Josh and I seem to be the masters of 1) short vacations and 2) bar hopping. In the past couple of years, we have visited San Francisco, New York, Querétaro, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Havana where each city was
graced dealt with our presence as we attempted to conquer every cocktail bar. I think that we have this bar hop thing down pat and I wanted to share some tips for doing a proper bar hop, especially when traveling to a new city. Cocktail culture is exploding everywhere so this can be a really fun thing to throw into your usual travel plans.
Before traveling to a new city (or out in your own city), do some research. Find out what bars are getting the best reviews. Find out who the bartenders to watch for are and then find out where they will be behind the wood. The best way to get this information? Ask your local bartender. The bartending community is an incredibly tight one. Everyone knows and supports one another and it’s a very cool thing. There is no doubt, that your local bartender will have a bartender friend working in the city that you are planning on visiting. Another great resource is to check out what is happening with Tales of the Cocktail. Tales is a cocktail festival that takes place every summer in New Orleans. All of the great bartenders attend. Awards are handed out and anything new in the cocktail world is first seen here. It’s worth looking on the website to see who is winning at the competitions.
Mapping it Out
Hopefully after doing your research, you have a big list of bars that you want to visit. Now, you need to be realistic about which you can actually visit in one night. Are there any that are better than others? What neighbourhoods are they in? How much travel time will you need to get around? How are you getting around? What time do they open? Cities like Havana are easy to conquer on a proper bar hop because the majority of the cocktail bars are located in Old Havana which is completely walkable. Cities like Los Angeles are massive and it’s realistic that you will only be able to hit one neighbourhood in an evening. I think that the maximum number of bars that we visited in one evening was seven and that was in Vancouver, a city where Josh once lived.
On our recent trip to New York City, we went to a birthday party the night after our big bar hop night. We were telling the New Yorkers there how we had spent our previous evening and they were amazed at how many cocktail bars we had visited. It was then that I pulled out my map and everyone laughed. I am telling you, these nerdy maps are what enable us to do the bar hopping that we do. Josh give me the list of bars, and I map them out to make a realistic plan of what we can hit up. On that New York trip, we did visit everywhere on the map except for Please Don’t Tell (they had a wait list that was too long) and Attaboy (which we visited the following evening). Make a map and have the bars listed in priority so that if you begin to run out of time, you’ll know which to skip in order to visit the best ones.
Eat. Drink Water. And Repeat.
I highly recommend choosing the bar to begin the night to be one that serves food. Good, hardy food. You’ll need it. Plan to start the night there, close to when they first open. Have some food with that first cocktail and you will be good for the night. We made this mistake when we were in Los Angeles. We started the evening at Las Perlas where the then-manager Raul Yrastorza was behind the bar. We had gone specifically hoping he would be working but we didn’t anticipate his generous hospitality. A few too many mezcals later and we had to leave to get some food. We got it at the next bar but after that, we were only capable of visiting one more spot before calling it a night. The following month when we visited New York City, we were prepared and went to Mayahuel first to get some delicious Mexican food in our tummies before conquering the Lower East Side. Eat food, specifically at the beginning of your bar hop night.
Drinking water whilst drinking alcohol should be obvious but let me remind you: drink the water. Any water that is offered to you, please just drink it. Try to stick with the rule of drinking a glass of it (at least!) for every cocktail that you consume. That way you will avoid any potential hangover. Plus, you will not get too overly intoxicated so you will then be able to remember all of those awesome bars that you visited.
Sit at the Bar
The best experience that you can have at a cocktail bar is to sit where you can actually see the bartender doing their magic. Talk to them and ask questions about what they are doing. Don’t be shy! Some of those cocktail menus are incredibly overwhelming, especially when you are not a bartender yourself .(Hi! That’s me!) It’s incredible what you can learn when you are listening to the creator of the that delicious concoction in your hand. Plus, the more that you know, the more that you will appreciate it.
Order something that the bar is known for. If it’s a Mezcal bar, you had best not be ordering Gin. If they have a special going that night, order it! You will likely never have a chance to taste it otherwise. Like a bar a lot? Ask if you can take home the cocktail menu. Most proper cocktail bars don’t mind when you do this. If you’re worried about getting too intoxicated, do some professional drinking: have a few sips of your drink but don’t finish the whole thing.
All in all, have a plan, have fun, be safe and make sure you have a way home via a taxi or the good ol’ heel-toe express.