Mr Porter Drinks
The Best New Bars
From speakeasies to mezcalerias – the greatest drinking dens from around the world
La Commune, Paris. Photograph by Ms Elodie Dupuis, courtesy of LeMoal & LeMoal
New trends come at you quickly on the bar scene. This year, apparently, is all about advanced scientific technology, a return to classics, batched and on-tap cocktails, mezcal (and its amigos sotol and raicilla), vermouth, aquavit, recycling and sustainability. Phew. It’s hard to keep up. Pointless even, if the bars in which these trends come to life are no good. And we believe the finest drinking dens are as much about service, style and standards as they are the menu.
The good news is that the latest crop is ticking all the boxes. So far in 2017, the world has welcomed a celebration of modern French spirits in Paris, a celebration of modern French spirits in London, a mezcal mecca with model looks in West Hollywood, a place to drink roquefort vodka (who knew?) in Tokyo and the wine bar we’ve all been waiting for in Sydney. MR PORTER rounds up the scene-y bars to be seen in.
01. Swift, London
Left: the upstairs bar at Swift. Right: Sgroppino. Photographs by Mr Addie Chinn, courtesy of Swift
You don’t have to know (or care) who runs your favourite bar if it works for you, but in the case of Swift, rest assured that the staff behind it know their stuff. An elegant and grown-up cocktail joint with two floors with different characters, it was opened this year by the team behind Nightjar and Oriole, and former Milk & Honey staff. They’ve created a destination that covers just about every nightlife need. Upstairs is a stop-in bar for those pre-theatre, post-prandial times when you want to nip into Soho for a quick one, and it specialises in short, sharp concoctions with speedy nibbles (what slips down quicker than an oyster?). Downstairs is darker, more intriguing, somewhere to settle into with a list of late-night, luxurious sipping drinks designed to lubricate social occasions. We’ve enjoyed the Cobblestone (whisky, walnut liqueur, sherry and bitters) more than once.
02. Fine & Rare, New York
Left: Fine & Rare. Photograph by Mr Ben Hider, courtesy of Fine & Rare. Right: Tequila Spice. Photograph by Ms Cayla Zahoran, courtesy of Fine & Rare
Sometimes, on a night out, you want nothing more than something slushy, boozy and served in a jug. Those are fun nights, for sure, but for those occasions when you’d rather mark the fact that you’re an adult, and a sophisticated one at that, there are places such as Fine & Rare. It’s grand. It’s striking. It’s civilised. It’s 20th-century NYC distilled into a bar. It’s Mad Men. It’s the Cotton Club. It’s leather banquettes and polished wood. It’s live jazz. It’s strip steak, Littleneck clams and mac ’n’ cheese. And, as the name suggests, it’s all about hard-to-find liquor. The bar stocks an incredible range of lesser-spotted spirits that will make even the casual visitor feel like an intrepid adventurer. If the arm-long list intimidates (or the $4,000, $5,000 or $15,000 bottles of booze do), lift off with a Scotch, rum or tequila tasting flight.
03. Laurel Hardware Mezcal Bar, Los Angeles
Left: What's Your Wifi? Right: Laurel Hardware Mezcal Bar. Photographs by EDLT Photo, courtesy of Laurel Hardware Mezcal Bar
This tiny and seriously stylish bar in the lobby of the hip Laurel Hardware in West Hollywood (it’s a restaurant, don’t rock up for a packet of wood screws) is as much a destination as its host. And really, we can’t stress it enough, it’s a looker – dusky and sultry with marbled floors, wraparound chairs in Loro Piana fabric and theatrical lighting. The spotlight is on mezcal, a trendy spirit in recent years, but here it is given maximum respect by the dedicated proprietors. They’re part-owners of a mezcal brand, but also give shelf space to an array of other outstanding producers as well as mixing it into seasonal craft cocktails (try the Night Manager, with Cynar, bourbon, cold-brew coffee, Fernet-Branca and thyme). If you can bag a table, keep it and order a few platefuls of the imaginative Mexican food (chilled lobster tostada, yes please).
