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Talk to the Bartender: Drinking Cities
Image: Shutterstock / Time Out

The 18 best drinking cities in the world, according to bartenders

Plan a boozy vacation in one of these bartender-approved destinations

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Written by
Morgan Olsen
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Half the fun of going on vacation is exploring a city's food and drink scene through memorable meals and late nights out. If you're the type who likes to sip your way through a new town, why not explore the best drinking cities in the world? These destinations – which have been handpicked by top bartenders around the globe – are known for their abundance of great bars as well as their next-level hospitality. As it turns out, you can learn quite a bit about a city through its watering holes.

Ready to cash in your PTO and hit the road? Take a look at the best drinking cities in the world and start planning your nights out accordingly.

Some quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Thirsty for more insider insight from the world’s best bartenders? You’re in the right place. Running throughout August 2021, Talk to the Bartender! is a weekly series that taps into the minds of drink pros around the globe. The conversation changes often, and we'll chat with bartenders about everything from underrated cocktails and must-have bottles to top drinking cities.

The world’s best drinking cities

Milan
Photograph: Shutterstock

Milan

‘For me, it would have to be Milan. There are just so many great speakeasy and cocktail bars to choose from. Aperitivo hour hits different there somehow, too – perhaps it’s the rich culture, city vibes and the passionate bar staff.’—Jun Han Ong, head bartender of Club 5 in Singapore

‘You could drink at a different bar or restaurant every day of the year until you die. There is every kind of watering hole for any kind of mood. There’s something about that city… maybe it’s in the water – which is frozen into ice cubes and put into my stirred-down cocktail that turns me into my favourite kind of drunk.’—Sabrina Medcalf, general manager of The Duke in Sydney

‘There are very few cities where one can sip a world-class cocktail made using all the tools of molecular gastronomy, share a flaming tropical punch bowl with friends, sip a dirty martini while ponied up at a 100-year-old bar, and throw back a boilermaker – all within a block of one another.’Shannon Tebay, head bartender of American Bar in London

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‘When you want a truly unforgettable night out, look no further than Chicago. What makes it so great? The rich drinking history of the city from prohibition and beyond – the dive bars, piano bars, tiki bars and Michelin-awarded bars – but best of all, it’s the people. Chicago has all the things you love of a big city with the heart and soul of what makes the Midwest so amazing.’—Carlos Navas, beverage director of Batch Hospitality Group in Miami

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‘I love drinking in Barcelona! Everything is open late, and there’s food everywhere. You can’t go to a bar in Spain and not have bar snacks – there’s always tapas or pinchos at the bars there.’—Helen Kim, founder of Liquid Culture in Miami

Kyoto
Photograph: Shutterstock

Kyoto

‘Many of my favorite coffee, tea, Japanese saké, shōchū and cocktail drinking experiences have been in Kyoto. There is a beautiful balance of old and new, tradition and innovation happening here. I had my first cocktail bar experience in Kyoto, the one which set me on the path to become a bartender. The full story is in my upcoming cocktail book, The Way of the Cocktail.’—Julia Momose, partner and creative director of Kumiko in Chicago

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Guadalajara
Photograph: Shutterstock

Guadalajara

‘It's so vibrant and fun, and there is more good tequila and mezcal there than anywhere. It’s also a quick hop to go see some distilleries or go to the beach. It’s awesome!’—Ivy Mix, owner of Leyenda and Fiasco! Wine + Spirits in New York and co-founder of Speed Rack

Adelaide
Photograph: Chris Oaten

Adelaide

‘This is a city that really shows up in terms of the quality of small bars as well as hosting some of the best natural winemakers in Australia just up the hill. The small-town feel of Adelaide means you can have a wild time drinking world-class, locally made gin, beers and wine in super groovy spaces, whilst making friends with all the incredibly talented and knowledgeable bartenders – all within a few little blocks.’—Jemima McDonald, bartender at Earl's Juke Joint and The Grifter Brewing Co. in Sydney

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‘From the finest cocktail bars to neighbourhood pubs to high-energy spots – the experience in London is simply on top and very progressive and versatile. Certain pockets have a fantastic after-office drinking culture and cater to the regular customers, while there’s another set of world-renowned bars and bartenders catering to the visiting global audience with all that it has to offer.’—Yangdup Lama, co-owner of Sidecar in New Delhi

‘This city has so many beautiful places where you can enjoy a drink, and the places where you can drink are so diverse that it’s impossible to not find something to your taste.’—Vlad Bungianu, assistant general manager of Night Tales in London

‘It’s not normally thought of as a romantic city, but with its cobbled streets, fantastic (and plentiful) high-end cocktail bars paired with quaint old-fashioned whisky pubs – what's to miss!’—Mia Johansson, managing partner of Swift in London

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‘Their nightlife scene is exhilarating and remarkable; you almost never run out of new avenues to explore and create new memories at. It is also relatively convenient because most of the bars and clubs are within walking distance, as they are all packed in one area.’Yugnes Uthayakumar, owner of The Elephant Room in Singapore

‘In the past few years, we’ve seen Hong Kong grow a lot – with a great melting pot of cultures shaping the scene and a variety of strong, approachable and well-executed establishments. There’s lots of space for creativity.’—Lorenzo Antinori, beverage manager of Argo at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong

‘It’s a combination of good bars and the close proximity between them. The open character of Madrid’s residents plus the cultural and gastronomic offerings make it almost unbeatable. And don’t forget the good weather!’—Mario Villalón, co-founder of Angelita in Madrid

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‘I think different cities offer different experiences. It’s not really fair to say what is the best, but New Orleans always holds a special place in my heart. So many places there are accredited to world-famous cocktails, including the Sazerac and Ramos Gin Fizz.’—John Nugent, co-founder of The Diplomat and beverage director of Kyle & Bain in Hong Kong

‘The market is fairly young in terms of the global cocktail community, but Singapore has already proven its worth as the best drinking city. Singapore currently showcases the availability of all types of bars, from dive bars to hotel bars, and traditional to highly experimental. The great part of the Singapore industry is that people behind the bar are very close to each other – we even have a WhatsApp group for our community that we jokingly refer to as “Faster than Google,” because our industry friends are always there ready to help and support each other.’—Adrian Besa, bar manager at MO Bar in Singapore

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‘My favorite so far has been Berlin. They are a little behind on cocktail trends, but every bar is really trying to crush it from their ice program, glassware, educated bartenders and great spirit selections.’—Ryan Pines, beverage director of Buya in Miami

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‘They have such a rich cocktail and bar culture that goes back over 100 years. There’s just such a great combination of historic places combined with new, great modern spots and amazing dive bars that are all becoming icons.’—Moe Aljaff, owner of Two Schmucks and Fat Schmuck in Barcelona

‘Almost every bar you walk into tells a different story, and every bartender focuses so much on making a drink for you. The bartender always mixes in elegance. Also, comfort food is available in every part of the city, so you need never worry about late-night, post-drinking cravings.’—Yinying Leow, principal bartender of Live Twice in Singapore

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