Eat + Drink

From Cocktails to Craft Brews, 5 Unexpected Cities with a Standout Drinks Scene

Lovers of libations are likely familiar with finding hip drinks scenes in major metropolises like New York City, London or Los Angeles. But some of the most exciting work in the cocktail and craft beverage space is happening outside many of the obvious enclaves.

In spots not typically associated with an aspirational drinks culture — including both mid-size and larger cities — those in the know are starting to see some striking innovations in unexpected places.

With that in mind, follow our lead to cities as varied as Athens, Georgia and Milan, Italy which are just starting to leave their mark and are waiting to be discovered by thirsty travelers.

Kansas City, Missouri

During the 1920s and 1930s, Kansas City earned a reputation for its raucous nightlife — one it wore with pride — earning it the nickname “Paris of the Plains.” As America attempted to enforce booze-free morality during Prohibition, liquor still flowed like water in Kansas City’s saloons and speakeasies.

Word quickly spread that Kansas City was a good-time town, and as partyers, musicians and others flocked here, thus, the city’s nickname, was born, along with a vibrant jazz district and cocktail culture.

Nearly a century later, KC’s dynamic cocktail scene is booming once again, welcoming intrigued tipplers in search of the most interesting libations in the country. Today you’ll find Tiki bars, speakeasies and cocktail clubs. Read on to discover all the hot spots.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Yes, you can get a drink in Salt Lake City. Utah’s once restrictive drinking culture is changing fast — along with the arcane laws that long sat on its books. It wasn’t long ago that SLC’s cocktail scene amounted to little more than cheap gin and tonics or quick rum and Cokes. (A couple of upscale cocktail spots were ahead of their time—see The Vault at Bambara and The Red Door.)

Luckily, things have changed.

Craft cocktail bars abound, from speakeasy-inspired hideaways to vibrant indoor/outdoor hangouts. And while most of them offer small bites or more, many premises are all “LICENSED AS A BAR, NOT A RESTAURANT,” so you don’t have to order food to drink at them. And if you’re confused about deconstructing all those quirky liquor laws, we’ve got you covered.

Athens, Georgia

Visitors to Athens have a new reason to say “Cheers!” at the quintessential college town’s collection of craft breweries. Thanks to changes in Georgia’s alcohol regulations, breweries (and distilleries across the state, too) can now sell their suds straight from the source — no more being relegated to shopping for craft beers at wholesale distribution sites.

In short, there’s never been a better time to embark on some beer tasting — and grab a six-pack to go — in one of the South’s edgiest formerly antebellum towns. Follow our lead to the best craft breweries in Athens where you can try and buy.

Milan, Italy

Aperitivo, pre-dinner drinks accompanied by complimentary nibbles, is a time-honored tradition in Milan, a city where dinner starts late. Many trace its roots to northern Italy, with some claiming that the practice of consuming an appetite-stimulating aperitif got its start in Turin and others arguing it began in Milan.

Over the years, aperitivo has become an integral part of the city’s social scene, in some cases even replacing dinner as the main evening meal. We’ve uncovered seven spots that are perfect for a leisurely few hours spent drinking, socializing and snacking.

Bangkok, Thailand

Away from the glaring neon that characterizes much of Bangkok’s nightlife lie a host of under-the-radar watering holes catering to a more discerning crowd. At the forefront of the latest drinking trends, these places offer rare spirits and an air of exclusivity.

Finding many of the city’s speakeasies may take some effort (you just might have to enter a secret code into an abandoned phone booth) to find, but your persistence will be rewarded with exceptional craft cocktails, including bespoke and custom-crafted varieties. Indeed, there’s more than meets the eye in Bangkok’s extraordinary cocktail scene.