From public toilets to an old police station, from windmills to biscuit factories, all around the world are bars in some pretty unusual locations.
For some reason several of them are in London, a city that clearly has more unusual buildings than most.
Don’t get out of your tree at the Big Baobab in Limpopo, South Africa, as that’s where the bar is. The tree is said to be the biggest baobab in the world, and is on a mango farm called Sunland. It’s been carbon-dated at over 1700 years old. When it was middle-aged – about 1000 years old or so – it began to hollow out, as baobab trees do. Later the natural wooden caves that this created were turned into one of the most unusual bar settings in the world – complete with its own wine cellar.
The Brouwerij ‘t IJ in eastern Amsterdam is both a brewery and a bar, and is hard to miss when you walk along the street as it’s based in that most Dutch of buildings: a windmill. Its claim to fame is that it is the highest wooden windmill in the Netherlands. They’ve been brewing here since 1985, and there are brewery tours and a tasting room… or you can just sit in the outside bar and choose from their collection of worldwide beers, plus their own traditional Dutch brews, of course. Actually, the bar isn’t in the windmill, it’s next door to it. But it’s still an unusual location — as it was previously a bathhouse.
What better setting for a bar than in a former Prohibition office? The Bitter and Twisted cocktail bar in downtown Phoenix is based in what was Arizona’s Prohibition HQ in those dark days from 1920 to 1933. Owner and bartender Ross Simon, who’s originally from Scotland, retained some of the original features when designing the bar that has been open for just over one year now, but was ten years in the planning. It was Arizona’s first high-rise building when it was finished in 1924. Ross now claims it’s the only bar in the USA in a former Prohibition office… unless you know better, of course.
The Cave Bar
This sometimes gets called the oldest bar in the world, which is a little misleading. It’s not the bar that’s old but its setting: a Nabataean rock tomb dating from about 2,000 years ago. It’s near the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, and serves beer, cocktails, and food. It’s easy to find as it’s behind the Petra Visitor Center, and although it’s next to the Petra Guest House it’s actually owned and operated by the Crowne Plaza Petra Hotel.
This basement bar at Joe’s Southern Kitchen in London’s Kentish Town is based in what was a police station. Fortunately the prison cells have been converted into booths where you can enjoy a bourbon or a rye from the Southern-US-style collection. The signature cocktail is the appropriately-named One Night in Jail, which combines Wild Turkey 101, Noah’s Mill, and Jim Beam Devil’s Cut – but doing time here will not be a problem.
Also below ground in London, and also in Kentish Town, Ladies and Gents is in… you guessed it, a former public toilet. It’s still totally recognizable – from the outside at least – as a one-time toilet, but inside is now a slick cocktail bar run by the guy behind Vestal Vodka and Highwayman Gin. Expect a good vodka selection, then, and the bar also has its own copper still on the premises.
Opened in London’s Hackney district in March 2015, this bar isn’t quite underground but is definitely unusual. It’s in a Mac Museum and Repair Shop on Hackney Road, and alongside the ancient Mac computers – some beyond repair – is a Victorian-style office/reception with stuffed animals, and a couple of steps down to the sunken bar, which seats 25 and is table-service only. There are seven unusual signature cocktails, plus world beers and wines.
Kex is the Icelandic word for biscuit, and the KEX Hostel in Reykjavik is based in what used to be a biscuit factory. The whole concept is Icelandic-weird, with the hostel built with salvaged materials. There’s a meeting hall/movie theater called Gym & Tonic, in the style of an old school boxing gym (complete with working punching bag), while the bar is called DRINX and serves wines, cocktails, and Icelandic beer – which, because of the pure local water supply, is exceptionally good. Reyka Vodka and Martin Miller’s Gin both use Icelandic water. Say no more.
They do things differently in Belgium. The Wasbar in Ghent (though there are now others elsewhere) is in a launderette. Yes, it is a functioning laundromat, and you can do your laundry while checking your emails and having a beer and a snack.