Best Bars in the World – A Work in Progress

It’s not a comprehensive list by any stretch, but not a dissertation either. Worth noting for future trips, worth going out of your way for and worth staying for the night. It’s been a hard job to research and harder to edit, but someone had to do it. If you’ve got any suggestions what we should include in our next round, jot them down to us @tropolis_ or

Rio Scenarium, Rio

Take a four-floored prop hire venue, add in some Brazilian party monsters and an atrium running through the space and tudo bem, you’ve got Scenarium. Enjoy a caiprinha in a different corner each round – 60s Barbarella? Turn of the century pharmacists? Be warned, this isn’t a hidden gem, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with people from all over. But it’s certainly big enough to swallow everyone up.

The Crown Liquor Saloon, Belfast

This old Victorian gin palace is as good as it gets with its myriad of tiles and brocade walls. It provides shelter for the most shy of drinkers – not just with the decorative frosted windows but with a run of mahogany elaborately carved wooden booths. In the snugs you’ll find gun-metal plates for striking matches, though they won’t be put to much use these days.

Bar Mut, Barcelona

Bar Mut – go forth and multiply! Come to this diminutive Diagonal bar for your fix of chilled Belondrade y Lurton and langoustines and covet its perfect fixtures and fittings. Mut straddles bar and restaurant so don’t be disappointed and book ahead.

Turandot, Moscow

It would be criminal not to include it; it would be equally criminal to eat here – it’s fantastically off-the-scale expensive. But if you meet an oil-igarch on a dark night and he offers to take you, bite his hand off. Or go for drinks which are pretty much on a par with London expensive-ish prices. It’s worth noting that the people watching is limited – the entire perimeter of the restaurant is lined with uber exclusive private dining rooms. This mini-Versailles is still the most lavish fit out in town. Perhaps there aren’t enough rare breed oligarchs to go round because it can be quiet at times.

Romkocsma, the ruin bars of Budapest

Again, not one bar but a whole random scene of bars that have cropped up in derelict courtyards, gardens and cellars of old mansion blocks. The romkocsma are in firm competition with the city’s spas as the best feature of the city. When the mercury rises in East Europe there’s nothing better than whiling the evening away in the shade admiring the hammered glory of the architecture over a glass of palinka or Unicum. Actually, there is, get your hands on sweet and cheap Tokaij or a froccs – a Hungarian spritzer with a different name for different ratio of wine to soda. Make it a hosszúlépés to ensure longevity to the evening (1/3 wine, 2/3 water).

Whether you’re looking for somewhere for a quiet chat, to take in plenty of art or to throw some shapes to East Euro rock, folk, roma, disco or rave there will be a bar for you. Best to consult the expert Ruin Pubs to plan your crawl – the current count is 16 in the city but they can be a little peripatetic, especially as the developers move in.

Yong Foo Elite, Shanghai

Come to Yong Foo for a taste of old Shanghai in its 30s heyday. This gorgeous villa used to be the British Consulate before becoming one of the city’s most exclusive members’ haunts. They’ve relaxed the rules and regs now so now anyone can enjoy the candlelit garden and rambling assembly of dining rooms and bars.

Bar Cock, Madrid

This perfect interior cube feels a little like an old medieval palace kitchen with its walk-in fireplace, beamed ceiling, lattice windows and flagstone flooring. This is the bar you dream about long after you return home. It is worth noting that the Art Deco Museo Chicote and retro Del Diego are snapping at the heels of Cock for the best cocktail bar in town. And they’re just within a minute or two’s walk from one another – don’t you just love it when that happens? A taxing 15 minute walk will take you to the gastronomic pleasuredrome of Mercado de San Miguel where you can guzzle Albariño like it’s going out of fashion at any number of little bars.

Bientang’s Cave, Hermanus, SA

Legend has it this cave was inhabited by a woman called Bientang at the turn of the 19th Century. She lived off the fruits of the sea. Contemplate her life whilst you dangle your feet in the crashing waves and try and stop your fishy snacks repatriating themselves back into the Atlantic. And why not do a spot of whale watching when the season is nigh? Yes, this really is the best spot in the country for admiring South Africa’s cetaceans.

