Airport bars you want
to get stuck in
You can drink in the atmosphere as well as top-notch libations at these delightfully out-of-the-ordinary travellers' oases, from Spinnakers on the Fly in Victoria to Book & Bourbon Southern Kitchen in Louisville to Wine & View in Helsinki
It's a sadly familiar scene: Waiting patiently at the gate for your approaching departure, absorbed reading the newspaper or scanning social media, you become vaguely aware of a slightly garbled announcement coming over the PA system, until the mention of your destination city and flight number snaps you to full attention. Flight delay. Of at least an hour and maybe – probably! – longer.
We've all been there, although that knowledge does little to mitigate the soul-sapping effect of lengthy and involuntary airport inhabitation. Fortunately, at a growing number of terminals around the globe, delays are becoming a little less irritating thanks to the arrival of a new generation of bars that are not only a cut above the airport norm, but good enough to rate as destinations in their own rights.
You might expect that the Louisville International Airport would boast a bar that championed the region's grand bourbon-soaked past and present but, up until the start of this year, you would have been mistaken. That oversight was mercifully remedied by the January opening of Book & Bourbon Southern Kitchen, a main terminal bar and restaurant that pays tribute to the quintessential American spirit.
With 85 bourbons available by the glass or in tasting flights – costing from as little as $10 to as much as $101 for a selection of rarities – and an extensive, bourbon-focused cocktail menu supported by southern comfort cuisine, with even educational resources for those who wish to learn more about the local distilleries, Book & Bourbon is a great way to start or finish your Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience.
The airport in the Bavarian capital connects conveniently to the S-Bahn, which will whisk you to the downtown Hauptbahnhof in an efficient 40 minutes. That is, if you don't find yourself first waylaid by Airbräu, a brewery and beer hall that sits tantalizingly between the airport exit and the train station entrance.
Boasting a refreshingly affordable menu of wurst, pork knuckle and other typical Bavarian specialties, plus three fresh year-round beers and assorted seasonal brews, Europe's only airport brewery has become a mandatory first or last stop – or both! – for many a beer-focused visitor to Germany.
As unexpected as it might seem to find oenological excellence in Scandinavia, it was Wine & View that won the Food and Beverage Excellence Award for Airport Wine Bar of the Year in 2016.
And with a wine list that both changes daily and is based upon the European Fine Wines magazine's ranking of the top 1,000 wines in the world, it's an honour well deserved.
The bar's modest food menu features what the kitchen describes as "Nordic tapas," with seafood and reindeer accented by such flavours as spruce buds and pickled mushrooms, but it's really the wine that's the draw here.
From a €9.5 ($14 Canadian) split of cava to a €562.5 bottle of vintage Champagne and a constantly changing list of "Cellar Rarities" by the glass, there truly is something to suit every sort of wine aficionado.
There is hardly a need for an oasis of calm in Victoria's modestly sized and decidedly relaxed airport, but were such an occasion to arise, Spinnakers on the Fly would be the place to provide it.
Convenient to all gates in the lower departure lounge, the bar offers a peaceful atmosphere even when crowded, with a pair of relatively unobtrusive televisions, a pub-ish food menu decidedly strong on local ingredients and, pivotally, a half-dozen mainstays and rotating seasonal beers on tap from one of Canada's oldest independent breweries, Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub in Victoria West.
What is perhaps most extraordinary about the gateside location, however, is how inexpensive the beer is by international airport standards. As anyone who has ever been gouged for a preflight can of mass-produced lager will appreciate, under $7 for a 20-ounce pint of brewery-fresh Mitchell's Extra Special Bitter is a bit of frequent-flier heaven.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport might be the long-standing title holder as the world's busiest, but it also competes as one of the absolute best for flight delays, mainly because of the outstanding One Flew South. Designed by two veterans of the legendary Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, the somewhat removed-from-the-maddening-crowds restaurant was designed from the outset to house a great cocktail bar, and the almost-decade-old venue does exactly that extremely well.
While the bar does good business with Southern-themed drinks such as the Georgia Bellini, highlights of the travel-themed drinks menu are its more innovative and oft-changing creations, such as the sherry-based Cab Calloway or, for the adventurous, the "wild card" Bartender's Choice. If she's on shift, say hello, and trust your palate, to the bar's excellent and long-standing mixologist, Tiffanie Barriere.
For many travellers, the gin and tonic is the perfect preboarding tipple, with its equal parts of refreshment and relaxation. And while it is true that you can buy the cocktail at nearly all of the world's airports, being served one that is made with gin distilled on site, as it is at Nicholas Culpeper Pub & Dining in Gatwick Airport, is a decidedly unique experience.
Opened last year and named for a 17 th-century botanist born within a short jog of the airport, the bar features the world's first airport distillery and highlights its lone creation, a punchy, suitably herbal spirit, in cocktails such as the Culpeper G&T and a highly aromatic Aviation. Other gins are also featured, including London's own Sipsmith, as well as local and imported craft beers and an assortment of red, white and rose wines by the glass.
Stephen Beaumont is co-author with Tim Webb of the new Best Beers, arriving in November, and two editions of The World Atlas of Beer.