Column: The Wide World of Bars
One of the things I love about the world of the bar is the sheer variety—no matter your palate or aesthetic preferences, there’s somewhere for you to grab a drink. We all have those default places we like to frequent for whatever reason, but I think it’s fun to get out of the zone of comfort and tip back a drink or two at a new place, especially one that’s of a style I might not otherwise frequent. This month I’d like to shine a light on a few of the many types of bars out there, celebrate their contributions to our liquid culture and give you some ideas of new places to try the next time you work up a thirst:
These are the places that venerate the classics as well as celebrate the new and cutting-edge, where the so-called “mixologists” ply their trade. These bars are where I head when I want to enjoy a finely crafted Manhattan or see what unique techniques and ingredients are being utilized by my compatriots behind the stick. I’ve spent most of my time behind the bar at these types of places and so I have a definite soft spot for them. These types of bars offer a prime opportunity to explore flavors and ingredients you’re not familiar with.
One of life’s great pleasures is settling onto a barstool, ordering up a shot of well whiskey and a beer, putting some quarters in the juke box and unwinding with no pretense at a no-frills straight-up joint. There’s no highfalutin design elements at these bars—maybe some dusty trophies on the back bar from the time the owner sponsored that neighborhood softball team, or an autographed photo on the wall by the bathroom of some long-dead D-list celeb. Had a bad day and want to just disappear into the woodwork for a while? These types of bars are the places to do just that. The word “dive” usually connotes a negative, but I think, in relation to bars anyway, it’s a badge of honor.
When I read about a certain boutique whiskey, hear about a hard-to-find Belgian gueuze or a particular Italian red I’ve never experienced, I head to one of these bars that specialize in a particular spirit, beer or wine. Not only do they usually have great selections, but the bartenders tend to be founts of information and great sources for other libations to try out. Optimally, I like to block out an afternoon, get comfortable and do some flights at these establishments to take advantage of what they have to offer.
Even if you’re not a sports fan, there’s nothing like experiencing the passion and excitement of a crowd of devout fans as they follow their team to victory (or loss for that matter) on the big screen. Want to see some impressive speed work? Check out how fast bartenders at these places get drinks (and the correct change) during the playoffs to thirsty patrons five deep at the bar.
And of course there are other categories and sub categories as well—the few I’ve mentioned here only scratch the surface of the myriad types of bars out there. One thing I really love is when these categories overlap and I get surprised by a drink offering I didn’t expect. I’ve had a solid Manhattan at a place with 13 different games showing on an array of big screens, found some unique beers at corner pubs that usually specialize in buckets of Buds and enjoyed a pour of high-end whiskey at a mom and pop neighborhood joint. It’s all about getting up off the couch and experiencing what the wide world of bars have to offer. Cheers!