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A pub crawl around the world

From New York and New Orleans to Iceland and Australia, a guide to drinking around the globe.
The term "runter" refers to the weekend ritual of hitting the bars and clubs in Reykjavik's "101 district" until sun-up. Popular stops include the Ice Bar, Kaffibarinn and Sirkus, which hosts an annual Tom Selleck Mustache competition.
The term "runter" refers to the weekend ritual of hitting the bars and clubs in Reykjavik's "101 district" until sun-up. Popular stops include the Ice Bar, Kaffibarinn and Sirkus, which hosts an annual Tom Selleck Mustache competition.Alamy
/ Source: Forbes

Kevin Brauch's day job is hosting "The Thirsty Traveler", a television show about traveling and drinking, which airs on the Fine Living Network. So you'd think that when he finally gets home to Toronto, he might want to stay in with his pint.

But Brauch actually likes to drink on the go, especially in Toronto.

In fact, when we asked Brauch — among several other celebrity barflies and bartenders — to name 10 top cities for bar crawls, Brauch put Toronto at the top of his list.

Toronto's "once derelict now gentrified" neighborhood of West Queen West is ideal for a bar crawl, says Brauch, because of its funky mix of hotel bars and stand-alone establishments like Sweaty Betty's and Reposado.

He suggests starting the crawl at the bohemian chic Gladstone Hotel's Melody Bar where the 1930s wooden bar is the perfect spot to down a Labatts — or two.

"At the start of crawl, it's important to drink something familiar," says Brauch. You can drink something a little more interesting at the next stop: the hipster Drake Hotel bar, which is always shaking the newest cocktail.

While most seasoned pub crawlers like to stick to what the Audrey Saunders (New York City's grand dame of cocktails, and owner of the Pegu Club) calls the "one and be done" rule, Brauch claims any serious crawl requires two-drinks per establishment.

"I understand the concept of one — but, seriously, do you want to do the triathlon version of a crawl or the Iron Man?"

Brauch is a big fan of themed bar crawls like "fancy hotel bars" or "fake biker bars," or "literary pubs" but he also appreciates the random nature of a crawl driven by logistics not lore.

Take Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, another Brauch pick for top bar crawl city. The tiny city boasts over 100 bars and all are located on or around the city's main drag where locals gather every weekend for an all-night pub crawl known as "the runter."

Brauch says alcohol is so expensive in Reykjavik that the party usually begins in someone's living room where guests get good and tipsy before they head out and spend their Krona on $15 beers.

Brauch just returned from several days of hard drinking in Australia and the trip "reconfirmed what I already knew: Sydney's really has its mix going on."

Hands down, Sydney's hottest cocktail 'hood is Kings Cross, a gruff section where prostitutes mix with fashionistas. Any Kings Cross crawl should include stops at The Lincoln, Jimmy Liks, The Bourbon and the Iguana Bar — "all within ten or 15 blocks of each other."

George Nemec, bar manager at The Lincoln and one of Sydney's most famous mixologists, says Australia's cocktail culture is still very young. When he travels for cocktail research he loves to go to Tokyo or Prague two cities where you can still find small bars owned by the person who serves your drink.

Cocktail king Dale De Groff, often credited for reviving New York's cocktail culture when he worked behind the Rainbow Room's bar in the late '80s and '90s, says there's no question, "New York City is the ultimate bar crawl city."

"From the 'cocktail geek' bars with their cutting edge mixology like Pegu Club, Little Branch and Employees Only," says DeGroff, "to historic places like McSorley's where seven generations of New Yorkers before us lifted a glass daily" New York offers more types of bars than any other city.

He points to the contrast between old time "neighborhood" bars like Farrell's in Brooklyn "where births and marriages are celebrated and divorces and deaths mourned," and "the celebrity bars like Bungalow 8, where if you want to pay the $600 dollar bottle charge you can sit (near) Sean Combs."

David Wondrich, Esquire's cocktail columnist and author of "Imbibe!", has a soft spot for the historic bars of New Orleans.

When in the Big Easy, Wondrich rarely deviates from his favorite itinerary: He always starts the evening off by downing a classic New Orleans cocktail — a sazerac — at Tugeau's, one of the city's oldest bars. In the course of an evening, he'll wend his way to the Napoleon House, the Old Absinthe House, the bar at Arnaud's and Lafitte's Blacksmith House — all within walking distance.

Easy stumbling distance between stops is not required, says the Pegu Club's Saunders, who is happy to hop in a cab midcrawl if it means getting a better cocktail.

Besides, she says, "just as with drinking cocktails, it's fun to take in the varying flavors of a neighborhood."

Outside of New York, San Francisco gets her vote "because there's no attitude, just lots of super-nice bartenders who are really excited about what they're doing."

Gary Regan, who writes a biweekly cocktail column for the San Francisco Chronicle, agrees. Last year, he hit 22 bars in San Francisco in 48 hours — all in the name of research. He took notes as he always does in his moleskin notebook. "When on a crawl," says Regan, "it's important to map your route ahead of time and have it all written down. Remember: You're on a mission."

Though San Francisco has no shortage of hip new bars, his favorites are classics — Spec's, Bix and Enrico's.

Regan is also a big fan of the booming London cocktail scene. Milk n' Honey, the kitschy Trailer Happiness bar and the Player are always on his route when he is in the U.K.

Of course, no London crawl is complete, says Regan, without a stop at Salvatore at Fifty. The destination cocktail bar is run by Salvatore Calabrese, one of Britain's most famous mixologists (and characters).

Regan says it's the perfect place to end since Salvatore's signature drink is the "breakfast martini" — a gin martini made with orange marmalade.