There is something oddly comforting about a whisky bar. As an avid traveller, I've come to realise it's important to have a place that can transport you to the comfort of your home when desperately needed.
For me, this is a whisky bar. And, to be clear, I don’t just mean any bar that has a couple of bottles of bourbon on its shelves. I mean the sort of whisky bar where you can loose yourself in the menu and forget you’re thousands of miles from home. The familiar names in the menu, the colourful array of bottles aligned on the bar and the quiet clink of glasses and hushed whispers that make up the background noise.
These are just a few of the main components that I look for when searching for a good whisky bar the world over.
Since starting my blog while studying in Hong Kong, I’ve scoured the streets of Berlin, Barcelona, Kuala Lumpur, Budapest, Beijing, Shenzhen, Macau and London, all in my quest to find the perfect whisky bar.
It comes with its challenges. There’s always something daunting about stepping inside a whisky bar in unfamiliar territory. But when you find that special place, tucked away in a side street, or more often that not, in a swanky hotel lobby, it’s well worth it.
I vividly remember wandering up and down Sanlitun Road in Beijing, desperately searching for Glen Bar, a highly recommended establishment, famed for its whisky collection. It was the height of summer and my sandals were beginning to rub after a long day of walking through the city. I finally found it, a narrow stairway on the side of a building leading up to the bar. The room was nearly pitch black, with a few flickering candles on the table and the strong glare from the perfectly illuminated bar. As I took in my surroundings I couldn’t help but feel triumphant.
Looking back, it was the most memorable moment from my time in Beijing. I had searched for this hidden gem and I had found it. There was only one way to celebrate and that was with a whisky.
Of course, there are places you remember for entirely different reasons.
Again, not an easy one to track down, the Drink Island Büfé and Whisky Bár was well worth the trek outside of Budapest’s city centre. I had dragged three of my friends with me, all non-whisky drinkers. We weren’t greeted by a slick hotel bar like those I’d frequented in Hong Kong, instead we found ourselves on the ground floor of a pretty bleak looking shopping complex.
This, however, didn’t distract from the fantastic collection of whiskies; the warm welcome we received, or the impressive knowledge and passion of Josef, the owner. Even my friends left with a special affection for the bar.
It was a stark contrast to the Macallan Whisky Bar & Lounge I’d found myself in while visiting Macau, or the Mandarin Oriental’s beautiful Chinnery Bar in Hong Kong, both of which the epitome of glamour and sophistication.
Budapest’s Drink Island Büfé and Whisky Bár was instead a reminder of what all great whisky bars need: passionate staff.
It can be the most elegant setting in the world, with a vast collection of whiskies to try. But at the end of the day, if you can’t sit at the bar and chat effortlessly to the person on the other side, then that’s a true waste.