How to play “Bar Tag”

Facebook memories popped up yesterday with a reminder our most extreme day of “bar tag” ever – nine London bars in one day. While it’s not a record I care to beat (the very thought exhausts me), it was a good reminded that I promised to make a post about our idea of Bar Tag and how to “play” it well.

As I mentioned in my post about why we started paying attention to, and eventually tracking, The World’s 50 Best Bars and other lists, I pointed out that we often use them to find a bar tag home base. Usually our decision of where to start is a combination of the list and personal recommendations, which is it’s own form of long distance bar tag.

Bar tag is pretty self-explanatory – you find a bar you like and you ask for recommendations of where to go next. You follow the recommendation and TAG, the next bar is it. Rinse, and repeat. While there aren’t really any rules to bar tag, there are some things you can do to make it a better experience for everyone involved.

  • If you want good recommendations, be a good customer.
    • There are posts coming that go into this idea in detail but for now let’s just focus on “don’t be a dick” – if the bartender thinks you’re a dick, they aren’t going to send you to a place they like or care about.
  • Give credit where it’s due.
    • You were a good customer and the bartender gave you a recommendation for another cool bar. You go there and have a great time. Tell them who sent you! In most cities, the hospitality industry is fairly tight knit and a)it’s a big compliment to know a friend is sending you customers and b)it’s a sign that the previous bar is sort of vouching for you. (See rule #1.)
  • Take/keep notes.
    • At some point you will probably have more recommendations than you have time (or liver). You may not get to every place that was recommended to you so save those for next time! If a bartender hand writes a list for you, guard it with your life. Some of our favorite souvenirs are those scraps of paper. Some bars are even pre-printing lists and maps – it’s so cool!
    • (The business card sized map from Cantina OK! in Sydney.)
  • Pace yourself.
    • This is true of any outing involving alcohol but especially if you are hitting a few bars in a row (as is often the case when you’re trying to explore a new place in a short amount of time). Make sure your visits are spread out, find some food, take a walk, and remember to check out the ever growing quality N/A cocktail lists. (Or, if you’re me, find the lower ABV sherry cocktails!) Remember, you’re trying to be a good customer and part of that involves keeping your wits about you. Also, you want to remember the journey!
  • Know when to say when.
    • Really, this is part of pacing yourself – but it’s important enough to be it’s own rule. Bar tag can be a multi-day (week/month/year) game so don’t feel like you have to go everywhere all at once. It’s way better to have a little FOMO than to not remember your grand adventure.

Okay, so that’s how we play “Bar Tag.” Now let’s breakdown the aforementioned epic day of bar tag on August 29, 2018. We didn’t set out to do this, and it was five years ago so I may not have every photo correct – but I’ll do my best!

Our plan for the day was pretty low key – a solid breakfast, a nice walk through St. James Park, a 2pm reservation for Afternoon Tea at Fortnum & Mason (yeah, it’s silly but it was vacation – deal with it!) and plans to check out Swift Soho afterwards.

We haven’t even left Fortnum & Mason before we get distracted. While I was busy ogling expensive stationary, Chris found the 3’6 Bar. We popped in for a post tea cocktail, mostly for the novelty of drinking in a department store. Also, I had recently fallen in love with Kir Royales and I’m pretty sure that’s what I had here – Chris, predictably, had a Martini.

When I say that a round of Bar Tag can go on for years, this is kind of what I mean. Swift was recommended to us several times on our July 2017 Honeymoon to London, but it took until August 2018 for us to make it there. I adore the soda fountain like decor and we’ve yet to have a bad drink there. Their drinks trend lighter and more aperitif focused, which I adore.

From here, the bar tag starts in earnest. We get two recommendations here – Bar Termini, the Italian Amaro bar and coffee shop across the street, and Bar Hercules, a pub turned cocktail bar around the corner.

