It used to be that when visiting a new city, a business traveler would have to rely on just the advice of the concierge or maybe a blurb in the in-room magazine to know where to get a really good cocktail.
But the Internet is leaving little to guesswork for finding the best watering holes.
For informal recommendations and tips, I use Google (GOOG) to try and find blogs that are written by people in the city that I am visiting. One good example is www.seattlebarblog.com.
Blogs by Connoisseurs
For the San Francisco-bound, another is www.alcademics.com, written by San Francisco-based journalist Camper English, who knows the best deals and the best pours in the Bay area. He travels, and his blog is also good for recording the best mixologists in New York, New Orleans, Amsterdam, and Edinburgh.
Going to Boston? Try www.drinkboston.com, where I learned about Doyle's Café, a low- to moderately priced Irish bar, also purported to be the oldest Irish drinking hole in the city. For Chicago, I now have La Madia on my list of places to go not only for good Italian food, but for an award-winning mixologist at the bar, thanks to thinkingofdrinking.blogspot.com.
Then, there are some macro forums like www.10best.com, which tracks the best places in cities across the U.S., as well as internationally. Such sites aren't always good for getting good user reviews, though, as many places you'll check out have not been sized up. www.worldsbestbars.com is a better site, with a more Web-friendly presentation.
Calling Cigar Aficionados
During a trip to Washington, D.C., I used the site to find Ozio Martini & Cigar Lounge as I specifically wanted a place where a friend and myself could light up a stogie without being bothered. www.pubcrawler.com is also a good online resource, focusing on listing the bars with the best beer selections.
Esquire magazine, always a good resource for drinking holes and splashy clubs, is kind enough to list its Best Bars in America on an easy-to-navigate section of its Web site, www.esquire.com. Without it, I wouldn't have found out about Midtown Billiards in Little Rock, Ark., or plan to stop by the Dead President's Pub & Restaurant the next time I have to cover an annual shareholders meeting in Wilmington, Del.
In my own backyard in Michigan, Esquire singled out Miller's in Dearborn, which I know as a Ford Motor (F) hangout and for its great burgers, onion rings, and blue-collar atmosphere that also attracts many a white-collar luncher. But it's nice to see a national magazine confirm my own taste in bars.
Eye on Drinkwell
One way to increase your chances on the road of hitting a good place to eat where the bartenders are also a cut above is to seek out an establishment rated by Zagat's Drinkwell program. Visitors to www.idrinkwell.com get access to Zagat ratings for thousands of places certified by the firm based on the availability of the best spirits and the training completed by the bartenders.
Drinkwell is a joint effort by Zagat and spirits giant Diageo (DEO), which markets such brands as Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Tanqueray, and Captain Morgan. Not unlike Zagat's restaurant ratings, the Drinkwell ratings at least assure that the restaurant is serious enough about its bar to make its bartenders go through proper training and get accredited. They go through five 45-minute online modules on mixology, white spirits, brown spirits, service, and menus before the establishment can carry the Drinkwell badge.
In the Detroit area, where I live, a couple of the Drinkwell-rated eateries are, in fact, some of my favorite restaurant bars in the area—The Capital Grill in Troy, and Forte in Birmingham. When you go to www.idrinkwell.com, you see that a lot of restaurant chains have put their staff through the training—Legal Seafood, Capital Grill, Morton's. But there are many independent restaurants listed.
Steve Wallet, vice-president for channel marketing at Diageo, says that the growth in cocktail culture in primary and secondary cities around the U.S. drove the development of the program. "People are discerning about where they are going to spend their money on drinks," says Wallet. "The bars and mixology standards at restaurants are being held to nearly the same standard as the food now."
As well they should be.