The 20 bars you must visit in 2021

Emma Cooke
·17 min read
The Nest Bar in Rwanda offer's a place to drink with a difference this year
The Nest Bar in Rwanda offer's a place to drink with a difference this year

Dreaming of some post-pandemic drinking? From against-the-odds openings to stunning lockdown renovations, these are the bars to put on your travel radar for later this year.

1. Maybe Sammy, Sydney

Maybe Sammy, a cocktail bar in Sydney’s The Rocks neighbourhood, opened in February 2019 and has already become one of the Australian city’s standout successes on the bar scene. It went straight onto The World’s 50 Best Bars 2019 list at number 43, and became The Best Bar in Australasia a mere nine months after launching. Last year saw the three owners get even busier, pandemic or no, and the trio now has a second cocktail bar in the works: Sammy Junior. It’ll most likely open this February, and will transform from an espresso coffee bar in the morning into a drinks spot in the afternoon, doling out ‘mini cocktails’.

Interestingly, it’ll also follow one of the trends to come out of the pandemic – day drinking – and will close at 6pm. Maybe Sammy, will remain open into the small hours, to accommodate the night owls among us.

+612 9241 4970; maybesammy.com

Maybe Sammy is known for its inventive cocktails
Maybe Sammy is known for its inventive cocktails

2. Kelvingrove Cafe, Glasgow

Out in Glasgow’s Finnieston district lies Kelvingrove Cafe, a beautifully moody bar outfitted with deep leather banquettes. First opened in 1896, the current owners behind the bar used last year’s first lockdown to embark on an extensive renovation of the space. Along with moving the building’s historic kitchen downstairs to create extra space for customers, the project saw the creation of an underground private dining area and helped keep at least a few jobs going during the pandemic. The new look also includes work from prestigious Glaswegian artists, and a new cocktail menu – using ingredients like oakmoss syrup and penja pepper cordial – will complement the reinvigorated interiors.

The renovation took longer than expected, so Kelvingrove Cafe was unable to reopen in July last year, but owners Barry Oattes and Kirstie Addis are looking forward to unveiling its new look once the city returns to Tier 1.

+44 1412 218988; kelvingrovecafe.com

Kelvingrove Cafe
Kelvingrove Cafe

3. Penicillin, Hong Kong

Opened in November 2020 on Hong Kong’s Hollywood Road, Penicillin was one of last year’s most forward-looking launches, it’s the first truly sustainable bar on the island. There are some big names behind this new opening, in the form of bartenders, Agung Prabowo and Roman Ghale, who helped The Old Man Hong Kong take the top spot in Asia’s Best Bars in 2019, and the cocktails are made using a ‘closed-loop’ farm-to-table model of production, using either locally sourced or upcycled food and drink ingredients and low-waste spirits.

The menu has four main sections. The first, ‘You Gotta Sustain It’, features the ‘One Penicillin, One Tree’ cocktail, which plants a native tree in the endangered Kalimantan rainforest in Borneo for every one ordered. The second, ‘The Penicillins’, is inspired by the 2005 creation of the Penicillin cocktail and includes ingredients like goat milk whiskey, ginger honey wine and locally-foraged gooseberries. ‘Organic Ferments’ – exactly what it says on the tin – and ‘On-and-Off’ – cocktails inspired by Hong Kong’s famers – round off the offering.

penicillinbar.com

The back bar at Penicillin
The back bar at Penicillin

4. Zeroliq, Berlin

It may seem counterintuitive to many people’s favoured lockdown activity, but Germany’s first non-alcoholic bar, opened late summer last year in, of course, Berlin. Situated in the city’s Friedrichshain district – an alternative-style area in the East – the bar is currently closed under coronavirus restrictions but will re-open as soon as possible, fresh as a daisy and ready to serve over 30 non-alcoholic craft beer options, alcohol-free wines and cocktails that go beyond bog-standard virgin marys and coladas. For instance: the ‘carrot cake’ cocktail, a drink that mixes alcohol-free ‘gin’ with carrot juice and hazelnut syrup among other things.