Bar Termini is a tiny slip of a space that is famous for their Negronis. In 2018, I still hated Campari, and yet…this was the moment that started to change. Also, they had mini cocktails so you could do a tasting! As someone who is chronically indecisive, I love this concept. I also just love tiny cocktails in general.

Unfortunately, this was our first and only visit to Bar Hercules. Though the “Pillars of Hercules” pub space has had many lives, this was a short one and it’s too bad – we enjoyed some of the coolest and wackiest drinks there, and some of the friendliest service too. They had a focus on clarified, tap, and batched cocktails that didn’t sacrifice any quality. The time they saved on not making drinks to order was spent chatting with customers and giving them a great experience. One of the cocktails we tried had Frazzle infused bourbon and when we asked what Frazzles were, they ran downstairs and brought back a couple of bags for us. Those bacon flavored crisps are an atrocity, but I love them.

They get extra photos because we miss them.

While snacking on Frazzles at Bar Hercules, the team there recommended we head up the street a little further to check out Milroy’s Vault. Milroy’s is a small liquor store with an impressive selection, especially of whiskey. Hidden underneath the shop, in a cellar once used to mature sherry, is The Vault. The space has a lot of exposed brick and they’ve furnished it to feel cozy and unpretentious. We chatted with them a bit about our favorite basement bar back home and they suggested we check out a spot we’d literally been on top of earlier in the day – Swift Downstairs.

Back to Swift we went, waving at the bartenders we saw earlier before descending. Yes, technically Swift Downstairs is the same bar as Swift Upstairs – but with a different menu, different focus, and totally different vibe, we’ve always counted it as a separate bar. Downstairs eschews the light bright soda fountain feel in favor of dark wood and rich whiskey. These days, it’s reservation only but it’s a seat worth grabbing. It had been a MUCH longer afternoon in Soho than we intended so we were starting to fade, and it was time for a bit of a walk.

Spotted on our walk – lighted letters along a rooftop that say “Take your pleasure seriously.” I’m still not sure what this sign was for, but I loved it and it felt like the right sentiment for our crazy day.

After a lovely summer evening stroll, and some food, our next stop wasn’t really part of Bar Tag but was evidence of how easy it is to appeal to my ego. The Bloomsbury Club is a bar that lured me in purely by liking and commenting on some of my early Instagram posts. Whomever was doing their social media in 2018 knew the way to my heart was flattery (and I still harbored fantasies of being a travel blogger) so we made a detour in to check it out. I recall it being a lovely space with good drinks and worth the detour.

I’m not sure who gave us the recommendation for TT Liquor, it may have been Happiness Forgets, but it’s another cool liquor store with a bar in the basement. I don’t seem to have any photos of the bar but you’ll have to forgive me after eight bars in nine hours. I remember there being a guy at the bar who was obviously a regular and was a friendly drunk and who insisted on buying our drinks. I wish I remembered more of the conversation but it’s been five years so I’ll city the rule about taking notes. If not in the moment, then the next morning.

It’s finally time for the last bar of this epic saga, Nightjar. Just down the street from our hotel, Nightjar had been high on several best of lists in the years leading up to this trip. We never made it there on our honeymoon and this was our last night in London before taking the train to Paris so it felt like now or never. I remember we were the last two people let in and were told it was approaching last call, so it would have to be a one and done (not a problem for us, on bar nine and hour ten). Nightjar was exactly what we expected and I ended our bonkers day on a bonkers note with the Beyond the Sea, served in a conch shell.

This drink is the main reason this all popped up in our social media memories because I posted the story of getting the drink and proudly telling Chris “I’m the Lord of the Rings!” Chris: “You mean Flies.” Me: “Screw you, we’ve been to nine bars!” And then, mercifully, we went to bed.

And let me be clear – I don’t recommend this insanity and the very idea exhausts me these days. This was nine bars spread out over ten hours with a lot of of walking, a decent breakfast, and a hearty afternoon tea. It wasn’t our plan to visit nine bars but it was our last day and we kept getting recommendations. Please, PLEASE drink and travel responsibly.

Tag, you’re it!

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