Chinese Pilot, Moscow

The ultimate dive bar that always delivers. With four rooms they can simultaneously cater for those looking for a lost night and those looking for a quiet catch up. Or just start at one end and work your way to the other over the course of the evening. This great den derives its name from the aeroplane wing forming the main bar. As one might expect, it has distinctly curved edges which drinks just love to slide off, especially late at night. 

Taberna St Miguel, Cordoba

An extraordinarily intriguing town buried in in the middle of Andalucia. For a relatively small place Cordoba exudes history and has an extraordinary number of facets. So when you’ve managed to tie yourself up in mental knots about where and when you feel you are, wind up the hill through the old town to church and Plaza San Miguel where you will discover a tavern of the same name. Don’t waste any time in getting your chops round Andalucian fino, manchego and just about every other Spanish delicacy that your roving eye can spot once you’ve got over the glorious visual assault of the interior.

Golden Gai, Tokyo

Not one bar but an entire ward of bars. Tokyo’s Golden Gai is Tropolis’ spiritual home: intense and impervious. Populating this network of six narrow alleys and passageways are an extraordinary 200 tiny shanty-style bars which have somehow resisted development since WWII. Each building is only a few feet wide seating just 5 or 6 customers, cheek by jowl. Each bar caters to a different clientele and many have created a unique world within around a particular theme. Beware: as alternative as the Gai may seem, prices are high and many bars will sting you with a seating charge. The inside tip is that August’s Nouryou Kansha-sai festival sees some of these watering holes throw open their doors to newcomers and drop their cover charges.

Reform Club, London

The Reform Club was founded mid 1800s, at the centre of London’s Clubland. No, not SE1 but Pall Mall. It really is one of the finest Victorian buildings in the country, inspired by Italian Renaissance styles and designed by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament no less. There are numerous rooms to explore: studies, library, games rooms and a large garden shared with the Athenaeum next door. It doesn’t get too ‘us and them’ but you won’t see too much mixing going on.

The Reform is supremely old school: porters at the door are authorised to deny admission to anyone considered to be in breach of the dress code. Rumour has it, the cellars hold some of the city’s cheapest, expensive wine. Oh, and did we forget to say? It’s one of the hardest clubs to get into: your best bets are to befriend a member, put yourself through the trauma of facing the members’ board or pursue the pauper’s route, visiting with the masses over Open House.

Egerton House Hotel, London

So everybody thought London’s best martini is mixed at St James’ Dukes Hotel? Egerton House Hotel wins hands down for us. Master bartender and outrageous flirt, septuagenarian Tony Pizzuto hasn’t lost any edge off his thick Italian accent, even though he’s spent the past 30 years grafting behind the bars of Soho’s notorious disco and drinking dens. He will alternate between serving you the finest martini followed by cheese on toast to mop up the excess. It feels a little like you’ve come to visit an Upper East side granny’s parlour.

Tauscend, Berlin

Much flashier than one might expect from Berlin, this slick bar has a giant eyeball of a light beaming across the space from one end. We’re not sure if the irony of this all-seeing ‘eye’ has been lost on the Berlinski revellers here. What gives this place the edge is a handy secretish Japanese // Steak restaurant accessible from a door behind the bar.

Denis Simachev, Moscow

Muscovites used to break the door down to get to this blinging, banging bar. It’s not so much tipped over the cool curve but cascaded, so now we can all muscle in on the diminutive disco floor around the mosaic manga murals.

Montaña Bodega, Valencia

Valencia city centre has loosened its belt rather and now encapsulates the old fishing village El Cabañal. Despite this, the area still looks distinctly different with a unique ambience. Montaña has been championing local fino since 1836; there are barrels of the stuff lining the walls so there’s plenty to keep you in trouble. For dining, try and book the round table located between the bar, restaurant and kitchen – which is a little like eating in a centrifuge but you won’t miss a trick!

American Bar, Vienna

Adolf Loos’ American Bar – perhaps the finest drinking establishment known to man. This 1908 model of perfection hits the nail squarely on the head: the scale, the booths, the lighting, the onyx and amber rich materials and finishes. Faultless. To think that architect Loos died a pauper – he should’ve received a fine pension for leaving this legacy to the world.

Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Phnom Penh

Back in the late 60s when journalists were pouring over conflicts across SE Asia the FCC was one of the few watering holes in Phnom Penh. Today it still possesses that quintessential colonial look and feel: large overhead fans, palms and wicker furniture. Most people congregate at the riverside but to sit at the back enjoying a sundowner would award you a view of a vast colony of bats clouding the sky as they team out of the raspberry pink Khmer National Museum opposite.

