On a sabbatical across the Atlantic, FSR’s spirits editor shares her thoughts on what might be coming to America.
Beer might just be more ubiquitous than water in Prague. When I visited the city earlier this year, while I was eager to enjoy a few fresh pints alongside my plates of schnitzel devoured in well-worn pubs, the spirits geek in me was a tad more enthusiastic to scope out the burgeoning cocktail scene. What would a city fueled on Pilsner dream up in the way of cocktails? While Europe is traditionally synonymous with quality brews and wine, whether it be in the form of those frothy Oktoberfest steins in Munich or a glass of crisp Soave from the Veneto, as of late the continent is acquiring quite the reputation for stellar libations. Once the cocktail renaissance unfolded in the States, Europe wasn’t far behind. Now, it’s in the spotlight.
This is why, one blustery spring evening in Prague, I found myself savoring a chocolate Negroni with cocoa bean–infused Campari at the only free seat—unpleasantly sandwiched between chain smokers—in the dark, literary-inspired Hemingway Bar, watching my fellow guests order one of the numerous absinthes in stock. Prior to that, I drank a jasmine and apricot daiquiri at the fancy Champagne bar L’Fleur, which looked as if it had just been plucked from the streets of Paris, and I ended the (long boozy) evening with the Fred Collins Fizz at Black Angel, an ambient respite squirreled away at the bottom of an unassuming hotel.
Fabled European cocktail bars have long held my interest for their alluring mix of history and romance. Consider Harry’s Bar, in Venice. Although this circa-1930s Art Deco marvel from the Cipriani family is now packed with selfie-stick-toting tourists looking to unwind post-gondola ride, a magical aura remains attached to sipping on one of the refreshing Bellinis that the old-fashioned bar is known for. Likewise, when walking into Boadas, a dim, cozy 1939 beauty in Barcelona, it’s hard not to feel as if the bow-tied gent sliding over that Tom Collins is none other than pioneering proprietor Miguel Boadas. Erik Lorincz, head bartender of the American Bar at the Savoy—the most famous of London hotel dens—ensures the vibe suits today’s contemporary, curious drinkers, but once ushered inside, guests still fall for the Art Deco backdrop and historic sheen. That the Hanky Panky was introduced by a female bartender who started working here in 1903 makes the past all the more legendary.
But this year, when I decided to fulfill a belated childhood dream of living in Europe for a spell—I’m currently writing this in Budapest, my home for the past few months—it was the modern-day European cocktail culture, similar to the one thriving in the States, that began to fascinate me even more. After all, I had been spoiled in New York City, tasting myriad concoctions a week. I wanted to ensure I would not go through egg white and from-scratch bitters withdrawal. Luckily I have not.
Cocktail enthusiasts know that London flaunts one of the most impressive drink scenes on the globe—whether it’s a classic martini prepared tableside by the charming Alessandro Palazzi at the Dukes Bar, the whimsical creations Alex Kratena churns out at Artesian at the Langham, or one of the forward-thinking bottled elixirs at Shoreditch hotspot White Lion. The drinks unfolding in London are on par with those in the U.S.: brazen and imaginative, and perhaps most importantly, successfully executed.