‘150 Bars’ book: unique places to take a swig

(Not in the book, but a Wisconsin gem, on Washington Island)

Prohibition ended nationwide 85 years ago, as of this month, so now is a particularly appropriate time to hoist that hot toddy.

Comfort and familiarity matter when deciding where to drink alcohol close to home. We seek the “Cheers” effect, the tribal reassurance of being among friends or friendly faces. If everybody knows our name, so much the better (for most of us anyway).

What happens when you’re far, far away? If you seek the charismatic and extraordinary more than cheap drinks with big-screen TVs and a plate of nachos, Jurgen Licops can help. The author of “150 Bars You Need to Visit Before You Die” (Lannoo, $22) whisks us around the world and reveals some of the most stunning, unusual sites to sip, swig and slow down.

“Stepping into a bar is always a unique experience,” writes the author, who lives in Belgium and was twice named best sommelier there. “You often feel the vibe at once, one that says that everything is okay and it is going to be a magical evening.”

Licops opened Bar Burbure in Antwerp in 2016, which is described online as a mix between “fashionable Milan, quaint London and cosmopolitan Manhattan.”

Think Amsterdam to Zurich when reaching for “150 Bars.” Only 26 U.S. properties make the cut, and 17 of them are in New York.

Every bar has a story to tell, Licops believes, and it’s “certainly not always about the drinks.” That would be the case at Blackwell Rum Bar in The Caves Hotel of Jamaica’s Negril: The outdoor and oceanside bar is inside volcanic rocks.

Or, Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone at the French Quarter of New Orleans, where a seat at the bar means a slow-spin around the room – no matter what you drink – because the circular bar revolves.

At least five choices were favorites of Ernest Hemingway: El Floridita (where the diabetic author ordered sugar-free daiquiris) and Sloppy Joe’s in Havana (restored after almost 50 years “in ruins”); Harry’s Bar in Venice (where beef carpaccio was invented); Hemingway Bar in Prague (where absinithe cocktails are a specialty); and Dante in New York (known for negroni adaptations).

Licops describes Hemingway as “an assiduous bar patron, all over the world,” and perhaps that is the subject for another book at another time. lannoopublishers.com/en

Closest to home? A trio of cocktail lounges makes the “150 Bars” cut: The Aviary, 955 W. Fulton Market (home to three-, five- and seven-course cocktail tastings); Bordel, 1721 W. Division St. (in the vampish bordello décor are erotic posters, abundance of red velvet); and Untitled Supper Club, 111 W. Kinzie St. (known for its vast whiskey lineup, frequent entertainment). Don’t expect supper club fare: It’s about seafood towers ($99) and stew ($33), not fish fries. exploretock.com/theaviary, bordelchicago.com, untitledsupperclub.com

Federal law made alcohol sales illegal from 1920-33, but stories abound about how pockets of Wisconsin sidestepped that sobering time. The Badger State didn’t take Prohibition as seriously, or tolerate it as long, as the rest of the nation.

We voted to allow the making and sale of beer with 2.75 percent alcohol in 1926 and to repeat Prohibition enforcement in 1929.

Nelsen’s Hall – on Washington Island, at the tip of Door County – stayed open without interruption because bitters were legally sold as a stomach tonic, with a wink and a nod. The proprietor obtained a pharmaceutical license during Prohibition, contending that bitters had medicinal value.

The laid-back bar-restaurant has a Bitters Club, and membership is sort of a rite of passage when visiting the island. Drink a shot of bitters to join, as thousands of others have. No other place in the world consumes more of the Angostura brand of bitters. washingtonisland.com

Now, your turn: If we were compiling a list of “Wisconsin Bars You Need to Visit Before You Die,” what should be on it, and why? Send a note about your favorites to me before the end of this year.

Two participants will be selected at random to receive a snazzy 2019 calendar from Workman Publishing. The Atlas Obscura calendar showcases some of the world’s unique, fascinating and lesser-known places to visit (Atlas Obscura, as a book, includes Nelsen’s Hall). Workman’s Island calendar is self-explanatory, with photography to make you crave a vacation.

The calendars are two of 34 new titles that the publisher is releasing. workman.com