I’ve experienced my share of delicious cuisine internationally; traveling for good food isn’t going anywhere. But it’s been the bars serving libations with a strong sense of place that have left an indelible imprint on my memories. While the concept is similar to culinary travel — trying something special in the place where people know it best or execute it at the highest level — seeking out amazing bars on the road is fully the wave I’m on right now. And since different areas of the globe specialize in specific spirit categories and even certain ingredients, it’s a great way to evolve your palate and gain a delightful memory.
So much of travel these days includes seeing a city through the lens of a local, especially for the Gen-Z and Millennial demographic. The proof is in the numbers. American Express Travel’s 2023 Global Travel Trends Report mentions that 79% of Gen-Z and Millennial respondents agree they’d “love to partake in a day in the life of locals in the destination they are visiting.” And to live like a local, you must drink like a local – which means hitting the area’s hottest or most underrated bars.
“Cocktail tourism is big now and we believe it is going to be huge,” says Dave Dove, founder of Global Bartending and co-founder of The Pinnacle Guide, which spotlights bars worldwide. “Whereas dining at a top restaurant might set you back a few hundred dollars, having a cocktail in one of the world’s best bars is a fraction of that – a really affordable luxury.”
Kristy Hanft, founder of Austin-based luxury travel agency Flaneur Travel Co., attests to the allure of traveling merely to hit a hotel’s acclaimed bar. She’s found that many of her clients have an increased interest in what she’s coined “the destination is the hotel.” Bars are surely a big part of that phenomenon. As an Austin, Texas area local, I’ve driven two hours to stay at San Antonio’s luxury Hotel Emma to experience Sternewirth, their tavern and club room. I was thrilled to indulge in their impressive bar offerings without even needing to leave the hotel.
Hotels are rising to the occasion by creating incredible bars (or bringing in incredible bar teams to create an in-house offering). The destination is certainly the hotel with Six Senses in Gulhi, Maldives. The hotel is home to the Chill Bar, built over the ocean just a few meters from a coral reef.
“The Chill Bar is passionate about using local ingredients,” Hanft notes. “Fruits and herbs native to the area. They have their own herb garden to use for all the cocktails.”
One of their signature cocktails uses gin, a coconut turmeric mixture, and coriander leaf – all made with local ingredients.
“The Maldives is known for its beauty,” she continues. “And you’re sipping a cocktail with herbs they pick from their garden.”
Curious travelers who let bars guide them benefit by gaining local intel on other boozy haunts they can visit.
“Get a seat at the bar, then ask the bartender for their top tips for cocktail bars or where they enjoy going out to enjoy great drinks and atmosphere,” says Siobhan Payne, co-founder of The Pinnacle Guide. “The people with the inside scoop are the ones who work on the ground. Bartenders are often a tight-knit community of people who are always keen to recommend each other’s bars!”
When it comes to the future of bar and cocktail tourism, Hanft says, “It isn’t going anywhere. It will just be integrated into itineraries forever.”
As a traveler and lover of fine bars around the world and close to home, I wholeheartedly agree.
Need some inspiration on what bar scene you should visit first? Check out three recommendations from drink and travel pros below!
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
“The bar scene is just getting stronger and stronger, with fantastic bars opening all the time. The city is a bit of a hub for travel within Mexico, which means there are lots of bartenders traveling through and lots of international bar takeovers, which inspires brilliant creativity. We also absolutely love the architecture, which really lends itself to beautiful bar setups.” – Hannah Sharman-Cox, co-founder of The Pinnacle Guide
“One bar I love in Paris is called Bar Joséphine in Hôtel Lutetia. It’s named after Josephine Baker because she used to stay at that hotel back in the day. It’s an old Art Deco hotel. When they were restoring the bar, they found these frescoes under six layers of paint, and it took them 17,000 hours to uncover and restore them. It’s a gorgeous place. It’s where to be seen during Fashion Week. Josephine Baker would say her two loves were mon pays et Paris (“My country and Paris”). So, their signature cocktail is J’ai Deux Amours (“My two loves”) made of Belvedere Vodka, barbecue sauce, smoked essence, and clarified mango.” – Kristy Hanft, founder of Flaneur Travel Co.
“I think Manila is underappreciated. Their hospitality is amazing, seriously. They’re super genuine and very welcoming. I always have a great time when I go there. Two of my favorites are Oto, for its incredible all-vinyl playlist and great hospitality, and Spirits Library, for its incredible selection.” – Desiree Jane, co-founder of award-winning Singapore-based bar Sago House