04. Mixology Experience, Tokyo
Left: Mixology Experience. Right: Blue Cheese Martini. Photographs courtesy of Mixology Experience
Around the world, a pioneering band of science-minded bartenders are changing the definition of what can be called a drink. Their hardware has passed the traditional shakers and spoons to include lab-grade equipment such as rotary evaporators and cyclone separators. At the forefront is Mr Shuzo Nagumo, owner of this new Roppongi bar, who boldly combines food flavours with alcohol to create whole new categories of cocktail. Typical is his trademark martini, made with chocolate, foie gras vodka and oak-barrel smoke, or the White Tomato Gin Fizz, with basil gin, tomato water, citrus and egg. Not out-there enough for you? Sit at one of the best seats in the classy, clubby room – at the bar, of course – and watch Mr Nagumo earnestly mix roquefort vodka or milk-washed hop gin, and serve them in some of the most beautiful vessels you’ve seen, and know you’re witnessing something special.
05. La Commune, Paris
Left: Le Planteur. Photograph courtesy of La Commune. Right: La Commune. Photograph by Ms Elodie Dupuis, courtesy LeMoal & LeMoal
La Commune, from which this hip Belleville bar takes its name, was a revolutionary parliament that sat in France for a few months in 1871. The English equivalent might be a London boozer called The Rump Parliament, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. The French do rebellion in a far classier way than the English, and a bit of that vive la révolution spirit is evident in La Commune nouvelle. It wears its Frenchness proudly, not through a reverence for wine, but a celebration of all the other great French drinks – cognac, armagnac, eau de vie, liqueur and rhum agricole, a high-quality spirit from the French Caribbean. It’s served here in finely balanced punches that dispel all disturbing thoughts of those lurid 1970s bowls. Share one with friends on the extravagantly verdant terrace, or take a seat at the bare-luxe bar.
06. Coupette, London
Left: Coupette. Photograph by Hue and Cry, courtesy of Coupette. Right: The Vine. Photograph by Mr Jason Bailey, courtesy of Coupette.
The Savoy’s Beaufort Bar is without doubt one of the finest in the city, but it’s a special-occasion venue, where most Londoners rarely venture on a whim. It’s now possible to luxuriate in the largesse of its former head bartender Mr Chris Moore, however, who recently opened this singularly French bar in the East End heartland of Bethnal Green, a nascent hotspot for good places to drink. It’s a sleekly inviting place, which makes the most of its location in a former pub, with a menu that celebrates cidre (not cider), calvados, French wine and, given its patron’s pedigree, cocktails. The champagne pina colada, made with coconut sorbet and Moët & Chandon, is already causing a stir. You can eat, too, and the food is as French as you like – confit duck, chicken liver parfait – but served with a refreshing lack of formality.
07. Bar De Luxe, Hong Kong
Left: Black Negroni. Right: Bar De Luxe. Photographs courtesy of Attire House
Barflies in Asia were abuzz at the news that esteemed Tokyo bartender Mr Hidetsugu Ueno was to open his second venue, after the famous High Five, in Hong Kong, on the 13th floor of menswear emporium and grooming salon Attire House. It brings Japanese focus and dedication to Wyndham Street, and the quality of the cocktails shines through without distraction, although the many design details (Japanese walnut bar, sink-into leather armchairs) are considered and charming. The stunning view over the towers of Central is a draw, too. Mr Ueno has placed his protégé Ms Yuriko Naganuma in charge, and her sky-high standards mean drinks such as the signature Hidden Gem (Nikka From The Barrel whisky, mugwort liqueur, amaro and sugarcane) are a cultured treat. Her concise menu is filled with drinks made without gimmick or fandangle, and pushes Bar De Luxe into the top flight of global cocktail destinations.
08. Johnny Fishbone, Sydney
Johnny Fishbone. Photographs by Mr Parker Blain/Broadsheet Media
In neighbourhoody Darlinghurst, this suavely handsome place describes itself as a “wine parlour”, and the lead image on its website is of a heavily tattooed pair of arms de-corking an everyman bottle of rioja, which neatly sums up the ethos of Johnny Fishbone. It’s enthusiastic about good wine, but never snobbish or exclusive or reverential, and serves it with a side order of good times. Well-trained staff will help you navigate the menu, which majors on natural wines, both Aussie and international, and is arranged not by grape or region but by famous Johns. So Mr John C Reilly’s section is for “sparkling boogie nights” and Mr John Travolta’s is, of course, “summer nights”. Well, why not? Alongside the 60-strong list of Johns is a series of regularly changing small plates, which focuses on fish cooked in creative ways. Why can’t all wine bars be this fun?