Review: Where Bartenders Drink

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After the success of Where Chefs Eat came Where to Eat Pizza and now Phaidon has come out with Where Bartenders Drink. Though thinner than its series companions, if this lime green compendium is anything like its predecessors, it will be indispensable. Some 225 experts have shared 700 bars across sixty countries, covering venues ranging from hotel bars to the best neighbourhood spots and late night bars.

The secret to this series’ success is that the books quench that thirst we all have to be in the know, to show off our knowledge of the inside track, and go to those secret places that professionals – those in the know – know about. More importantly, at least to me, is that the books allow you to find and explore new parts of your home city and, when you travel, to find those great places you probably wouldn’t discover without local knowledge. Both previous books have been invaluable to me for this. If you’re a Londoner, how else are you going to find the best places to drink in Lima, Lisbon, Leipzig, Latvia or Lithuania?

While you could just use the book as a guide to the best bars to drink at with your mates or to take dates to, it also provides insight into the various local drinking cultures. There are brief introductory essays that give background to the cocktail history and culture of the some of countries and cities it covers and, helpfully, these often give an average price you should expect to pay. These short essays on aspects of cocktail culture in places like Italy, Paris and Chicago, each worth a read before visiting said places.

After all, café culture in Paris and the aperitivo in Italy are both central to their respective wider cultures and are worth experiencing when visiting; meanwhile, Chicago has a long history of cocktails even before it was the home of Al Capone and illegal drinking in the days of Prohibition. It also turns out that Australia, where some of the most creative cocktails are emerging from, is a latecomer to cocktails in general, and only as a result of a law change in 2008. While New Zealand can struggle with cocktails as the availability of ingredients was severely damaged by the Christchurch earthquake, but this has led them to use local ingredients in new and creative ways.

From the essays to the blurbs about each bar, it all builds to reveal current trends and regional variances in an industry that’s going from strength to strength, inventing new drinks, reinventing old ones, rediscovering long forgotten delights and perfecting the classics, with the aid of new and ever more interesting versions of the base liquors. With the book organised by location, type and style of bar, there is no excuse not to find the perfect bar for you, be it a dive bar, jazz club or swanky hotel bar. Where Bartenders Drink is by far the best guide available to finding bars, and is a welcome addition to the growing Where… series. It’s perfect for drinkers of all levels, but if you’re more of a coffee fiend than a tippler, worry not, as coming later this year: Where to Drink Coffee.