Best Bars of 2016 (Excluding London)

False Idol, San DiegoFalse Idol, San Diego

What a year! Ready for a drink? Might I recommend having it in style at one of these fabulous bars? They’re the best I came across in 2016.

If my ‘best of’ list of restaurants outside of London was particularly New Orleans focused, my list of non-London bars is very California biased and expressly tiki. But some watering holes beyond the Golden State made the cut, even a bar in New Orleans, and a tiki bar at that.

Keep in mind this list excludes London bars. I left them out as I intend to share my favourite places to drink in London later  in this ‘best of’ series. As a London-based writer covering London first and the rest of the world second, I tend to differentiate between what happens here and elsewhere.

Please note, this list merely reflects how I chose to spend my time during the year and is comprised of well established and brand new venues as well as businesses that are somehow related to where work and play took me.

Best Bars

Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29
321 North Peters Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70130

Cocktail genius, author and tiki revivalist Jeff Berry’s French Quarter joint is an oasis of drinky fun of impeccable Polynesian Pop design and a temple to cocktail craft in a city with a penchant for a stiff one.

Don the Beachcomber
16278 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, California 92649

This Huntington Beach bar is a cavernous tiki wonderland bedecked to the nth degree with tropical trappings of mostly mid century origin. Once upon a time, the same venue was Sam’s Seafood, which for decades served as a preferred tiki destination for folks throughout Southern California. Current ownership has done a fine job maintaining the original look while adding a bit of Donn Beach memorabilia.

5 Place des Déportés, 39800 Poligny, France

Epicurea is a wine and cheese boutique specialising in wine, spirits and other delicacies from the Jura region of eastern France, such as absinthe, natural wines, and a range of aged Comtés. Located in the heart of quaint Poligny, it’s a fine shop for tasty souvenir shopping, with a wonderful bar for wine tastings accompanied with cheeseboards and charcuterie.

Upstairs on the roof at Reform, 795 J Street, San Diego, California 92101

Overlooking Petco Park baseball stadium, this rooftop bar above Rare Form restaurant is a fantastic place to grab a drink and baste in San Diego’s glorious weather.. I loved the Fairweather cocktail menu, how it honoured the classics while veering playfully off course with signature updates.

False Idol
In the back of Craft & Commerce, 675 West Beech Street, San Diego, California 92101

On the southern edge of San Diego’s Little Italy, False Idol is set secretly in the back of Craft & Commerce – an attractive and buzzing venue in its own right but one betraying any notion that there might be something more foreboding lurking in its shadows. To access False Idol, you pass through Craft & Commerce’s freezer door (look for the shrunken heads and skulls in storage) to emerge inside a torch-lit (as in real open flames) cave with evocatively illuminated bar. Upping the tiki ante to a new level of whoa, this new bar stands as testament to the inspired vision of founder Martin Cate. And the drinks are fucking awesome.

Pickle Barrel
1012 Market Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee 37402

Maybe the greatest hole in the wall in America, or at least in Downtown Chattanooga. The definition of a hangout and as cosy a place to be a regular as anywhere I’ve ever bent an elbow, the Pickle Barrel is what a bar is supposed to be. The people make the place. The PBR tastes great. The graffiti in the men’s reads like surrealist literature.

Hellshire Beach, Portmore, Saint Catherine Parish, Jamaica

A big shack on a small crescent beach, with a well stocked bar, a ginormous sound system. Go for the fresh caught and freshly made fish and festival, stay for whatever else feels good to you. For a tasty and relaxed day at the beach within reach of Kingston, I doubt you’ll find somewhere as suitable as Screechies.

Smuggler’s Cove
650 Gough Street, San Francisco, California 94102

Spread over three stories and fully adorned with the tiki décor and rum-related memorabilia, Martin Cate’s award-winning bar boasts the largest rum selection in the US and a drinks menu incorporating all that rum into a cocktail list drawing inspiration from more than three centuries of rum history.

Tabanco el Pasaje
Calle Santa. María, 8, 11402 Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

This tiny “passage” of a bar wedged between two tight alleys is an atmospheric epicentre of live flamenco performed nightly. As the story goes, flamenco’s roots are deepest in Jerez – home of this compact 90-year-old tabanco – and the city claims to be the birthplace of this most heartfelt and emotive of folk music. There’s a basic menu of typical tapas (the lomo is a treat), and complete range of sherries from bottle and cask.

4427 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90027

Hardly bigger than the actual bar from which its cocktails are served, the teeny tiny Tiki-Ti on Sunset Boulevard has made an immeasurable impact on not just the tiki scene but cocktail culture across the globe. Open since 1961, and still in the hands of the son and grandson of the original owner, Tiki-Ti ranks as a top contender for the ultimate representative of California tiki culture. The tropical décor is chock-a-block; wherever you rest your eyes there’s something kooky or fascinating to ponder. The atmosphere is welcoming, chatty and ready to party. And the drinks are out of this world.

Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
The Fairmont San Francisco, 950 Mason Street, San Francisco, California 94108

The Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar is the oldest tiki bar in America. With rain on cue over its own Olympic-sized lagoon, the Tonga Room is probably the most OTT tiki bar in America as well. But the manufactured weather is just the beginning of the faux tropical expedition. Another key feature is the SS Forester. The remains of this lumber schooner that once sailed between San Francisco and the South Pacific loom evocatively over the Tonga Room’s dance floor. The lagoon may be faux and the storms may be simulated, but the Forester is real. Of course what’s ultimately most important about any restaurant or bar is the quality of the food and drink. Thumbs up for both at the Tonga Room!

More of the Best of 2016 to follow!

About tikichris

London-Based Writer/Photographer

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