Wine bars and cocktail bars can be wonderful places to absorb the local atmosphere as well as to experiment with the drinks of a foreign land. In 2018, we found memorable bars in locations like Split and Singapore, as well as in more-familiar cities such as London and Madrid. Here are our 2019 Editors’ Choice Awards for Best Bars.
Bright and fashionable, this new wine bar on the opposite side of the Mtkvari River from the Rooms Hotel Tbilisi stands on a touristy street that one of my guides disparaged. Nevertheless, I loved this bar, with its friendly, English-speaking staff and excellent air conditioning. The youthful bartender Anna proved knowledgeable and excited about the wines, pouring us tastes of eight selections aged in qvevri (traditional terra-cotta vessels buried in the earth). My favorites were the complex Simon Chkheidze Cellar Tsitska-Krakhuna blend, redolent of pear, citrus, nuts and exotic spice, and the rich Tchotiashvili Saperavi Limited, full of currant, cherry and violet flavors. This wine bar appears on few lists of Tbilisi’s best, perhaps because of its youth, but it was one of my favorites in the city. It’s an ideal place to simply relax in comfort with a fine glass of wine or to delve into Georgia’s unique vinous delights.
49 David Aghmashenebeli Avenue. Tel. (995) 51-449-0049
Paradox recently moved to a new location near the grand Republic Square, adjacent to the old center of Split. Its roof terrace was closed when I visited, but I liked the small, simple and stylish interior. Both bartenders I met spoke fluent English and happily tailored a tasting to my specifications: two whites and two reds, one light-bodied and one full-bodied. (It’s surprising how often I make this seemingly simple request, only to find wine bar staff unwilling or unable to comply.) I had a delightful spicy and citrusy Grabovac Kujundžuša from inland Dalmatia; an aromatic and gorgeously rich Stina Pošip Majstor from the island of Brač; an exciting, untamed Tomić Plavac Mali from Hvar; and a big, luscious Vuina Crljenak Štafileo from just outside Split. It was a joy of a tasting.
Paradox Wine & Cheese Bar
Ul. Bana Josipa Jelačića 3. Tel. (385) 21-787-778
I wondered if Dandelyan, set in the Mondrian hotel on the South Bank of the Thames, could live up to its reputation. In 2017, the Spirited Awards named it the World’s Best Cocktail Bar, and in 2018 it earned the World’s Best Cocktail Menu award. Considering such accolades, I braced myself for some attitude from the staff, but everyone proved friendly and down-to-earth, and the cocktails were both unique and exquisite. Served in an unexpected flute, the Nitrate Manhattan mixed Tapatio Blanco Tequila, Talisker 10-year Whisky, rhubarb saison beer (flattened and infused with herbs), bitters and lanolin, to enrich the texture. It was a smoky, bittersweet delight. I also loved the Koji Hardshake, a soothing, sweet-savory nightcap of Dewar’s 12-year Scotch, lemon, koji (in this case, miso clarified with egg white), cream and licorice bitters, garnished with a truffled marshmallow. A manager mistook me for a regular here, and if I lived in London, I would be. (Note: This bar will close in early 2019. The same team plans to open a reconceived cocktail lounge in the space shortly thereafter.)
20 Upper Ground. Tel. (44) 20-3747-1063
Madrid is said to have more bars per capita than any other European city, but one way or another, the Madrileños have a serious thirst for cocktails and are demanding connoisseurs of a well-made drink. This explains the huge popularity of barman Alberto Martinez’s elegant bar with high ceilings, a huge number of bottles and a minimalist décor in the city’s Triball neighborhood, which is known for its lively nightlife. Martinez and team serve up a full array of expertly made classic cocktails, but what really impresses is the vast number of variations they propose on the gin and tonic, which just may be Madrid’s favorite cocktail.
1862 Dry Bar
Calle del Pez 27. Tel. (34) 60-953-1151
Supervised by French super-chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar boasts a superlative restaurant. But the Cookhouse is also serious about its cocktails, and on a recent visit I enjoyed a couple of brilliantly fashioned gin drinks. One was a Summer Negroni, made of coconut-infused Beefeater gin, Campari and Antica Formula vermouth. It was an excellent salve to the Singaporean heat. Equally refreshing was a Cucumber Martini that featured Hendrick’s gin, lemon, cucumber and mint. Bartenders were also able to elevate basic gin and tonics largely through the use of craft gins and accoutrements such as dried juniper berries and star anise, which made them look as good as they tasted.
The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar
17D Dempsey Road. Tel. (65) 1800-304-5588