These bars have a few things in common. The majority are modest in size and have a cosmopolitan outlook. They are both adored by residents and well-known tourist attractions. The bartenders are usually dressed to the nines, and at least one trademark cocktail should be ordered before departing. Finally, writer and famed cocktailer Ernest Hemingway is often mentioned as a past regular. Above all, they haven't altered much through time and are instead regarded as timeless by successive generations. Now is as good a moment as any to pay tribute to such tenacity.
PUNCH polled a group of top drink-world experts, including historians Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Philip Greene, François Monti, and David Wondrich; journalists M. Carrie Allan, Paul Clarke, and Kara Newman; and all-around roving cocktail experts Philip Duff and Angus Winchester, to assist in our painstaking selection of the most iconic bars around the world.
1. The Savoy's American Bar is located at London's Savoy Hotel
According to Greene, one of the most famous locations in cocktail history, and “one of the first European outposts of that great late 19th-century American export, the cocktail,” as the name suggests. The talent behind the Covent Garden bar has always been not just exceptional, but also historically significant. Past bartenders include Ada Coleman, a female bartending icon of the early twentieth century and the inventor of the Hanky Panky; Harry Craddock, author of the influential 1930 volume The Savoy Cocktail Book; and Peter Dorelli, head barman for two decades, who kept the flame burning in the late twentieth century and continues to preach the cocktail gospel today as the education secretary for the Savoy. It's an impenetrable art deco cage of white-jacketed waiters and bygone manners that's "elegant, old school, and intimately linked to mixology history," as Allan puts it.
2. Barcelona, Boadas
This intimate, triangular space—located just steps from the tourist nexus Las Ramblas—was opened in 1933 by Cuban Miguel Boadas after he finished his bartending schooling at El Floridita in Havana. It is the cradle of the thrown Martini, in which the drink cascades theatrically through the air from one mixing vessel to the next. “It's a mix of civilised drinking—the American style—and the European unhurried way of life that has all but vanished,” Monti explains. Meanwhile, the crowd includes “some of the crustiest, most hilarious regulars around and an unequalled casual élan,” according to Wondrich.
3. London's Dukes Bar
Small bars loom big in the minds of cocktail connoisseurs, and few are quieter, more restrained, and more reserved than Dukes, the quiet, well-upholstered room immediately off the lobby of the Dukes Hotel in Mayfair. (The hotel is hidden down a couple of small alleys off St. James's Street and is difficult to find.)
If not for the global renown of its house Martini, created in 1987 by bartender Salvatore Calabrese, Dukes would have remained a quiet locals-only hangout. It is made tableside and visitors are restricted to two. It is as icy as Nome in January and completely unadulterated (it is poured straight from ).
4. Havana's El Floridita
This is, without a doubt, the most famous of all the world's famous bars. The corner Havana bar and restaurant dubbed the "Cradle of the Daiquiri" and much more, exemplifies what a cocktail bar should be, from the bartenders' exuberant flair to their unfailing elegant service, perfectly consistent drinks, and inviting atmosphere. The bar's reputation expanded tremendously during the Prohibition years, when Americans flocked to Cuba, and it became Ernest Hemingway's favourite hangout. The bar's Hemingway link is undeniable—a life-size statue of the author stands at the far end of the bar—but it's the unbridled professionalism and elegance of the venue and its bartenders that have cemented the bar's unshakeable position in the cocktail world.
5. Harry's New York Bar is located in Paris
The bar was shepherded into renown by Scottish barman Harry McElhone, the author of many well-known cocktail manuals (one of which introduced the world to the Boulevardier) and inventor of numerous famous drinks in the 1920s (The Monkey Gland, Scofflaw). Even if it isn't the pub where the Sidecar was invented, it is the bar most identified with the drink: One of the earliest written recipes for the cocktail appears in Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails by McElhone.
It is still managed by a family and exudes a mischievous insouciance, attracting the same footloose traffic now as it did 100 years ago. “If you catch the bar at the proper time,” Wondrich adds, “it can be a magical place.” “You raise your third Sidecar to your lips in a tiny nook outside of time, where the ghosts of drinkers past support your elbow.”
6. Venice, Italy's Harry's Bar
Harry's Bar, located only feet from the Grand Canal, is known for its endless Bellinis and small, ice-cold Martinis, which have become the bar's trademark drinks. A six-stool bar centres the beautiful, compact space, which is lit by a number of tiny wall sconces and has a selection of wooden seats and tables. Since its inception in 1931, it has been a magnet for boldface writers and artists—including Orson Welles and, of course, Ernest Hemingway—and, like most of the bars on our list, has managed to handle the tourist crowds without losing its sang-froid. The bartenders and waiters are white-jacketed ambassadors of goodwill, and the menu is the brainchild of a goofy collective ego that has no qualms about its own grandeur.