What one person looks for in a bar may be totally different than what someone else looks for.
That’s one of the great things about being able to visit so many of them. They’re all unique experiences, and it’s a totally subjective experience.
There are bars my wife loved, that weren’t necessarily my favorite (Lobster Bar in Hong Kong). And vice versa (Bar Ben Fiddich in Tokyo).
And this forms the basis with where so many good conversations and debates are formed.
Eventually I got to a point where I’d been to enough spots myself, that rather than just blindly follow and promote the official World’s 50 Best List, it was time to start forming some opinions and a list of my own.
Enter, Slightly Pretentious’ Top 50 Bars in the World List
Now, this is is in no means meant to replace or compete with the World’s 50 Best List. Rather, my goal is to compliment it. Whereas that list is made up of experts who know much more than me about cocktails and bars, it is a panel. And I’m willing to bet, that I’ve been to more of the bars on those lists than many of their panelists have.
So what’s unique about my list, is that it’s a list from one person (ahem, me), and are all places I’ve personally visited.
What Makes a Bar World Class? My Three Criteria
Now having been to dozens of the establishments that are widely considered among the best in the world – I’ve been able to formulate my own thoughts and criteria into what makes a good bar, well, good.
Let’s also be clear, this is very subjective. non-scientific and caters to my personal preferences.
But there are consistent elements I’ve found that make a bar great.
1) The Drinks
This for me is first and foremost. If you have unbelievable drinks that you can’t find anywhere else in the world, I don’t care if your bar is hiding behind a dumpster – I’m going to enjoy it.
And I don’t mean just being able to serve me a proper old fashioned – even a half decent cocktail bar should be able to do that.
What are you doing that is unique? What are you doing that I haven’t ever tasted before?
The reason I gravitate towards cocktail bars over beer or wine bars, is because cocktails have the ability to show me something I’ve never experienced before. A taste so foreign, I never would have expected it (Casper’s Ghost at Deadshot in Portland, Oregon.) Or a sensory experience that is so unique and creative you’re getting more out of the sip than just a delicious drink (Wake and Bake at Aviary NYC).
A top bar should be able to do the classics with extreme precision, but for me, then getting creative and making something that is truly your own is one of the hallmarks I look for.
2) The Atmosphere
My other quest is to visit the Top 100 Golf Courses in the world. Many of the most highly rated courses by traditional standards aren’t necessarily the most scenic. They’re not perched on ocean front cliffs, or nestled in the foothills of towering mountains.
They’re often just in a neighborhood in an upper middle class suburb.
But for me, as someone who isn’t as much of an architectural purist, you can’t as easily separate the setting from the course itself. I think Pebble Beach is the best golf course in the world, and a big part of that is due to the way the land and the setting enhances the experience.
Bars are the same way.
A unique setting and experience can elevate a bar that might have been otherwise average into something special.
For instance, when visiting Rasputin in Florence, Italy you have to look for the unmarked door displaying a single lit candle outside of it. Once you find it, you descend into a crazy dungeon like bar that truly feels like you’re stepping back in time. The drink menu might not have been quite as robust or creative as some other bars, but the experience and ambiance created elevates it.
You can have a great bar without a perfect atmosphere, but the more you can make the space itself part of the experience – the better it’s going to be. Speak Low in Shanghai is one of the best examples of this.
3) “Instagram Worthiness”
The final part of what I think makes a bar great, is what I refer to as Instagram Worthiness.
This section is all about the intangibles and the unique story your bar brings. What elements of the drinks, the space, or the experience makes you say “holy crap, I have to share this.”
One of the best examples of this is Nottingham Forest, in Milan.
The atmosphere in the bar is pretty cool, but nothing overly special. The drinks themselves, from a taste perspective, weren’t my favorite, but it might be the most “Instagram Worthy” bar in the world.,
Every drink is a unique experience, that begs to be shared. A capsule you take with your drink that completely alters the taste? A mug that has two different scents on each side of it, that make the same drink taste entirely different based on which side you drink from.
The list goes on.
There’s a fine line between a bar that relies on gimmicks and one that does “instagram worthiness” in a way that truly provides a memorable and unique experience.
The Perfect Bar
You can have a good bar that only features one of these.
A really good bar in some cases. Teardrop in Portland, Oregon is a great example. The atmosphere is pretty status quo, and there’s nothing particularly instagram worthy about the experience, but the drinks are consistently very good.
That’s why it’s been around for over a decade in one of the hottest food and drink cities in America – but it’s also why it will never crack into the top 100 list.
There are hundreds of bars around the world, that fall into this category.
A bar that nails 2 of the three criteria can very much be one of the best bars in the world. How far up it goes on any official list, will be dependent on the individual experiences raters have and what they like.
But the bar that nails all three of these things? Those are the bars that are hard to argue are among the world’s very best.
Best 50(ish) Bars in the World: My List
Now that you understand a little bit about what I personally think makes a bar great, here is my list of the best 50 bars in the world.
Or maybe a better way to phrase it would be to say my 50 favorite bars in the world.
- Bar Ben Fiddich – Tokyo, Japan
- Speak Low – Shanghai, China
- Nomad Bar – New York, USA
- SG Club – Tokyo, Japan
- Tales & Spirits – Amsterdam, Netherlands
- The Dead Rabbit – New York, USA
- Junior – Singapore
- Coupette – London, UK
- Lyaness – London, UK
- Atlas Bar – Singapore
- Danico – Paris, France
- 28 Hong Kong St. – Singapore
- Connaught Bar – London, UK
- Bar Orchard Ginza – Tokyo, Japan
- Mace – New York, USA
- Operation Dagger – Singapore
- Sober Company – Shanghai, China
- Hale Pale – Portland, USA
- Satan’s Whiskers – London, UK
- Oriole – London, UK
- Canon – Seattle, USA
- Death & Co – New York, USA
- Attaboy – New York, USA
- Candelaria – Paris, France
- Multnomah Whiskey Library – Portland, USA
- Dirty Dick – Paris, France
- Little Red Door – Paris, France
- Swift – London, UK
- Three Sheets – London, UK
- Angels Share – New York, USA
- Rum Club – Portland, USA
- Le Syndicat – Paris, France
- The Artesian – London, UK
- Beaufort Bar at the Savoy – London, UK
- Maison Premiere – New York, USA
- Stockton – Hong Kong, China
- Manhattan – Singapore
- Gen Yamamoto – Tokyo, Japan
- The American Bar – London, UK
- Scout – London, UK
- LuLu Drinking Club – Paris, France
- Untitled – London, UK
- PDT – New York, USA
- Tippling Club – Singapore
- Deadshot – Portland, USA
- The Vault at Milroys – London, UK
- Mori Bar – Tokyo, Japan
- Origin Bar – Singapore
- Blacktail – New York, USA
- Il Mercante – Venice, Italy
- Bar Termini – London, UK
- Callooh Callay – London, UK
- Quinary – Hong Kong, China
- Tear Drop – Portland, USA
- Botanist – Vancouver, BC
- Native – Singapore
- Employees Only – New York, USA
- Aviary NYC – New York, USA
- 001 – Hong Kong, China
- Happiness Forgets – London, UK
- Mountain Standard – Vail, USA
- Nottingham Forest – Milan, Italy
- Violet Hour – Chicago, USA
- Lobster Bar – Hong Kong, China
- The Pontiac – Hong Kong, China
- Rasputin – Florence, Italy
- The Other Room – Singapore
- Williams & Graham – Denver, USA