In an industry hit particularly hard by the shockwaves of the pandemic, it’s a welcome change—after years in which closures outpaced openings—to once again take stock of what’s new and notable in the bar world. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the list that follows reflects a drinking landscape drastically altered by the events of the past few years. The comfort cocktail reigns supreme, although now it exists within an environment engineered to up the nostalgia factor thanks to a growing crop of neo-dive bars, an oxymoronic endeavor that nevertheless succeeds in offering solace through familiarity and approachability.
In the wine world, too, a widespread loosening of dogma that dictates everything down to glassware etiquette has spawned the natural wine party bar, a venue—and lifestyle—that shuns tradition in favor of minimal-intervention wine and good vibes. It’s an ethos shared by the dominant aesthetic of new cocktail bars: disco aperitivo, which makes the case that a DJ booth and dance floor are as important to a good time as a roster of fail-safe Italian classics.
But perhaps most exciting to see among this fall’s openings is the number of bars that shuttered during the pandemic, only to reopen—in new spaces and with renewed purpose—to bring us more of what we’ve always loved.
Here, a list of the trends to look for this season and the new bars that best represent them.
The Neo Dive
King Leroy, Seattle
Milady’s, New York City
Back in 2019, one of the earliest and most prominent adopters of the “new dive” aesthetic was Justin Theroux, proprietor of Ray’s Bar in Manhattan, a carefully curated mimetic dive decorated with cheap paneling and campy touches. But this year, perhaps as a result of a pandemic-induced back-to-basics mentality, expect to see many more bars cut from the same cloth. Notably, in Seattle, Renee Erickson (Barnacle, The Walrus and the Carpenter, Deep Dive) has opened King Leroy, a neo-dive that pairs ultra-casual bar staples like chicken wings and jalapeño poppers with a cocktail menu that nods to the dark ages of mixed drinks, such as her own take on the Long Island Iced Tea, all set against a backdrop of vinyl booths, a record-playing jukebox and plenty of Rainier and Olympia beer memorabilia.
In New York, Julie Reiner (partner in the bygone Flatiron Lounge and Pegu Club, as well as Brooklyn’s existing Clover Club and Leyenda) has taken over Milady’s, one of the last remaining dives in the SoHo neighborhood. She intends to maintain the original’s laid-back atmosphere while offering a menu of approachable cocktails, some drawn from her own roster of classics (like the C3 Apple Martini, which will debut under a new moniker, the Big Apple Martini) and others with universal recognition, like Jell-O shots and whiskey highballs.
King Leroy, Seattle | Photo: Dain Susman
The Disco Aperitivo
The Let’s Go Disco and Cocktail Club, Los Angeles
Discolo, New York City
Midnight Cafe, New York City
Disco balls, illuminated dance floors, DJ booths: A quick survey of the newest bar openings reveals that disco aperitivo is not only upon us—it’s on the rise. Following in the wake of Ciao Ciao Disco in Brooklyn, which opened earlier this year, The Let’s Go Disco and Cocktail Club, a new bar from Lee Zaremba and the team behind De La Nonna’s Pizza, will open in late October in Los Angeles. The venue channels a late 1970s and ’80s Italian discoteca with drinks like the Garibaldi Spritz and the Fizz Italiano, served in a dusty rose-colored stucco space that will house a DJ booth, vinyl-filled shelves, a 24-foot green marble bar and Mario Bellini–style sofas. Back in New York in West Chelsea, Discolo likewise draws inspiration from the ’70s and ’80s with multicolored lighting setting the tone for bar director Matt Reysen’s menu of updated disco drinks like the Blue Hawaii, Apple and French Martinis and a Cape Cod Cosmopolitan.
Among the most anticipated is the opening of Midnight Cafe, a “high-energy aperitivo bar” located within the new pan-Asian restaurant Hidden Leaf, from Iain Griffiths of Dandelyan and White Lyan fame. At his first U.S. outpost, Griffiths has created a menu of technique-driven twists on aperitivo classics and house originals. The former will showcase cocktails such as the Milano Carousel, a play on the Giostra d’Alcol made with orange wine, clarified citrus and seltzer, and the Milano by Tjorget, made with infused Aperol, clarified citrus and tonic, all set to a backdrop of ’70s Italian disco music.
