World's Strangest Bars
At first, all you see is a tree—a huge, bulbous one with wild, grasping branches. Then you notice that this particular tree, on a South African farm just south of the Zimbabwe border, has a small door in its trunk. Open it, step inside the surprisingly roomy space, and you’ve entered the Baobab Tree Bar and Wine Cellar, an entire drinking establishment housed within the recesses of a living plant. This might be the world’s only opportunity to get drunk in a trunk.
The call of the wild—and wacky—is luring intrepid drinkers to similarly eccentric spots around the world. Perhaps out of a desire for increasingly unique experiences, travelers are driving through the Australian outback to a remote outpost, descending into a candlelit Mexican cavern, and wading into an Icelandic lagoon.
Some of these places are turned out as proper clubs with fancy cocktails, while others are ragtag affairs dreamed up by enterprising locals with a cooler of beer and a pinch of business savvy. The Baobab Tree Bar—founded by the family that owns the surrounding land—is one of the latter. Envisioning a highly unusual tavern inside this 6,000-year-old tree’s massive 51-yard circumference, the van Heerden clan cleared out the interior and outfitted it with the comforts of a typical drinking hole, including a sound system and benches that easily seat 15 visitors. The joint even has a dartboard. Whiskey’s available, and so is beer on tap.
More waterlogged—but equally entrepreneurial—is Floyd’s Pelican Bar, a ramshackle shanty one mile off Jamaica’s coast, run by Floyd himself. Local fishermen shuttle customers out to this party in the sea, where some stand waist-deep in the water (the dress code, of course, involves bathing suits). It’s a popular spot: Floyd has no website but has amassed hundreds of friends on a Facebook page started in his bar’s honor.
Then, of course, there’s the opposite extreme—the ice bar—where drinkers bundle up before tying one on. Ice bars are such a hot trend that they’ve been opening all over, from Orlando to Las Vegas, and have even inspired an ice-bar chain, Minus 5. But you’ll find the original—the Absolut Icebar—inside the Icehotel in the small town of Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. The bar, the seats, even the glasses are remade each year out of ice from a local river.
A main attraction of these singular bars, of course, is that their locations and vibes quicken pulses on their own. Add a potent drink to the mix and you’re in for quite a night.
Baobab Tree Bar & Wine Cellar, South Africa
Having a cocktail in the hollow trunk of a huge 6,000-year-old baobab tree is a surreal and elemental experience. The cavity of the tree is cool—a natural respite from the oppressive heat of South Africa’s Limpopo province—and has likely provided shelter for many wanderers over time. (The current owners, the van Heerdens, have discovered centuries-old Bushmen artifacts.) Now there’s a bar, benches, even a dartboard. The surrounding Sunland farm has another treehouse and bar and five thatched “jungalows” for rent.
What to Order: A stein of whatever’s on tap that day.
The Birdsville Hotel, Australia
The Birdsville sits at the edge of Australia’s Simpson Desert, home to fat-tailed marsupial mice, sand dunes, and little else. (Aussies say it’s located “out in bloody woop-woop.”) The pub within—your standard dive hung with outback hats and beer posters—dates from 1884 and over time has become the stuff of legend. Visitors are mostly horse-race enthusiasts who puddle-jump in for the Birdsville Races in September (an airstrip is conveniently located just outside the hotel) and slightly demented off-roaders attempting to traverse the whole of the Birdsville Track, a onetime camel trail that stretches some 320 miles.
What to Order: A pint of Queensland’s own XXXX (“fourex”) beer. Cheers, mate.
Cave Bar, Jordan
The 2,000-year-old city of Petra has exactly one cave that’s zoned for commercial use, and tucked inside is, oddly, a bar. The walls of the Cave Bar, run by an adjacent Crowne Plaza Resort, are part of an ancient tomb carved by the Nabataeans. Tables are placed outside on a large piazza and within the cave, where lanterns cast a sanguine haze over the bar’s sandstone walls; some seats are even tucked into what were likely individual burial niches.
What to Order: Local Jordanian red wines.
Floyd’s Pelican Bar, Jamaica
If someone collected masses of driftwood and palm fronds, nailed them all together, and stuck the resulting structure on stilts out in the ocean, it would likely look like Floyd’s Pelican Bar. At Floyd’s, which sits about a mile off the southwestern coast of Jamaica in Parottee Bay, many of the swimsuit-sporting drinkers stand around waist-deep in the water (the joint is short on seating). A couple of local fishermen will give you a lift out to the bar from Parottee Beach for a few bucks. Swimming back is not recommended.
What to Order: A Pelican Perfection, made with lime juice, rum, ginger beer, and sugar.