+49 1579 2374581; zeroliq.com

A 'Zeronigroni' at Zeroliq
A 'Zeronigroni' at Zeroliq

5. Pineapple Club, Birmingham

Amid all the doom and gloom of last year’s many UK lockdowns, seeing bars that managed to open – and succeed – in spite of it all is headily cheering stuff. Pineapple Club and Beer Boutique is one such story, opening October last year in Birmingham’s Great Western Arcade with a cracking team of women (including general manager Niamh) running it alongside owner, Samuel Boulton. Spanning two floors, the brand fuses retail with food and drink: downstairs sells craft beer and spirit-related products, while upstairs is a plant-studded pink and green nirvana of a bar and restaurant. To make the most of it all, go for the weekend Bottomless Brunch, which serves unlimited drinks (and two brunch dishes) over a two-hour slot.

pineapplebrum.co.uk

The Pineapple Club
The Pineapple Club

6. Alquímico, Cartagena

This popular bar became history-making last year: it was the first Colombian venue to ever secure a spot on The World’s 50 Best Bar list, ranking number 47 last year. It also won Sustainable Bar of the Year from the prestigious awards, due to both its sustainability programme and the way it stepped up to support the community during Colombia’s lockdown. Seeing closures sweeping the city in March 2020, Jean Trinh, the owner of Alquímico chose to pivot from cocktails to farming. Mercado Solidario, an Alquímico-headed initiative that worked with local restaurants and non-profits, was set up to buy food from local farmers to prepare meals for families hard-hit by the pandemic.

Trinh also got approval from the Colombian government to move his staff from Cartagena to a farm 800km away in Filandia, to build their own home and start farming organic ingredients – using sustainable practices – which are now being put into action in the newly reopened bar. A reforestation project was also launched, which saw the team planting trees to help counter Colombia’s struggles with deforestation.

+57 3165 331932; alquimico.com

Alquímico bar interior
Alquímico bar interior

7. Kol Mezcaleria, London

Chef Santiago Lastra – of Noma Mexico fame – opened his hotly-anticipated London restaurant, Kol, in October last year after a pandemic-induced delay. Situated in Marylebone, the restaurant promised a mezcaleria to follow: a standalone bar downstairs focused solely on mezcal, the smokier sibling to tequila. Now the bar is ready to open alongside the restaurant as soon as lockdown ends, and will be headed up by another renowned name, former American Bar head bartender, Maxim Schulte. Aptly named The Mezcaleria, it also offers a less formal approach to the restaurant’s £55-a-head set menus, with Mexican street food-inspired snacks from the kitchen being served alongside the agave-based drinks.

020 3829 6888; kolrestaurant.com/the-mezcaleria

 Kol Mezcaleria
Kol Mezcaleria

8. BKK Social Club, Bangkok

The new Four Seasons Bangkok, which opened December last year in Chao Phraya River, comes with an impressive new bar: BKK Social Club. Very little effort has been spared in the launch, and the same goes to this new venue, with one of Thailand’s leading lights helming the bar, Philip Bischoff, who is ranked first in Thailand and 21st in the world by Drinks International as one of the ‘Bar World's Most Influential Figures’. The theme is Buenos Aires, tempered with touches of modern Bangkok, and the interiors are a jungle-like paradise of greenery and huge mirrored alcoves, with two outdoor courtyards – one entirely dedicated to cigar smoking. The signature menu includes bottled cocktails in three sizes and a large champagne list.

