Doing a good bar hop while visiting a new city is a bit of an art form. In the past few years, Josh and I have had the pleasure of visiting some great cities in the world including San Francisco, New York, Vancouver, Mexico City, Havana, Sydney and Melbourne. Every city that we visit, we map out one day – no matter how short our trip (Sydney was a whopping 48 hours!) to bar hop and see the cocktail bars that we have heard and dreamt about. With all this experience, 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. The plan for a bar hop is to visit a bunch of cocktail bars in one night and ideally you only stick at each for one drink.
Before traveling to a new city (or out in your own city), do some research. Find out what bars are getting the best reviews, what bars are on the latest “Best of” list and, you know, look into what bartenders are working in that city. (Hint: you can find that out here! And if there are none listed for your upcoming destination, make it your mission to get the ones that you meet to sign up!) A great way to get this information (besides here) is to 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 so he was familiar with all of the stops and how to get around.
On a 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 gives 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, hearty food. You’ll need it. Plan to start the night there, near the time 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 there 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 a life altering 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 cocktail special going on 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. A lot of 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 – that way you will definitely last (and remember!) the entire night.
Pro tip: Avoid shots! Bartenders love to offer them and it may feel rude to deny that tiny little drink but by avoiding them, you’ll be better able to enjoy the entire bar hop.
All in all, have a plan, have fun, be safe and make sure you have a way home via a taxi/lyft/public transit or the good ol’ heel-toe express.