Man at His Best

Opinion: Bars That You Could Call Your Homes Away From Home

Kurt Ganapathy takes a page from the way Ernest Hemingway travelled to discover the joy of bars where everyone doesn't know your name.

BY Kurt Ganapathy | Apr 12, 2016 | Food & Drink


Like anyone with an inclination towards alcohol and the written word, I look on the life of Ernest Hemingway with a certain romantic regard. His adventures appeal to our intellectual aspirations and baser instincts, daring us to cut a path through life that is desirable for all the right and wrong reasons. Hemingway’s world has largely faded away, but a direct connection to the man still remains: his favourite bars. 

In Paris, there is the bar at The Ritz now named in his honour and Harry’s New York Bar, while in Key West sits Sloppy Joe’s, his haunt in the ’30s. And then in Old Havana is El Floridita where he knocked back daiquiris as he completed For Whom the Bell Tolls.

What I gained from the legend of Hemingway was not, however, a thirst for overpriced cocktails that probably bear no resemblance to what he actually drank. Rather, it inspired me to uncover bars that I could call homes away from home. For me, travel is about balancing the unfamiliar and the familiar, and the warmth of a good bar is often the best place to find the latter.

I remember my first home away from home well. It couldn’t have been more different from the refined watering holes of Hemingway’s era. It was Angkor What?, a rowdy backpacker bar in Siem Reap selling spirits by the bucket. But what made it “home”, I couldn’t quite quantify.

Since then, I’ve collected favourite bars in every city that I have passed through. Some I stumbled upon almost immediately: hopping off the airport bus in Ho Chi Minh City, I ended up outside Allez Boo, which stocked the most Vietnamese beers in town. Others I discovered after a little too much research: on the trail of Don Draper in Honolulu, I made my way to Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach. 

There were some that left me speechless with their grandeur (1911 Bar at The Imperial in New Delhi) and the rare few that I was simply happy to locate in the middle of an otherwise dry area, such as Kota Baru’s Golden City Restaurant, an Irish pub with the most un-Irish name imaginable.

Sitting in my latest foreign local, a craft beer joint called Le Mille e Una Birra in Reggio Emilia, I began to wonder what such a diverse array of bars had in common. To put it simply, they all had an energy derived from a confluence of people on odysseys of their own, good (or at least cold) drinks, and an atmosphere that made you want to while away the day without care or concern. It is energy that fills you with a sense of ease and quiet contentment that’s not always present on the road.

Though we can’t all live like Hemingway, we can take a page from the way he travelled. We might not win a Nobel Prize for our efforts, but we’ll end up with stories that make the journey worthwhile.

From: Esquire Singapore's April 2016 issue.