10 Exceptional Drinking Experiences

There are places where, thanks to the setting, the bartender, or the ingredients, a drink is an experience unto itself. Add these to your bucket list.

140 West 44th Street
Jimmy’s Corner is long and narrow, as if some great prophet looked at a hallway and said, I see a dimly lit saloon here, complete with an extended bar and walls plastered with photos of boxers. Opened in 1971 by erstwhile pugilist James Lee Glenn, Jimmy’s sits midblock on West 44th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, in Midtown Manhattan. Which is what makes this no-frills bar unique. It’s a classic American dive, and the only one around, a relic from when the Times Square area was more depravity than Disney. Bartenders, who can spot a near-empty glass with the eyes of a hawk, are friendly but gruff. Case in point: As a 50-something woman with spiky bleached blonde hair mixed me another whiskey soda, I nodded to the boxer-bedecked wall behind the bar and said to my friend, “They don’t really like boxing much here, do they?” The bartender looked down the bar, pointed her finger at me, and bellowed with a thick Russian accent, “He make feeble attempt at joke!” She might have been right. If you go to this watering hole, make sure you’re thirsty (drinks are cheap) and your jokes are not so feeble. This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue. Image courtesy of Shanna Ravindra
1439 Griswold St, Detroit, MI 48226, USA
“Have you heard about d’Mongo’s? It is Ryan Gosling’s favorite place to visit when he comes to town!” Although I never saw Ryan Gosling, bartender Red knew immediately that I was new in Detroit and that I’d never been in before. She recommended I try the Detroit Brown, made with Michigan’s own ginger ale: Vernors. As I sipped gently from the cold glass and looked over the top of its rim at the eclectic crowd filling the speakeasy, I couldn’t help but think, “Who cares what celebrity does or doesn’t frequent this place, I’d come back here for the drinks and the crowd any day!” Cafe d’Mongo’s draws a crowd every night it is open—which is usually only on Friday, maybe Saturday—and whether the customers come because of the drinks, the music, the crowd, or because they hope to see Ryan Gosling or Mark Wahlberg, the point is they keep coming. There’s an element of secrecy that has kept even my hotel’s valet from being able to tell me how to get to the revered speakeasy, yet it’s one of the first places I heard about when I asked people on the street where I needed to go get a drink in Detroit. If you find yourself at Cafe d’Mongo’s, tell Red I say hello, and order the Detroit Brown.
955 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607, USA
At visionary chef Grant Achatz’s bar, vessels such as “the Porthole” (pictured) are as original as the drinks. The chef-trained bartenders use fresh herbs, small-batch spirits, and hand-carved ice in their cutting-edge libations. Those who want the total Aviary experience should reserve the chef’s kitchen table for a 10-course cocktail tasting menu paired with inventive bites. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to visit The Office, the bar’s invitation-only basement speakeasy. This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue. Image courtesy of DYLAN + JENI
142 Rue Montmartre, 75002 Paris, France
Past the bouncer and down a black staircase 32 feet below ground is Paris‘s most buzzed-about semi-private club, Le Silencio. Housed where Molière was allegedly buried and Zola printed “J’accuse”, it’s of little surprise that the enigmatic director David Lynch would select the location for his louche lounge-cum-entertainment space, which he designed (expect gold-leaf walls, raw wood cladding, bespoke neo-1950’s furniture) - mere steps into the labyrinthine halls and you’ve entered the entrails of another world, one that evidently takes cues from Lynch’s art. Before midnight, it’s member’s only but once midnight strikes, a smartly dressed crowd of cocktail-crazed creatives floods inside, snatching up seats in the art library, loafing at the bar or lighting up in the mirrored smoking room that was conceived to resemble a forest. Killer cocktails and exclusivity aside, Le Silencio’s biggest draw is its broader offering. Presentations from the local artistic set are frequent as are culinary/cultural events, intimate concerts and private screenings. As the guest of a member, my first visit was not so much to explore the space (though there is plenty to unearth here) but for a private tasting of chef Flora Mikula’s work. A couple hours into the evening and I realized Le Silencio wasn’t about being seen but about discovery - of high culture and the utterly bizarre.
355 11th St, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA
Is Bar Agricole the best bar in the city? It’s certainly in the top five, based on the groundbreaking cocktail program developed by bartender and owner Thad Vogler; the award-winning architecture and interior design by local favorite Aidlin Darling; and a daring menu centered around produce from nearby organic and biodynamic farms. Vogler used to bartend in Tokyo, and his obsession with Japanese precision shows. You’ll see influences of that in the hand-cut ice cubes he uses, and in Agricole’s glassware and aprons (all from Japan). The bar stocks a limited selection of 20 or 30 spirits, almost all small batch, and with a special focus on rum. Come for drinks, come for dinner, or come for brunch: the midday menu highlights include ricotta doughnuts with quince marmalade and a chicory salad with fuyu persimmon and house-made vinegar. Pro tips: In winter, book the private dining room (nicknamed the Grotto) for a seated, though still laid-back, dinner for up to 32 people; for an outdoor event, Bar Agricole’s covered and heated patio is perfect for larger, more casual groups. For lessons in liquor, check out the private spirits tastings that Vogler offers through IfOnly.
Carretera Llaullipata
Cap your trip to Machu Picchu with a pisco sour on the Orient-Express train ride back to Cuzco. After boarding this luxury train for dinner and the return journey, everyone meets in the bar car for a drink. Live music, the rocking of the train, and the excitement from just experiencing Machu Picchu is a buzz to remember. Soon all the passengers are dancing as they travel through the steep mountainsides under the stars. —Lauren Maggard This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue. Image courtesy of Orient-Express
2525 Kaanapali Pkwy, Lahaina, HI 96761, USA
In an island area of West Maui that draws many transplants and seasonal employees, Dale Simonson’s longevity at 40 years behind a bar is amazing. But top that with his expertise at making tropical drinks and his friendly attitude and the Tiki Bar may just become your favorite Maui hang-out too. Dale is said to know all of his world-wide visitors by name and some will make certain he’ll be manning his tropical “ libation- station” before they book their Maui vacation at the very Hawaiian Ka’anapali Beach Hotel. Here is his recipe for the popular Blue Hawaii: · 14 oz. Hurricane glass · 3 oz. ice in hurricane glass · 1 ½ oz. Vodka · 2 oz. Sweet & Sour mix · 3 oz. Pineapple Juice · Top with 1 ½ oz. Blue Curacao Dont forget the umbrella and floating orchid!
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