+66 2 032 0888; fourseasons.com/bangkok/dining/lounges/bkk-social-club

Buenos Aires-inspired interiors at BKK Social Club
Buenos Aires-inspired interiors at BKK Social Club

9. Lab 22, Cardiff

Lab 22 can be found on Caroline Street in Cardiff, and is one of the Welsh capital’s most favoured bars. The drinks are always science-themed (hence the name) and the newest menu to come from the team of bartenders is no exception. Named Theories + Frontiers, the drinks riff on the ‘undiscovered areas of science’, like black holes and time travel. They also give a little back to the local community, with every cocktail on the menu using at least one locally sourced product, and two of them donating proceedings to Cardiff Foodbank or The Drinks Trust with each sale – a much appreciated sight after the year we’ve had. The space also underwent a refurbishment during last year’s lockdowns, making this bar only more of an essential stop-off for any visitors to Cardiff this year.

+44 2920 399997; lab22cardiff.com

Cocktails at Lab 22 always come with a science-twist
Cocktails at Lab 22 always come with a science-twist

10. Two Schmucks Terrace, Barcelona

When we’re allowed to travel (and drink in places outside our own homes) again, it’s likely restrictions will be in place – and even if not, the pandemic will no doubt give many a heightened awareness of virus-related health and safety. Two Schmucks, a ‘five-star dive bar’ in Barcelona, is meeting these potential issues head on, and has moved its entire venue 150m down the road from its original location, in order to transform itself into a Covid-secure terrace bar, meeting the expectations of Spanish hospitality restrictions and germaphobes alike. The new iteration of this classic bar has 60 outdoor seats, and serves the same classic cocktails and Korean fried chicken the original Two Schmucks was famed for.

The original Two Schmucks location – named number 26 in The World’s 50 Best Bars 2020 – will reopen under an entirely new concept once the world is a bit more back to normal.

+34 6353 96088; facebook.com/schmuckordie

11. Mu Taipei, Taiwan

This new speakeasy-style bar opened in March last year, with rather unfortunate timing – the lockdown forced its doors to close soon after the launch. This cosy new bar is now back open however, and well worth a visit in 2021 if you can get to it, or indeed find it, with it being hidden down an alley and through a tunnel. Owned by bartenders Bannie Kang and Nick Wu, cocktails include flavour combinations like peanut butter-washed cognac and sujeonggwa (cinnamon punch) syrup, and grappa, plum beer and bottarga (a type of fish roe). The drinking surrounds are similarly delightful, with an intimate eight-seater bar, and tapas featuring truffle-daubed duck rillettes and scallop mousse on offer. A restaurant is also available in a second room, run by Kang’s husband, chef Tryson Quek.

+886 9652 59952; mutaipei.com

A cocktail at Mu Taipei
A cocktail at Mu Taipei

12. The Observatory, Belfast

Opened in 2018, The Observatory, situated at the top of Belfast’s Grand Central hotel, has fast become one of the swishest places in the city for a cocktail. The hotel is also officially the tallest building in Ireland, giving drinkers in its rooftop bar a panoramic view over the city. Drinks are excellent, with the 15 cocktails on offer each inspired by a different Belfast landmark. Visit in spring this year to also get a taste of the now deeply ingrained gin-scene in Northern Ireland (local gin has boomed in recent years). The Observatory will be launching an afternoon tea with Jawbox Gin, one of the most popular of the region’s juniper-led spirits, all themed around gin and tonic.

+44 2890 231066; grandcentralhotelbelfast.com/observatory

The Observatory interior 
The Observatory interior

13. Nest Bar, Rwanda

When international travel opens up again, many will want to spend their newfound freedom on something extra special. One such place is Nest Bar, which sits in a Rwandan luxury resort, One&Only Gorilla’s Nest. Opened in 2019, the property is located in one of the world’s most popular mountain gorilla sanctuaries, in the foothills of Virunga volcano range. The bar itself is spectacular, surrounded by eucalyptus trees and looking out into the Virunga National Park. Drinks include Rwanda’s biggest selection of gins, specially crafted rose gin created on site from the botanical garden – which contains 11 types of roses – and a selection of South Africa’s best wines.