Derby Bar, Barcelona

Quintessentially old school with a reserved ambience and original teak interior. The lone barman is always ready to serve in his starched white jacket. Although we’ve been there twice – and got the photos to prove it – there are no references or traces online. It is so quiet it could be a ghostly presence but we can assure you it can be found on the corner of Muntaner and Rossello in Diagonal. 

Venlo, Koln

I know it’s wrong to include bars that have *gone*, but I lament the passing of the original Venlo: it sported the look and feel of an office under the GDR – but not of the tourist tat Berlin bar ilk. This was municipal, bureaucratic. Oh woe, they’ve since tidied it up and gone all modern. Even the city’s Lovers Club has gone – a mini barn where they turned a blind eye to anyone swinging off the chandeliers. (You can’t do that in any of these ubquitious prohibition-era identikit bars – you might pull the pressed tin ceiling down. C’mon bar-makers try harder).

The Croft Institute, Melbourne

For anyone who has dwelled a little too long gazing into Damien Hirst’s reflective steel implements lined up in rows, this place is for you. And for those who loved getting a bit creative in the school lab – you’ll be teleported back to uniform days. This is a shameless theme bar, but pulls it off with real clinical aplomb: tall stools, slender taps, jars and flasks lined up in starkly lit cabinets. But they stop short of serving snacks in petri dishes.

Holz-Kohlen, Berlin

Looking for that quintessential Berlin bar? Kohlen is it. It has a large, incongruous mural of Battersea Power Station covering a wall. Kohl is charcoal in Deutsche. There’s not too much more to add: its simple, and perfect.

Lellebel, Amsterdam

Lellebel is a long skinny drag bar off the corner of Rembrandtplein. Pull up a chair and let the entertainment wash over you. You’ll find a miniscule stage in the corner with a chandelier casting a flattering light over the performers. Just in case you get swept along in the spirit of things. Clearly the British are most welcome…

Kalemegdan Terrace & Stefan Brown, Belgrade

Where to start in this die hard Balkan party town: one of the many raft bars on the Danube? The old cobbled Skandarlija? ‘Silicon Valley’ where the tough guys with their Ferraris take their enhanced babes? Well yes, all of the above – but start at the fortress in Kalemegdan Park, the green lungs of Belgrade. Within these ancient walls is a rooftop bar overlooking the twin rivers of the Sava and the Danube as they bleed into one. Contemplate the tumultuous events that have taken place at this very spot as the sun sets the sky on fire.

When night firmly sets in, head to the most random club in town: Mr. Stefan Brown. Located on the 9th floor of a most incongruous 60s building with a lift that opens straight into the club, the glass walls offer a stunning view over the city. The barmen may line up drinks along the bar running the length of the space, setting fire to them to get the party started. In any other city you might give this a wide birth, but this is Serbia.

Harry’s Bar, Paris

Sounds American? It is. In 1911 a former US jockey convinced an acquaintance and proprietor of NY’s Harry’s to dismantle it and to migrate it Rue Daunou. The decoration, cocktails, service and snacks (hot dogs served all night) rate high. It’s easy to mingle at the bar or you can choose a quiet table. You can often spot a celebrity or two trying to slip under the radar, making the bar feel quietly glamorous.

Death & Co, NY

Taking their drinks very seriously, this cocktail haunt offers a dark and moody asylum for East Village nightcrawlers. You don’t need to be a goth to fit in, Death & Co draws its name from prohibition era slang. Book in advance, dress up a bit, take advice from the bartender, and prop up the bar. In that order.

Enoteca Chafariz do Vinho, Lisbon

A skinny wine bar at the end of the Aguas Livres Aquaduct. This consists of a gigantic set or arches spanning the Alcântara valley, ending at the reservoir of Amoreiras. The whole system consists of a complex series of underground galleries, arches and skylights linked to the visible ‘principal body’, known as the General Aqueduct. These are scattered all over the city, giving rise to numerous fonts through the city. And this particular spot now gives wine, not water – in a truly biblical fashion. Try to see through the furniture which feels a little Ikea-esque and just enjoy the magic of the space.

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