With airports returning to life after the pandemic, Joe Bates takes a tour of the best airport bars and lounges for you to while away the time before your flight departs
By Joe Bates
While it’s excellent news that travel restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic have been relaxed or removed in many countries worldwide, travellers are increasingly facing queues, congestion and lengthy delays during peak periods at many airports. Widespread staff shortages, flight cancellations and strikes have been the main causes of airport chaos this year.
Of course, there’s no magic remedy for travellers facing these problems, but knowing where at the airport to get a well-made drink can perhaps go a tiny way to relieving some of that stress if things don’t go to plan. A few years ago the quality of the drinks served by airport bars, restaurants and airline lounges left a lot to be desired but, as we shall see, standards are rising despite the many challenges that operating a bar in an airport setting poses.
Jim Meehan joins forces with Centurion Lounges
Let’s start with a major airline lounge provider, Centurion Lounges, which can be accessed by American Express Platinum Card holders and Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card Members. The company has 40 airport lounges worldwide, including London Heathrow, Stockholm, Delhi, Buenos Aires and Sydney. All but one of the lounges (at Hong Kong airport) have reopened after Covid.
Centurion Lounges has expansion plans too. It is opening new locations in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, while renovating lounges at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and San Francisco International Airport.
To spice up its drinks service, Centurion Lounges has partnered with legendary American mixologist Jim Meehan, best known for the pioneering New York speakeasy bar PDT, as its in-house mixologist. Wine expert Anthony Giglio has been hired too. Meehan’s flagship cocktail creation for Centurion is the “Blue Door”, a nod to American Express’ signature lobby design, which features Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch whisky, Myer’s Rum, a herbal liqueur, lemon juice, and an anise-flavoured liqueur.
Other creations include the ’22 Toddy, which Meehan created to celebrate the New Year, the warming ingredients of which include reposado tequila, mango vinegar, turmeric, honey syrup and a mango slice garnish. Teetotallers are also well catered for – the New York JFK lounge, for instance, features the Proteautonic: a mix of Proteau Ludlow Red, a no-alcohol red botanical aperitif, tonic water and lemon juice.
Two top new drinking choices for Edinburgh airport
In Scotland, Edinburgh airport now boasts two new places to enjoy a drink before your flight. The New Plaza Premium Lounge, which can cater to up to 195 guests and boasts stunning floor-to-ceiling views of the Firth of Forth bridges, the Pentland Hills to the south and Edinburgh city to the east, has joined forces with Ian Macleod Distillers to open a new bar. The lounge is open to anyone with a boarding pass, although an entrance fee is payable.
The new Edinburgh Gin Bar offers the widest range of Edinburgh Gins in any off-trade setting, including two travel exclusives, Strawberry & Pink Peppercorn and Watermelon & Lime. The various gins in the Edinburgh Gin brand family are offered in different Signature Serves: Edinburgh Gin Seaside, for instance, is served with Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic with grapefruit zest and lime, while Edinburgh Gin Raspberry is presented with Fever-Tree Raspberry & Orange Blossom Soda and a garnish of fresh raspberries.
In addition to Edinburgh Gin and Edinburgh Gin cocktails, the new Art Deco-style bar also features other spirits from Ian Macleod Distillers’ portfolio, including malts such as Glengoyne 10 Years Old, Tamdhu 12 Years Old and Islay malt Smokehead, as well as the blended King Robert II whisky and Langs Rum.
Also at Edinburgh airport is the new 51-seat Fever-Tree airport bar, which opened in May this year in the main departures lounge. Built around an eye-catching ‘tree canopy’, the bar’s menu is designed to showcase the very best long mixed drinks, pairing Fever-Tree’s mixers with selected spirits, sticking to the brand’s mantra: “If three-quarters of your drink is the mixer, mix with the best!”
The new bar features tempting breakfast, lunch and dinner menus while the drinks list offers refreshing serves such as the Italian Blood Orange Vodka Spritz (Smirnoff Vodka and Fever-Tree Italian Blood Orange Soda garnished with orange and rosemary); the Mediterranean G&T (Malfy Gin Rosa and Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic, garnished with pink grapefruit and rosemary); and the Fever-Tree Mimosa (Ketel One Citroen Vodka or Tanqueray Gin, orange juice and Fever-Tree White Grape & Apricot Soda).
Portland airport bar champions female aviation pioneers
The aviation industry still struggles to recruit female pilots – according to Statista, less than six per cent of commercial airline pilots in the US are women (the UK fares even worse at 4.7 per cent). It’s refreshing then to see trailblazing female aviators of yesteryear honoured in a new women-in-aviation-themed bar which opened at Portland international airport this March. Juliett offers travellers curated cocktails, custom-made beers, sustainably sourced wines, unique and intricate lighting, and sweeping eastward views of Mount Hood from the end of the airport’s Concourse E.
Juliett celebrates women aviators such as Berta Moraleda, the first Cuban woman aviator; Bessie Coleman, the first female African-American to hold an international pilot’s licence; Micky Axton, a female World War Two test pilot; and Hazel Ying Lee, a Chinese American World War Two pilot. A portrait of each pilot and details of their adventurous lives are featured in the bar
In addition, local brewery Fracture Brewing has created an exclusive tap list of beers to honour female aviators. Examples include the Amelia Pilsner, named after American aviation pioneer Amelia Mary Earhart; the Night Witch Coffee Milk Stout, inspired by the all-female, Soviet 588th Night Bomber Regiment of World War Two; and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) West Coast IPA, which commemorates The WASP, a civilian women pilots’ organization which tested and ferried aircraft and trained other pilots during World War Two.
Cocktails at the bar have been developed by Portland restaurant group Lightning Bar Collective and play off the bar’s mid-20th-century design with retro classics like Hanky Pankys, Hotel Nacionals, and, of course, Aviations. There’s also a take on the Penicillin with tequila and mezcal, and drinks made with Velvet Falernum, a sugar cane liqueur from Barbados.
Dublin airport serves up Bread (& Whiskey)
Finally, we have a bar for fans of Irish whiskey in the shape of Whiskey Bread Kitchen & Bar, which international travel caterer SSP opened at Dublin airport’s Terminal 2 this April. In particular, the bar showcases the award-winning Irish whiskeys of Dublin’s Teeling Whiskey Company and the bread of McCloskey’s Bakery. The latter’s tailor-made whiskey-steeped soda bread accompanies many of the dishes served at the new outlet.
As you might expect, the bar’s Irish whiskey list is outstanding, including Teeling Renaissance 18 Years Old Madeira Finish, matured initially in ex-bourbon casks before being finished in ex-Madeira casks for 18 months; Redbreast Lustau Edition, a creamy pot still whiskey finished in first-fill oloroso sherry casks from the sherry producer Bodegas Lustau; and Glendalough Double Barrel, a single-grain Irish whiskey matured in American bourbon barrels before a finishing period of six months in Spanish oloroso sherry casks.
Surprisingly, Whiskey Bread Kitchen & Bar offers a wide range of whiskies from other parts of the world. You will find Scottish single malts from big brands such as Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, bourbons and rye whiskeys from Bulleit, Buffalo and Sazerac, and Japanese whiskies from Nikka and Suntory Toki. In short, no matter where you prefer your whisky to hail from, you should leave Whiskey Bread Kitchen & Bar happy. Whether your flight ends up leaving on time, however, is another matter…
This article was first published in Travelux issue 2 in September 2022.