Toast a return to international travel at five of world's top bars, writes Patricia Maunder
There will be much to celebrate when we can finally travel far and wide, so consider doing it in style by raising a glass at the world's most legendary bars. Taste the high life for the price of an admittedly pricey drink at these destinations renowned for their great cocktails, gracious decor and storied pasts.
Harry's New York Bar, Paris
Why go: Cocktail bar nostalgia
Drink: French 75
Wear: Casual with a little je ne sais quoi
Literally, a New York bar that was dismantled and shipped to Paris in 1911, this joint got the other part of its name from Scottish head bartender Harry MacElhone, who eventually bought it. His descendants still run Harry's New York Bar, which has hardly changed since it was frequented by Americans in Paris such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Gershwin and Ernest Hemingway.
MacElhone created the French 75 here during World War I, when early devotees equated its potent mix of lemon, sugar, gin and Champagne with a French 75mm field gun's recoil. Don't give up hope of enjoying one in situ if this cosy cocoon of red-leather banquets and dark wood, polished by time, looks crowded; there's a basement piano bar too.
Raffles hotel's Long Bar, Singapore
Why go: It's a colonial-era classic
Drink: Singapore Sling
Wear: Tropical tourist casual
Established in the early 20th century, when it was popular with colonial plantation owners, the Long Bar has been shaken up several times – most notably 30 years ago when it moved from the Raffles lobby to its current location along an arcade. In 2019, the bar emerged from a major hotel-wide renovation with some retro-modernism among its carved mahogany, cane armchairs and battery of swaying palm ceiling fans.
The Long Bar is the Singapore sling's birthplace. Women consuming alcohol in public was frowned upon in 1915, so the bartender created this rosy-pink cocktail that looks like fruit juice. Even at $37, it's so popular, a vintage-style, hand-cranked machine that simultaneously shakes several slings was recently introduced. For the full cliche, sip one while brushing the complimentary peanut shells to the floor, like the planters of yore.
El Floridita, Havana
Why go: It's as classic as Havana's cars
Wear: Your take on summer-holiday smart
No website – it's old school
Established in 1817, this seafood restaurant and bar rose to prominence when thirsty Americans descended on Cuba during the 1920s' Prohibition era. After the daiquiri was invented and perfected here in the 1930s, El Floridita was possibly the world's most famous bar, frequented by Hollywood stars and authors. Ubiquitous barfly Ernest Hemingway became a fixture during the many years he lived in Havana.
El Floridita is now a Hemingway shrine, with memorabilia including a handwritten note about his love of their daiquiris and a life-size bronze statue perched at the bar. Like much of the city, it's somewhat frozen in that moment before the 1950s revolution. Amid the decor's faded glory, red-jacketed bartenders mix daiquiris with equal parts professionalism and showmanship.
King Cole Bar, New York
Why go: The epic mural
Drink: Red Snapper
Wear: Understated elegance, especially after 4pm
The St Regis is one of New York City's most opulent hotels but sashay through with confidence, because your destination will soon become apparent. It's impossible to miss the 9m-wide Maxfield Parrish mural depicting Old King Cole of nursery rhyme fame. This colourful scene with a golden glow was painted in 1906, then settled into the hotel bar that took its name in 1932.
Two years later, another King Cole Bar icon appeared: the bloody mary. It's still made according to the original recipe here in its birthplace and known by its original name, red snapper. Settle in with one in this dignified wood-panelled space, perhaps pulling up a stool at the bar for an uninterrupted view of the mural stretching out behind it. After a while, you'll get to wondering what the king's courtiers are sniggering at …
Connaught Bar, London
Why go: It's officially the world's best
Wear: Mayfair smart
The Savoy's American Bar and the eponymous bar at Dukes hotel are arguably more legendary among London's watering holes. Since another heritage hotel, The Connaught, was transformed 13 years ago, however, its bar has become the place to drink in town. Scooping numerous major accolades, including first place in the most recent World's 50 Best Bars awards, the Connaught Bar has acquired legend status through sheer excellence.
Platinum leaf and overstuffed leather couches are just part of what makes this space ooze contemporary-meets-cubist elegance. It's a fitting backdrop for the famously inventive takes on classic cocktails. Yet who can resist the gentle clinking sound of the approaching martini trolley, from which a smartly-suited bartender conjures timeless martinis with bespoke touches, including your choice of six house-made bitters.