One of my top priorities in each place we travel is to seek out a good bar. A good bar is a very important part of our trip; it is where we finish each day, where we rest our tired feet after hours of walking and where we deconstruct our opinions of this foreign place we are in while sipping a glass of red wine (for me) and a pint of beer (for him). Years of experience has taught us exactly what type of bars we favour; they must be casual, unpretentious, good music is a plus, and any use of the words style, dress code or beautiful people in the Lonely Planet description puts it instantly off the table for consideration. I have visited many bars in my travels, many good ones, and a few which will stick in my mind forever. Here are five of the latter.
Bars in Korea tend to fall into two categories: the “Hof” which is a traditional Korean bar of low lights, cheap bar snacks and few women, and (often poor) imitations of Western style craft beer bars, cocktail bars and Irish pubs. Tribe is neither of those things and was so unlike every other bar in Seoul during the time we lived there it was hard to believe it actually existed. Paul and I discovered it by accident; we were wandering around the Hapjeong area in the mood for a drink and on seeing a sign for a bar pointing downstairs in a generic office style building, decided to follow it. We opened the door to a bar which looked completely different to all the others we’d seen in Seoul; it was dark, warm and cosy, with a laid back hipster vibe, walls cluttered with knick knacks and a fat ginger cat and a little dog milling around. We settled down on one of the comfortable seats for a drink and found it very difficult to get up. So the next time we were in Hapjeong we decided to go back and go back again until it became our favourite bar in Seoul. On our trip to Seoul last year we visited with our friend Brian who lived in Korea at the time as us and it was as if we had never left.
The Shakespeare, London
I have been to London many times and I’ve never found a pub I love as much as The Shakespeare in Stoke Newington. Paul discovered it on a visit with friends a few years ago and loved it so much he insisted we visit on our next trip to the UK’s capital. At first sight there’s nothing particularly special about The Shakespeare, it looks like many other pubs in London, but like the best pubs it simply does the job of being an ordinary pub very well. It is always pleasantly busy with friendly locals (forget the myth about unfriendly Londonders, the last time I was there several people at the bar heard my Glaswegian accent and struck up a conversation about how much they love Glasgow), has a warm and welcoming atmosphere, an excellent jukebox, and a pizza takeaway place next door which the pub allows to you bring pizzas in from. The last time we were in London we found a lot of the traditional boozers had become clinically gentrified and extremely expensive which made us appreciate the relaxed authenticity of The Shakespeare even more.
The Old Fitzroy Hotel, Sydney
You may have read in the media in recent years about Sydney’s lock out laws which have strangled the city’s nightlife. The truth is, the bars in Sydney were never as good as they should have been for a city of its size and status; partly to blame for this was the awful puggy machines so many bars insisted on having as they brought in so much money. The exception to Sydney’s generally poor nightlife was The Old Fitzroy Hotel in Woolloomooloo which conveniently was just a ten minute walk from the hostel we stayed in. As The Old Fitzroy was also a theatre they didn’t have to rely on puggy machines for income and the result was a laid back setting, wonderful live music, and one dish on the menu as their speciality – their delicious laksa.
Katy’s Garage, Dresden
When Googling the best bars in Dresden’s hip Neustadt ahead of our trip to the East German city, one kept popping up: Katy’s Garage. It appeared to be a must visit. Unfortunately,the feature every article proclaiming its excellence mentioned was its beer garden which, as we were visiting in a freezing December, was no use to us. We shouldn’t have worried: the enterprising people at the bar had used the beer garden space to set up a bonfire, accompanied by a little stall selling mugs of hot Gluhwein. Ending each day sitting around the bonfire with the locals, a hot mug of Gluhwein between our hands was heavenly. When it got too cold we moved to the inside of the pub which played rock music, had a stage for bands and had a stripped back, dive bar vibe.
Bip Bip, Rio de Janeiro
We visited Bip Bip in Rio in extraordinary circumstances. Dilma Rousseff had just won the presidential election, and unknown to us, the bar’s regulars and owners were supporters of Dilma. We arrived to crowds wearing Dilma t shirts, cheering, crying, waving flags and giving impassioned speeches, all as Samba players sang and strummed guitar from inside. Even if you visited the bar on a regular day I still think it would be wonderful; it is tiny, with most tables taken up by samba guitar players as customers stand in whatever tiny space they can find or spill out onto the street.
Special mention to…. Dublin pubs
Dublin has the best pubs of any city I have visited. Those traditional Irish bars you see around the world – in Dublin it’s the real thing. We only had two days In Dublin and managed to visit Grogan’s Castle, Cobblestone, The Stag’s Head and John Kavanagh, all of which were fantastic. I love Dublin pubs and really want to go back and spend more time in them.