Unless your idea of a great pre-flight drink involves an ersatz Irish pub or a sports bar with 18 light beers on tap, then you likely agree that America’s airport bars tend to be serviceable at best. Not that there’s anything wrong with slamming a Coors before takeoff, but a decent cocktail, glass of wine, or change of scenery would be nice now and then.
Thankfully, a few newer spots fill that void by simply rising above their utilitarian, flat-screen-loving cousins. “Airport bars are slowly getting better,” says Virginia Miller, a craft spirits expert and editor of Zagat San Francisco. “There aren’t many truly great cocktail bars at airports, but plenty of places offer a decent wine list and solid drinks.” Here are some of Miller’s favorite spots for a layover.
One Flew South
Terminal E, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
“This is really the only proper, artisanal, old-school cocktail bar at an airport that I can think of,” Miller says of the renowned ATL restaurant and bar. Featuring memorable bites from chef Duane Nutter and a short but fantastic drink menu from mixologist Tiffanie Barriere, this place is without peer. “If you care about your tinctures and bitters, this is the airport bar for you. I hope it leads to more just like it.”
You’re drinking: A Georgia bellini—champagne, peach puree, ginger syrup.
Deep Blue Sushi
Terminal 5, John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City
“Stick to the classics here, and you’ll do just fine,” says Miller. “Also, the sushi is great.”
You’re drinking: A gin martini or a glass of sake.
This chain of upscale wine bars can be found at airports throughout the U.S. and Canada including LAX, JFK, and Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport. “This is a good wine bar,” says Miller. “You’re going to find better quality, smaller production wine producers here.”
You’re drinking: Whatever the staff sommelier tells you to.
Cat Cora’s Kitchen
Terminal 2, San Francisco International Airport
“This is a better-than-average place to grab a drink at an airport,” says Miller, adding that they have great food, such as lobster mac and cheese. Miller is especially fond of their whiskey cocktails.
You’re drinking: Pig and the Barrel—Buffalo Trace bourbon served neat with a side of applewood smoked bacon.