+250 221 011 111; oneandonlyresorts.com/gorillas-nest

One&Only Gorilla’s Nest exterior
One&Only Gorilla’s Nest exterior

14. Madeleine Bar, Birmingham

Not one, but two new Birmingham bars appear on this list, signalling something of a revival of the city centre after a difficult year. The arrival of The Commonwealth Games in 2022 is now appearing on the horizon, along with a sense of optimism around the city’s future. The Grand Hotel is a symbol of this, ready to unveil itself after a lengthy 12 year renovation. First opened in 1879, the hotel and its attached Madeleine Bar have been restored back to their former glory, fusing the original mix of French Renaissance, Victorian and Art Deco features with modern luxury. The bar is ‘inspired by Paris’ and pairs the buildings extraordinary ceilings and arched windows with a rose and lavender colour palette.

The hotel initially opened in November last year, with the bar holding three soft launch nights, before having to close due to the tier systems, so a grander, official opening will be held this year once restrictions have been lifted.

+44 1218 279600; thegrandhotelbirmingham.co.uk

Parisian interiors at Madeleine Bar
Parisian interiors at Madeleine Bar

15. Galaxy Bar, Dubai

For a little glamour in 2021 Dubai is an obvious choice, and Galaxy Bar, launched in the city’s DIFC district in 2019, epitomises that. Part of Dubai’s growing ‘speakeasy’ scene, the venue is deeply exclusive with a strict ‘no effort – no entry’ dress code and RSVP-only policy. The interiors are a plush, dark blue cavern inspired by owner Natasha Sideris’ ‘spiritual home’ of Athens, with gold-fringed velvet seating, marble back bar and a ceiling speckled with stars – evoking the Athenian night sky. Despite the restrictive entry requirements – and prohibitive cover charge and minimum spend – the bar has formed its own fanbase and was named ‘One To Watch’ by The World’s Best Bars in 2020.

+971 5051 35908; galaxy-bar.com/gallery

The Galaxy Bar Dubai is an exclusive spot
The Galaxy Bar Dubai is an exclusive spot

16. Superfly, Beijing

The Opposite House, a favoured location among Beijingers, has just launched Superfly: a bar with a ‘retro cool take’ on Sichuan’s ‘fly restaurants’. The term ‘fly restaurant’ is unique to southwest Sichuan and describes a place that serves delicious food at cheap prices, in very basic surroundings.

The new drinking spot’s cocktail menu is of particular note, being curated by Proof & Company, one of the world’s most awarded drinks consultancies. ‘Celebrating Chinese food and local culture’, drinks include the ‘Arctic Rickey’, which combines nostalgic Beijing fizzy drink, Arctic Ocean Soda, with gin, and a G&T made with a traditional southern Chinese drink of 7up mixed with preserved salted limes. Craft beers from a local brewery are also available, as is a food menu of Sichuan-style dishes.

+8610 6536 0601; thehousecollective.com/en/the-opposite-house

17. Grand Tour Cocktail, Naples

Three Napolitano men opened a cocktail bar with a difference in Naples last year. Brothers Alfredo and Mario Alinei, along with friend Martina Barucco, launched Grand Tour Cocktail Boutique in January 2020 as a bar inspired by the precursor to the gap year: the tradition of aristocratic youngsters going off on ‘grand tours’ of Europe from the 17th century onwards. The bar continues this European adventure in macro form, serving customers an itinerary of flavours. Will the drinks help you find yourself? Who knows, but the menu is impressive, with a strong emphasis on well-made classics, and a sign of Naples’ burgeoning interest in mixology.

instagram.com/grandtour.cocktail_boutique

Grand Tour, Naples
Grand Tour, Naples

18. Charlie’s Of Darwin, Darwin

Australia’s Top End – the northernmost section of the Northern Territory – along with Darwin city got its first gin distillery last year. Charlie’s of Darwin also doubles up as a speakeasy-style bar, with an entrance hidden down an alleyway behind a graffiti-covered door in the CBD district. All very trendy. Those sceptical of anything with a whiff of hipster at this point might skip ahead, but it would be a shame to do so. The bar itself consists of a great all-seasons rooftop as well as an inside bar, a full booklet of gins to choose from and a cocktail menu that includes a gin-based pina colada. Due to Covid, the distillery ended up repurposing its stills to make hand sanitiser, so its first batch of Darwin-made gin is yet to come out. Visit this year to be one of the first to taste it.

