Food & Wine
February 01, 2010

I used to know what a bar was. It was a place like the Wicked Wolf in Manhattan, where, in the late 1970s, I would hang out almost every Friday night with friends, nursing a well-made Tom Collins at a table with a red-checked tablecloth. Actor Kelsey Grammer and a bunch of other now-famous people hung out there, too. It was a friendly place to drink, with no memorable food. But bars now offer amazing things to eat, along with experimental cocktails, interesting wines and incredible beers. In fact, it's getting harder to tell a bar from a restaurant or a restaurant from a bar.

The biggest improvement? Happy hour. At Poppy in Seattle, chef Jerry Traunfeld serves a sampling of five snacks—all on one tray, Indian-thali-style—for just $5. His Spice Crispies and warm roasted-cauliflower spread with sesame are fantastic.

Brooklyn chefs Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli are masters of the hybrid bar-restaurant. Their Prime Meats serves German food that references the 1880s, like tangy-sweet sauerbraten (wine-braised beef). But their ambitious cocktails are very now.

Around the world, bars with inventive drinks have supplanted those with frilly, fruity ones (which I sometimes like!). We name some of the world's best bars in Where to Go Next—a preview of our F&W Cocktails book, out in April.

Once you fall in love with the signature drinks at a great bar, we think you'll be inspired to create your own. We asked star bartender Eric Alperin of The Varnish in Los Angeles to host a party at which the guests learned the building blocks of a good cocktail. Some of his friends went from neophyte to nerd in just a few hours.

I hope the stories in this issue inspire you to acquaint yourself with the new neighborhood bar. Just be sure to go hungry.

Where I'm Coming From

My Recent New York City Expeditions:

The Breslin
April Bloomfield (an F&W Best New Chef 2007) and Peter Cho make a great three-cheese sandwich and lamb burger, but I'm haunted by the spiced roasted-pumpkin side dish.

Four Seasons
One of the world's most beautiful restaurants now serves awesome food to match, like the spaghetti with crab and chiles.

At Danny Meyer's newest restaurant, in the Gramercy Park Hotel, chef Nick Anderer's minestra with spelt and turnip greens is compulsively eatable.

Follow me on Twitter@fwscout.