sketchy downtown. A stone’s throw from the Zocalo square, this dark, sultry venue in a former bank vault is a showcase for local as well as visiting jazz bands. There are small tables with food service, but I prefer to perch myself on the corner of the bar, enjoy a slow mojito or premium mezcal and a great fish ceviche. Chris Moss

• Calle de Motolinia 20, Centro Histórico, Centro, 06010 Mexico City; 0052 55 5512 3369; zincojazz.com

Toronto: Carbon Bar

I always go back to Carbon Bar. It’s full of people, even in a city obsessed with the next big thing. It’s also one of the only places in the city where hipsters hang out with suits, and no one feels out of place, which parallels Toronto’s renowned melting-pot character. Table service is whip-sharp and cocktails are spot on, particularly the Pit-Fired Old Fashioned, which contains “house-smoked Buffalo Trace” – this doubles as a barbecue joint, after all. Doug Wallace

• 99 Queen Street East, Toronto; 001 416 947 7000; thecarbonbar.ca

London: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Hidden down an unassuming alleyway off Fleet Street, Ye Olde Cheshire has a gloomy charm befitting of London, and literary connections aplenty: Wodehouse, Twain and Dickens were all regulars, the latter alluding to the pub in A Tale of Two Cities. Rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666, the boozer’s dusty nooks, vaulted cellar and open fires make it a fine place to hide from the English winter. Order a pint of bitter and mind the sign erected in less enlightened times: “Gentlemen only served in this bar”. Gavin Haines

• 145 Fleet Street, London EC4A; 020 7353 6170; no website

• The best rooftop bars in London

Melbourne: The Everleigh

The Everleigh ticks numerous boxes: discreet location, enviable cool and obsessive attention to detail. While its swirling fans, dark wooden panels and leather booths evoke the pages of a Raymond Chandler novel, this is Melbourne, where noir is tempered by an easy affability. The best seats in the house are at the marble bar, where immaculately groomed barkeeps craft classic cocktails with renowned technical brilliance. Indeed, even the ice is custom made by the bar’s own ice-making company. Cristian Bonetto

• 150-156 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne; 00 61 3 9416 2229; theeverleigh.com

• The best nightlife in Melbourne

Berlin: Rum Trader

None of Berlin’s new wave of hip cocktail spots can match the character of Charlottenburg’s Rum Trader. Open since the 1970s, it’s located on an elegant street in west Berlin. Getting in requires ringing a bell and surviving an intense look-over by owner Herr Scholl. Enter the smoke-filled interior, order a Hemingway daiquiri (definitely not a mojito), enjoy the crackle of the gramophone vinyl and meet your new friends – Herr Scholl included. Paul Sullivan

• 40 Fasanenstrasse, Berlin; 00 49 30 88 11 428; no website

• The best nightlife in Berlin

San Francisco: Trick Dog

Trick Dog is all of my favourite things about San Francisco. A small place that wields a big influence; pioneering but unpretentious. There’s nary a leather booth or a mixologist, just a smattering of stools and friendly bartenders in rumpled T-shirts. Eccentric menus change every six months; past themes include Pantone shades and political slogans. Currently, each cocktail represents a well-loved San Francisco restaurant, featuring ingredients such as “tea-smoked maitake mushroom”. Laura Chubb

• 3010 20th Street, San Francisco; 00 1 415 471 2999; trickdogbar.com

• The best nightlife in San Francisco

Miami: Broken Shaker

The legendary Broken Shaker at the Freehand Hotel, set in a poolside courtyard with overhead string lights twinkling from the trees, embodies the soul of Miami with its laid-back, subtropical vibes. It draws from the area’s diverse melting pot of Latin and Caribbean cultures when it comes to whipping up their fresh, creative cocktails. The menu changes constantly – I tend to gravitate towards whatever sounds the most unusual, such as the Zapatero de Jerez, a boozy blend of fino sherry, apricot brandy, cinnamon orgeat and a Zacapa rum. Go for sunset happy hour. Shayne Benowitz

• 2727 Indian Creek Drive, Miami Beach; 00 1 305 531 2727; freehandhotels.com

• The best nightlife in Miami

Lima: Barra 55 

This is my favourite bar in Barranco, Lima’s trendiest district. It is low-lit, but not dingy, and doesn’t have the snooty pretence of some cocktail bars you find in cosmopolitan cities. You can order Spanish-style tapas with a Peruvian twist – like alpaca sausages and soft Andean cheeses. They also specialise in gin – try a Jungla cocktail, made with mint, cocoa, lime juice and London to Lima, Peru’s first-ever gin made from pisco grapes. Simon Parker

• 28 De Julio, Barranco, Lima, Peru; no phone; no website

Cape Town: Chinchilla

When the sun starts its slow descent into the Atlantic, and the light turns molten, I go for a front-row seat at Camps Bay’s sexiest rooftop bar. The seat will be a Soda-designed sofa, the cocktail a watermelon mint G&T, and the view will stay spectacular. Now the palm trees are lit up, the backdrop an inky sea. Order another G&T to celebrate a momentary truth: everything is beautiful. Pippa de Bruyn

• Shop 120, 2nd Floor, The Promenade Building, Victoria Road, Camps Bay, Cape Town; 0027 21 286 5075; chinchillarooftop.co.za

• The best nightlife in Cape Town

São Paulo: SubAstor

A friend recommended this mood-lit, velvet-lined speakeasy, tucked into a basement in the fashionable Vila Madalena neighbourhood (think arty spit-and-sawdust samba clubs and botequim bars with craft beer and groomed beards). Entering, I felt like I’d walked into a film-set filled with beautiful locals. I could imagine Jessica Rabbit sipping a martini at the long, illuminated marble bar. The cocktails are fabulous - go for the tangy Bijou Caju (gin, dry vermouth and cashew-fruit bitters). Alexander Robinson

• Rua Delfina 163, São Paulo; 0055 11 3815 1364;  subastor.com.br

 

This article was written by Telegraph Travel experts from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

Related Articles

Where Is Hot in February? The 10 Best Holiday Destinations

Embracing Solo Travel Can Be Empowering for Women

Keeping the Magic Real

Exodus Travels: 12 Ways We Can Be Better Travelers in 2019