Lagoon Bar, Iceland
Iceland’s 1.6-million-gallon cure-all, the Blue Lagoon, where people flock for soothing heat and an abundance of minerals, also has a bar. Of course, in the spirit of healthfulness, the Lagoon Bar does a nice trade in fruit and skyr (thick Icelandic yogurt). Bikini-clad waitresses bear trays of cocktails while you’re neck-deep in the milky-blue 100-degree water.
What to Order: The Blue Lagoon cocktail, a combination of white wine and blue curaçao.
Alux Restaurant & Lounge, Mexico
Bargoers here, a short taxi ride from Mexico’s Playa del Carmen, descend by candle-lined stairs into a subterranean lounge, trying to recall the little saying they learned as children to tell stalactites from stalagmites. Alux (pronounced “ah-LOOsh”) is spread throughout a system of caverns—the restaurant here, a bar there, the VIP lounge over there. As the night wears on you might spot an alux, one of the mythical prank-playing “little people” of Mayan lore, who are said to inhabit these caverns.
What to Order: An Aluxinante, a mix of cucumber, orange juice, and mescal.
Absolut Icebar, Sweden
Open only from mid-December to mid-April, the Absolut Icebar, within the Icehotel in the small village of Jukkasjärvi, in northern Sweden, holds steady at around 23 degrees. Sure, it seems like every few months an ice bar pops up somewhere: even Vegas has one. But the Jukkasjärvi version was the first permanent ice bar, and it’s refashioned annually with ice harvested from the nearby Torne River. The drinks are served to the bundled-up clientele, as the bar’s motto states, not “on the rocks” but “in the rocks.”
What to Order: An Absolut Wolfpaw—Absolut vodka and lingonberry juice, topped by lingonberries, the national fruit of Sweden.
Cova d’en Xoroi, Spain
A mix of locals and tourists make their way to this club in a cave 33 yards above the ocean in the side of a cliff on southern Menorca. Supposedly, it was once the den of a Turkish pirate, who stole a village maiden to be his wife. In the afternoon, patrons sit under umbrellas on the terrace, appreciating the views from this Balearic Island out over the Mediterranean. Nighttime is presided over by DJs who turn Cova d’en Xoroi into a discoteca.
What to Order: Pomada, an island favorite made with gin and lemonade.
The Red Sea Star, Israel
An over-the-top underwater restaurant and bar off the coast of Israel begins to make sense when you learn that the nearby city of Eilat is Israel’s version of Dubai. Twenty feet down in the Gulf of Eilat, surrounded by undulating walls and windows designed to invoke the movements of the sea, partygoers sit on stools that resemble jellyfish, under lights that are plump like anemones. Just outside the structure’s many windows grows a coral reef, nurtured by the Red Sea Star’s owners, that teems with butterfly fish, angelfish, and other brightly colored fauna.
What to Order: Any of the bar’s fruity, umbrella-ed frozen cocktails to complement the under-the-sea theme.
Faraday Bar, Antarctica
This quirky bar feels as though it’s at the end of the earth. In fact, it nearly is. Faraday is on the Antarctic island of Galindez, within the complex of the Vernadsky Ukrainian Research Station. It was built by souls apparently so desperate for a drink that they appropriated wood designated by the British government for a new boat dock (the station was British before Ukrainians took it over). Some expedition cruises, such as Lindblad[expeditions.com]’s Antarctic voyages, schedule a day trip to the Vernadsky Station, which is how non-Ukrainian meteorologists get to visit.
What to Order: Vodka, obviously.
The William Thornton Floating Bar & Restaurant, British Virgin Islands
A regular bartender here who goes by the name Zeus holds court over a tribe of bikinied lasses as they line up for a four-way “shotski,” drunk from glasses sunk into an old water ski. The Willy-T, as it’s known, is a 98-foot schooner anchored off Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands. While not exactly Spring Break Cancún, the party can get plenty rowdy, especially during high season when dinghies tie up en masse.
What to Order: Zeus Juice, a mix of tropical fruit juices and the bar’s own Willy-T rum.
Nature Friends Tourist Club, California
This German beer garden, built in 1912 on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais, 30 minutes north of San Francisco, is members-only—mostly. Every weekend but the second of the month, Nature Friends opens the first floor and large patios of its Bavarian-style clubhouse to determined beer lovers willing to hike for a good buzz. In the spirit of tradition, most visitors arrive by trail (though others park in the nearby lot and take the 10-minute mini-hike down a paved walkway to the bar).
What to Order: A pitcher of beer to share with your fellow beer-chugging nature lovers.