facebook.com/charliesofdarwin

The interiors at Charlie's Bar
The interiors at Charlie's Bar

19. One Eight Six, Manchester

This Manchester bar has only been open for a few months for lockdown hit, sending its doors closed again. Thankfully, it’ll reopen as soon as restrictions are lifted in the UK, and looks to be one of the city’s most interesting new venues. Situated in a Grade II-listed 186 Deansgate building, One Eight Six is also a barbershop, doing a haircutting and styling service seven days a week in normal times. Underneath the barber’s chairs, however, is an underground bar, accessed behind a mirror – so you can go for a drink after your long-awaited post-lockdown trim. Live music is on every night, with the bar serving cocktails as well as the usual spirit and mixers. A food menu is also expected to launch in January, as is a new French chateau-themed space, hidden within the bar.

+44 3336 000186; bynight.oneeightsix.co.uk

The underground bar at One Eight Six
The underground bar at One Eight Six

20. The Connaught, London

The beautiful Connaught Bar has been a stalwart of London’s drinking scene for years. Things are traditionally excellent here. Hushed but attentive service, shining cocktail trolleys, freshly pressed uniforms, the works. So why visit this year over any other? For one, the bar’s newest menu, Formae, is inspired by the bar’s David Collins-designed Cubist décor and has some splendid-sounding drinks. For instance, the Magnetum: a mix of scotch and sherry which arrive in two different containers and are swirled together at the table with a custom-designed, modernist stirrer. The bar also took first place in the World’s 50 Best Bars 2020, after several years flirting with the top spot.

+44 2073 143419; the-connaught.co.uk

The Connaught Bar interior
The Connaught Bar interior
And five soon-to-launch bars to look out for...

Sips, Barcelona

This new Barcelona bar was set to open in January, but this will no doubt be moved until after restrictions on indoor drinking have been lifted. Headed up by Simone Caporale – who helped The Langham’s Artesian bar take World’s Best Bar four years in a row – Sips will take the Spanish tapas concept to drinks, serving small portions of beer, wine, spirits and cocktails at accessible prices.

sips.barcelona

The Gold Bar, Tokyo

Slated to open in 2021, this new Tokyo bar will be found on the ground floor of the EDITION hotel. Cocktails, non-alcoholic drinks and an all-day menu will be on offer, as well as a ‘modern Japanese tea service’ created by a local tea master.

editionhotels.com/tokyo

The spectacular Gold Bar will launch later this year
The spectacular Gold Bar will launch later this year

Red Frog, Lisbon

One of Lisbon’s most lauded bars, Red Frog, will be reopening in March, following a relocation to Monkey Mash – bartender Emanuel Minez’s modern tropical cocktail bar that opened in 2019. The old Red Frog was a speakeasy-themed bar, now it’s becoming a proper speakeasy, hidden in a small room. A new ‘best of’ menu will also be launched, featuring the bars biggest cocktail hits from the past six years.

Monkeymash.pt

The Vault Lounge Bar, Malta

Malta’s newest 5-star hotel, Iniala Harbour House & Residences, will open this April in the capital, Valletta, and along with it comes The Vault Lounge Bar. The name comes from the hotel being spread across four Maltese townhouses and their ancient vaults, which date back to the 1600s. Unsurprisingly, the bar will be in one of the vaults.

inialamalta.com

The Vault Bar will have some fantastic interiors
The Vault Bar will have some fantastic interiors

The bar with shapes for a name, London

Co-founders Remy Savage (of Parisian bar, Little Red Door) and Paul Lougrat are behind this upcoming London bar opening, which will open this year on Kingsland Road in Hackney sometime this year. The bar has no name other than a yellow triangle, a red square and a blue circle, and is inspired by the Bauhaus art movement.