Bartenders tell us how to scope out the best drinks, whether you’re in Tokyo or Cartagena.
‘Tis the season to travel, and whether you’re hitting the slopes or the beach, at the end of the day, you’re going to want a place to hang and have some sort of beverage. But if you’ve ever sat in front of 70 browser tabs containing 70 different travel guides to the same city, you know that figuring out where to go when you’re relaxing on vacation can be…..not so relaxing. Where do you go? The club or the speakeasy? Dive or hotel bar? And how are you going to get into that great, locals-only tiki bar right on the beach?
Bartenders to the rescue. When bartenders travel, you better believe they lock down all the key watering holes before they touch down. So we asked a handful of bartenders across the country the best ways to figure out where to toss ‘em back in unfamiliar territory.
Ask a Local Before your trip, find someone who has lived in the area you’re visiting—a friend, or a friend of a friend, or maybe your high school girlfriend’s second cousin. (This is one thing Facebook is actually good for.) “I reach out to friends to see if they have any suggestions,” says Ayron Vandergriff of The Wheel in Austin. “Or perhaps someone that lives in the area where I’m going.” With so many people moving to Austin from out-of-town, he says, “chances are I’ll get a solid recommendation or two!” And you’ll likely skip the places that are on all 70 travel guides.
Ask a Bartender Once you’ve landed, for the best bar advice, go to the source: bartenders. Shaun Stewart of The Elk Room in Baltimore calls bartenders “the best way”: “They will give you the places you want to see, since everyone always wants to drink like a bartender.” Start at your hotel bar, or any bar nearby where you’re staying that you get a good vibe from.
Follow the Music “I usually seek out music when I’m traveling,” says Dustin Drankiewicz of The Pink Squirrel in Chicago. “[I] want to experience the city’s nightlife to the fullest.” A good music scene often leads to “aesthetic and vibe,” he notes, especially if there are folks in your group that might not be drinking. And if you’re alone, you’ll have something to do that’s not looking at your phone.
To Yelp or Not to Yelp? When all else fails, there’s always the internet. Ektoras Binikos of Gabriel Kreuther in New York says “I look online, I look at Yelp, at TripAdvisor.” These sites, whatever you may think of them, will at least have photos of the space. Ricky Houston of Imperial in Portland agrees: “The internet and its host of unverifiable reviews must do when all else fails.”
But, word of warning from Alex Holder of MMH in Austin, Texas: “If you’ve ever worked in hospitality, you know Yelp reviews are not to be trusted!” So take them with a grain of salt—ideally after a shot of tequila.