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Global Tastemakers is our first-ever reader’s choice awards, celebrating the best culinary destinations in the U.S. and abroad. F&W readers voted based on travel completed within the past three years, on categories including restaurants and bars, cities, hotels, airports, airlines, and cruises. Due to the limitations of pandemic travel, this year’s Global Tastemakers winners reflect a smaller portion of the globe. In many categories, we’re including an editor’s pick to shout out some more culinary destinations in places you can’t miss. See the full list of winners at foodandwine.com/globaltastemakers.
We asked, and you answered – rather emphatically. Food & Wine readers voted for these ten bars as the best in the country, and this list, which includes more than a few surprises, is a testament to how far and wide American cocktail culture has evolved over the past decade. It is now truly a national affair.
Yes, New York — arguably the birthplace of the modern cocktail renaissance — holds onto half of these wondrous watering holes. But the top score was claimed by a hot spot out of Tennessee. And we fielded serious contenders from all 50 states.
What makes a bar great, according to you? Well, it has to come correct with high-minded, ingredient-focused cocktails, of course. Beyond that, the common thread here is an unapologetic elegance. These third places thrive by making you feel as though you’ve stepped into a different time and place. Where you ended up is a dimly-lit den offering sophistication and comfort in equal measure. Drink it up!
The Fox: Nashville, Tennessee
The pride of East Nashville is a 1000-square-foot parlor practicing hospitality of the highest order. All too often elevated environs such as these can feel stuffy, leaving casual drinkers feeling intimidated rather than invigorated. Not the case at The Fox. Here, the bar staff wants you to feel right at home in their living room. It’s just a living room that happens to hold more than 400 bottles along its back bar. And though the spirit-forward selections on the menu are complex, they are also playful and inviting. To wit, a signature tiki preparation reimagines a Colada with nixtamalized corn liqueur and white miso honey, and renders it in a ceramic mug fashioned to look like a sly fox.
Chez Zou: New York, New York
The fourth floor of a Midtown office tower is not exactly the most obvious locale for a prized Manhattan bar. But this swanky, palm-lined lounge is worth traveling for, whether from the Village or much further afield. Anchoring its beverage bonafides is bar director Joey Smith who was plucked from NoMad. His signature preparation is the Dirty Zou, a sort of DIY Dirty Martini, where you can combine olive oil vodka and grape leaf vodka in whatever proportions you see fit. Any drink you pick from the Stiff Drinks section of the menu is guaranteed to do more than just tingle your tongue. It’ll impress all your senses.
Chandelier Bar: New Orleans, Louisiana
As its name suggests, the standout feature of this entry within the Four Seasons’ lobby is an oversized lighting fixture suspended gracefully above the bar. It includes over 15,000 pieces of glass and crystal, and the drinks shine just as bright. From a circular slab of marble, beverage manager Hadi Ktiri positions himself as a perfunctory student of New Orleans’ cocktail history. He handles Sazeracs and Hurricanes as deftly as he does the more esoteric offerings like the Roffignac — a refreshing cognac-based sipper named for the 1820s mayor who gave the city its streetlamps.
Pebble Bar: New York, New York
This Rockefeller Center revival has already made quite a splash since its opening in 2022. There are three levels to drink your way through here: a boisterous second-floor bar, comprised primarily of standing room; a third floor, which adds food and sit-down service; and an exclusive fourth floor where the A-listers mingle. Throughout the 20th Century, the townhouse existed as Hurley’s, a famed celebrity haunt. In today’s iteration, it is owned by celebrities, with high-profile investors including Pete Davidson, Justin Theroux, and Nicholas Braun. You might not see them, but you can expect to see some well-composed cocktails hovering at around $20 per pour.
