Winter's Hottest Drinking Destinations
Your perfect barstool is the one directly in front of the bartender in Aspen. Or, maybe that’s not your barstool after all. You prefer a high-backed chair by the roaring fire in NYC, surrounded by friends.
No, no … that’s not it. It’s not even a bar you are after, but a stiff glass of well-balanced American whiskey on a porch in Utah with view of white-capped mountains.
As it turns out, bars both old and new are on their game this season and we’ve got a roundup of the hottest places to drink in 2016.
Everyone loves Aspen – including American Airlines, which has added nonstop service daily from Chicago and Dallas from December - April of 2016.
Check in to the St. Regis and request the services of the hotel’s new Altitude Concierge to help you acclimate. Then head to Jimmy’s, where proprietor Jimmy Yeager has been greeting guests with a glass of water first since 1997. “Drinking at altitude is a tricky sport,” he says. His Contessa is a new Negroni variation for winter, featuring Hendrick’s gin, Contratto Fernet Liqueur, both bitter and sweet vermouth. Jimmy also has some serious environmental dedication. “Over the past 19 years, we have instituted policies and programs to reduce our waste, and make smart recycling decisions,” he says. “For 2016, we have convinced our entire building to compost our collective trash. That’s four major restaurants plus a dozen retail shops.”
Denver’s Golden Triangle Arts District should be on any art lover’s bucket list for 2016. The brand new Art Hotel is located smack in the middle of it, filled with the works of more than two dozen acclaimed creatives – including the show-stopping 22,000-light art installation on the ceiling of the entrance. The Fire Lounge & Terrace is an awesome choice for an aperitif at sunset. You can sit outside by the fire pits and a massive sculpture by Allan Houser, sipping a Vanilla Old Fashioned with vanilla-infused Michter’s Rye Whiskey, watching the sun dip below the distant mountains and the city’s lights wink on.
Booze has long been the belle of the ball in Charleston, and the town turns out to celebrate it every March at the Charleston Wine + Food festival. This year, stop in at Cane Rhum Bar, opening in January of 2016 and paying homage to the city’s historic and continuing ties to Caribbean flavors.
“Cane is a labor of love that I’ve been planning for about 4 years,” offers Owner Paul Yellin. “The design is an upscale beach bar ... very cozy and comfortable, but not cluttered. Caribbean Chic at it’s best.” The food menu will play on island street foods from various outposts in the French West Indies, the Bahamas, Cuba, Trinidad and Barbados. The drink menu skews rum-heavy and demands friends for the collection of large-format punches that serve 4-6 in style.
Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
There is so much going on for this Canadian ski destination this year, it’s hard to know where to start. The Top Table group (owners of Araxi, Cin Cin, West, Thierry and Blue Water Café) debuted their first new outlet in Whistler in 32 years this fall. Bar Oso offers a Spanish-influenced tapas and house-made charcuterie alongside a sweeping, convivial bar with a fun, full menu of craft gin & tonics.
Nita Lake Lodge - Whistler’s only lakeside boutique hotel - just landed at No.22 on Condé Nast Traveler’s Top 100 Hotels in the world and there’s much celebration at the new outdoor après lounge and ice bar called Cure. Nearby at Bearfoot Bistro, you can tackle the cold in style at the Ketel One Ice bar. They provide Canadian goose down parkas and a 50-vodka list to enjoy inside a sub-freezing room.
Park City, UT
Park City unveiled a new gondola this year, linking both the Park City Mountain Resort and the neighboring Canyons Resort. Owned and operated entirely by the Vail Resorts Company, this merge of mountains has created the largest single ski resort in the entire country. The new “Park City Ski Mountain” includes 7,300 acres of terrain for both summer and winter activities. If visiting, look beyond the bars to the creators. Park City Brewery has four new labels this year and High West Distillery – the world’s first and only ski-in, ski-out distillery at the base of the Park City slopes – now offers a second dude ranch distillery, just 20 minutes away in Wanship. You can sip their Midwinter Nights Dram or the Rocky Mountain Rye 16 year while watching cowboys work roping horses just off the front porch. They plan to launch a special 14-year-old Light Whiskey, the equivalent of a Scottish Grain whiskey, in March.
Want to go full-on classic with your imbibing? Ireland is as authentic as it gets, from beer dives to wine cellars to whiskey distillery tours. “Pub snug” is a favorite winter term, referring to scoring the prime, cozy seat in the quiet corner of a bar. You can now tour the towns where scenes from Game of Thrones were shot just outside Belfast. Winter cocktail in Winterfell, anyone?