Midnight Cafe, New York City | Photo: Jason Greenspan
The Natural Wine Party Bar
Slug Bar, Oakland, California
Sluts, San Francisco
Disco Panda, New York City
Within the last few years, the traditional wine bar has been replaced by the once-rebellious, now-ubiquitous natural wine bar, dedicated exclusively to low-intervention wines. In short order, a new template emerged, characterized by a certain aesthetic sameness that signaled, counterintuitively, alternativeness.
Now, a new crop of natural wine bars are breaking the mold by prioritizing a vibe first and foremost. Early adopters of the trend include Bar Part Time, which opened in San Francisco in the fall of 2021, and Nightmoves, which opened in New York in early 2020 from the team behind the acclaimed Four Horsemen. Growing the scene in their wake are hangouts like Slug Bar in Oakland, which describes itself as “a late-night natural wine bar” made “for the after-party.” A sibling to the natural wine–focused Snail Bar, Slug Bar adds a glimmering disco ball and DJ booth, telltale signs of the ethos of the new space: a youthful, exuberant atmosphere shared by nearby Sluts, an extension of Oakland’s Hi Felicia restaurant, and the forthcoming Disco Panda from Miguel de Leon (wine director, Pinch Chinese) in New York.
Slug Bar, Oakland, California | Photo: Kelly Puleio
The Post-Pandemic Reboot
Bar Agricole, San Francisco
Cellar Door Provisions, Chicago
Power House Bar, Los Angeles
In the early days of the pandemic, people across the country rallied to support their favorite bars however they could—buying merch, gift cards and to-go cocktails. But for many beloved institutions, the burden of lockdowns was too great to stay afloat. While some of these bars are gone forever, others are reemerging in new spaces under the same name, creating second acts as ambitious and enchanting as the originals.
Chief among these is the new iteration of Bar Agricole, Thad Vogler’s James Beard Award–winning, small producer–focused San Francisco bar. Despite the accolades, at the time of its closure in 2020, the bar was facing financial woes that led to reports of unpaid wages. The closure has allowed Vogler to reimagine what the space could be without a traditional hierarchical structure. The focus, instead, is on the single-origin spirits that defined the original concept, and that will continue to drive the beverage program in this new iteration, which serves drinks like a pared-back, spirit-forward Agricole Rhum Punch.
Bar Agricole, San Francisco | Photo: Kelly Puleio
The Hotel Bar Redux
Lobby Bar, New York City
Hotel Lucine, Galveston, Texas
Pacific Standard, Portland, Oregon
The hotel bar has long since shaken off its reputation as a subpar, last-resort option for cocktails. The past decade has seen boutique operators transform fading hotels into bustling microcities replete with multiple drinking and dining destinations designed to keep guests circulating money within the building.
Today, it is not enough to simply have a serviceable drink menu. With hotel bars continually dominating the top spots of “best of” lists, it’s imperative that any new operation boast a serious program—even if the drinks are playful. A slew of new openings, with some of the industry’s biggest names behind them, demonstrate just this. In New York, Brian Evans of Sunday Hospitality (Sunday in Brooklyn, Rule of Thirds, El Quijote) has put together an ultra classic-leaning menu at the Chelsea Hotel’s new Lobby Bar, while Mattos Hospitality with the help of Stacey Swenson have opened Corner Bar and Lobby Lounge at the new Nine Orchard Hotel. Bobby Heugel (Anvil, Better Luck Tomorrow, Tongue-Cut Sparrow) is overseeing the drinks at Hotel Lucine, a forthcoming beachside hotel in Galveston, Texas. In Portland, Oregon, meanwhile, Jeffrey Morgenthaler (Clyde Common) is bringing what he terms a “fanciful lobby bar menu” to Pacific Standard in the KEX hotel, serving drinks like a passion fruit Ramos Gin Fizz and a draft Aperol Spritz, grounded by more spirit-forward options like the Vieux Carré–inspired Terra Firma.