Overstory: New York, New York
Hoisted high above the Financial District of Lower Manhattan, Overstory is a sight to behold. While you might come for the sweeping views afforded to its 64th-floor balcony, you’ll end up staying for the mindful mixology of bar director Harrison Ginsberg. His boozy offerings maximize efficiency; you’ll rarely see something with more than four ingredients on this list. The selections leverage whimsical tinctures and house-made modifiers to land on rounded flavors and smoothed textures. In The Clouds is a particularly cogent example, balancing American whiskey against Earl Grey tea, vanilla, and clarified milk under a splash of Champagne. Like the bar itself, these drinks exist on a higher plane.
Bar Marilou: New Orleans, Louisiana
A bright red beacon within the boutique Maison De La Luz hotel, Bar Marilou is Parisian in feel and execution. The drinks are refined, ready for Instagram, and fond of elements such as egg white and cognac. It’s also a great venue for Champagne by the glass with a total of nine separate vintages on heavy rotation. The bar itself holds just four seats, but you’ll be just as well cared for at one of the many tables lined up underneath the expansive bookshelves. Plus you might appreciate that added space for the myriad bar snacks which are obligatory here. Frogs’ legs with Szechuan peppercorn, anyone?
The Bar at The Spectator Hotel: Charleston, South Carolina
Another hotel bar gracing the list, this one is The Spectator’s spin on a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Green leatherback stools provide a stylish and comfortable vantage point to spy all the action going on behind the bar. Mixologists here crank out the goods with laser-like acumen. Selections tend to shift with the seasons, but they almost always lean heavily on punny titles. Islay An Egg is a fun standby; an Ardbeg sour, playing peatiness against citric acidity, upon the backdrop of a velvet mouthfeel. Plus, there’s a whole lot of shaking going on; the third Thursday of every month is reserved for live jazz.
Bemelman’s Bar: New York, New York
Belelman’s has been an Upper East Side institution since 1947. But only recently has the classic off-lobby bar of the Carlyle Hotel been embraced by a new generation. Zoomers are undoubtedly attracted by the Instagram-ready appeal of just about everything in the space … From the red-jacketed bar staff, to the pitch-perfect Martinis, served in iced down carafes. Throw in live nightly piano performances and backdrop it all with the colorful walls — hand-painted by the bar’s namesake artist — and you’ve got the underpinnings of what Gen Z refers to today as “a vibe.”
Dead Rabbit: New York, New York
When Belfast expats Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry opened this multi-story affair in 2013, it was an absolute game-changer. Not only did it uplift the cocktail credentials of the Irish bar (which hitherto had only been viewed by Americans as a divey destination for draught Guinness), but it also kickstarted the nightlife scene for an entire section of Lower Manhattan. A decade later it remains as relevant as ever — and bigger, thanks to a recent expansion of the primary barroom. Its second-floor drinks parlor continues to push the boundaries for craft mixology, with drinkable amuse bouche, and evolving menus that follow a singular theme. In its current form, it affords a drinkable voyage across the Emerald Isle.
The Violet Hour: Chicago, Illinois
To enter this James Beard Award-winning temple of tipples, you must famously pass through a curtain. It’s only fitting considering that they’re putting on a show. The Violet Hour bills itself as a destination for “artisanal cocktails in the heart of Wicker Park.” Indeed, they’ve been delivering on that promise since 2007. But it’s also a great place to come quench a thirst for knowledge. The attentive staff here isn’t just happy to walk you through the history of hooch, they’re eager to share that expertise. And they’re satisfied in knowing that whatever direction they point you to (drinks are broken down by Shaken or Stirred), you’ll come away with something as distinctive as it is delicious. The bar opens daily at 5 p.m., and just like for any respectable performance, reservations are recommended.
Editor’s Pick: Katana Kitten: New York, New York
New York City’s Katana Kitten deserves every ounce of hype it gets, thanks to the singular vision of Masahiro Urushido, whose funky, underground bar plays with Japanese influences to riff on classics and create new ones, like the Hinoki Martini (with junta daiginjo and hinoki tree essence) and the Toki Highball (with koume and Tiki Japanese whisky.) Urushido’s playfulness — and profoundly delicious izakaya-inspired bites — is a breath of fresh air in a world where esteemed bars can often feel overly serious. — F&W Editors