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World’s Best Airport Bars

© Garnish Photography, courtesy of Green Olive Media

Spots for sampling artisanal cocktails, regional wine varietals and craft beers—at a departures gate near you.

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There are times, at an airport, when a third cup of coffee or a $5 bottle of soda simply won’t do. Whether you’re celebrating a successful business trip, toasting a happy vacation or facing an onerous flight delay, certain travel circumstances seem to require raising an actual glass, in an environment more comforting than a molded plastic terminal seat.

Luckily, the growing trend of stylish airport bars makes doing this easier and more enjoyable than ever.

As they already have with restaurants, airports are now responding to customer demand for better wine bars, brewpubs and cocktail havens. The rapidly improving scene prompted The Moodie Report, a leading travel-retail trade publication, to host the first annual Airport Food & Beverage (FAB) awards in 2011. “It’s a real Cinderella story,” says Genevieve Knevitt, editor of The Foodie Report, The Moodie Report’s food and drink–focused sister title. “Ten years ago, if someone told you that one day airports around the globe would boast world-class dining, you simply wouldn’t believe them.”

Airport bars are also focusing more on local libations and ingredients, to emphasize a destination’s sense of place. You can now taste a Dr. Frank Pinot Noir from the New York State Finger Lakes region, for example, while at John F. Kennedy airport, or a Goose Island pale ale, brewed just down the road in Chicago, when you’re at O’Hare.

The Frescobaldi family of Tuscan wine producers pioneered this approach back in 1999, when they opened the first Dei Frescobaldi bar in Rome’s Fiumicino airport. The bar’s offerings—local wine vintages paired with upscale bites like charcuterie plates—were so popular with en route business travelers that the family branched out, adding two more locations in other Fiumicino terminals.

Flash forward to 2005, when Doug Tomlinson had a similar cork-popping moment and opened the Vino Volo wine bar in Washington Dulles International Airport. Tomlinson aimed to not only give travelers a good glass of wine, but also to educate them with pairings and offer bottles for sale. It was an instant success, and Vino Volo quickly grew to more than a dozen U.S. locations. The company has just gone international with sites in Vancouver, and two Denver airport branches will debut in early 2013.

Airport terminals currently being renovated or built now make a point of highlighting their upscale bar options. At Miami International Airport’s in-the-works North Terminal, for example, thirsty fliers quickly latched on to Beaudevin, a branch of Autogrill’s new wine bar chainlet that opened in May 2012.

As these bars gain recognition, some are even looking beyond the airstrip. Vino Volo, for instance, opened its first urban location, in Bethesda, Md., in November 2012. “Since day one, our guests have wished they didn’t have to have a boarding pass to get to us,” explains Carla Wytmar, director of development. Now they don’t.

For a full list of great terminal tipples (and a few inevitable “tasting flight” puns), read on.

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