Then venture southwest to the real thing. Ashford Castle in County Mayo has a history dating to 1228. Last spring, during a renovation to all 82 rooms and public spaces, the owners discovered a 16th-century servants tunnel and coalbunker. They created a new wine tasting, private dining space out of the subterranean passages, decked out in candlelight and an extensive old-world wine list. As the winds howl outside, you can sip a flight of 20-year-old Bordeaux labels poured through the Coravin System – the latest in wine technology.
The Big Easy temperatures are at their best, the Carnival is in full swing and the drinks are flowing in winter. This year, head to Latitude 29 – the town’s youngest answer to the Tiki cocktail craze. Owner Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is globally renowned and sagely advising a dose of Hot Buttered Rum.
“Ours is a honey-butter mix infused with Caribbean spices, then spiked with a mix of navy strength Jamaican rum and 151-proof Demerara rum,” he says. “Our Paniolo cocktail began life as a holiday-themed drink called Mele Kalikimaka (“Merry Christmas” in Hawaiian), but I changed the name to Paniolo,” he laughs. “Nobody knew what mele kalikimaka meant. As it turns out, nobody knows what paniolo means either. It’s a Hawaiian cowboy.”
That one’s a refreshing mix of bourbon, fresh lime, house organic cranberry syrup, macadamia nut liqueur, and a dash of molé bitters.
Royalton New York
Beyond the carolers at Rockefeller Center, the snowdrifts in Central Park and the window-shopping on 5th Avenue exists the real reason you adore NYC in winter – the bars. There’s a sense of merriment and a lovely loud din as you step inside to find locals mingling with tourists and the sound of ice rebounding on shakers. Drinks by a roaring, real fire can be had at Clover Club in Brooklyn, Art Bar in the Lower East side and Molly’s in Gramercy. The Royalton hotel has them all topped, teaming up with Wood Sommelier Ted Whitehead to create a line of scented sachet packets for the hotel. These sachets are placed on the fire by your butler, creating a custom scent for your room that’s then paired with cocktails and tapas. The Maple Wood Sachet, reminiscent of Vermont syrup, is paired with the Maple Glazed Pork Belly Skewers and a Vermont Fizz, featuring vanilla bean, maple, cream, gin and brandied cherries. Rooms start at $299.
The mojito was invented in Cuba. The Daiquiri too. With the easing of restrictions, it makes a valuable island consideration for a winter getaway. Stop inside La Bodeguita de Medio – the original home of the Mojito – for one, but then cast off for less touristy spots. The Fabrica de Arte Cubano is a multi-level space mixing art, alcohol, food, culture, movies and music. On the two packed dance floors, the locals cut loose till 4am. El Cocinero is another, housed is an old oil mill. Cuba is well known for historic restoration and repurposing and this is a perfect example … and one of the best places to enjoy a gorgeous Cuban sunset with a cocktail.
The weather in San Francisco is famously volatile. In summer, wind and fog can make July feel like January. Flight and hotel prices are far more appealing for travelers in the winter, too, and this year, the city welcomes a slew of new drinking destinations. Martin Cate, proprietor of Smuggler’s Cove, has co-opened the gin-focused bar called Whitechapel, a Victorian-Era London train station decor, vaulted ceilings and a 100-drink cocktail list. Bellota – a soon-to-open Spanish concept by Chef Ryan McIlwraith (of Coqueta) – will be your best bet for Rioja, sherry and tapas from a wood-burning oven. January will present another SF Beer Week, with hops and barely focused dinners and parties around town, and also consider attending winter’s SF Sketch Fest – a celebration of sketch comedy occurring in theaters like The Alamo Drafthouse - a venue equally devoted to performance art and craft brewing.
St. Barthélemy, French West Indies
Le Guanahani Hotel
Another place that’s becoming easier than ever to access this winter is the posh, sand-strewn playground of St. Barth’s. Air France expanded service to this Caribbean isle starting in November of 2015, with four additional flights per day between Pointe à Pitre and Saint Barthélemy with Air Antilles. That’s also exciting for the posh, 18-acre Le Guanahani hotel, which is blowing out the candles on its 30th birthday cake in 2016. You can grab a bottle of bubbly and retire to recharge in their private lagoon. Or, stroll down to the beaches of Saint-Jean, to rub elbows with celebrities at Nikki Beach – the island’s hottest nightlife destination. This winter, expect themes galore including a Star Wars shindig, their annual toga party, and a huge event hosted by Dom Perignon. Fitting on a French island, don’t you think?