A job well done deserves a bit of levity. From old-school to trendy and everything in between, here are the best bars for business in some of the best cities for 'treps.
Best Bars in New York City
New York means business--and those big-city relationships are built on face time, often de-stressed and fortified by drinks. Thanks to over-the-top real-estate prices, many an entrepreneur--especially startup types--use bars and coffee shops as offices, paying for space one drink at a time.
Best Bars in Austin
As much a haven for tech startups as for music lovers, Austin has a downtown business-bar scene that keeps everybody happy (and talking), with gathering places that range from low-key beer pubs to refined cocktail palaces.
Best Bars in Chicago
Chicago's rep as a business town that runs on drinks is well-earned: There's an unpretentious beer joint on almost every major corner, long the go-to spots for negotiation and strategy sessions.
Best Bars in Nashville
In Music City, deals are rarely cut across a desk. "I am a big believer of beverages as an integral part of the fabric of sharing ideas," says Clint Smith, CEO of Emma, an e-mail marketing firm. In fact, he's such a proponent of doing business over drinks, he had a bar built into his company's headquarters.
Best Bars in Los Angeles
"A great differentiator for L.A. entrepreneurs is the Hollywood factor--it's built into the city's DNA--so harnessing star power and first-to-know bragging rights impresses even the most jaded investor or potential strategic partner," says Heidi Richman, CEO of new-media content provider Future Content.
Best NYC bar...to plot a take over
The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog
Open since February, The Dead Rabbit pays tribute to the city's street-fightin' history--and may well inspire you to kick off a coup of your own. Housed in an early-19th-century Federal-style brick building on historic Water Street, Dead Rabbit has a split personality. Skip the raucous first-floor bar and head upstairs to the seated cocktail lounge, where over a bowl of heady punch you can channel the chutzpah of the famed street gang from which the bar gets its name.
Best NYC bar... to seal the deal
The Lounge at Le Bernardin
When they're nearly primed to sign on the dotted line, win them over with a trip to the sophisticated Lounge at Le Bernardin, where you can talk up your big idea over well-crafted cocktails. Just beyond the bar, recently revamped with marble tables and leather seats, lies one of the city's most revered and elegant dining rooms, where chef Eric Ripert's wizardry with seafood is bound to inspire some rainmaker magic of your own.
Best NYC bar... for a meeting
King Cole Bar at the St. Regis hotel
You'll have no problem giving off a professional appearance at this posh hotel bar: The old-school waiters magically know when they are needed and when they should hang back and let conversations run their course. The comfortable leather club chairs and warm, dark-wood tones of this swellegant sipping station make for a midtown haunt where suits look spiffy and conversation is king.
Best NYC bar ... to use as an office
This small, stylish spot in the waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn, gets a communally chatty crowd at night but offers quiet respite for banging the keys during daylight hours. Grab a wooden chair in the robin's-egg-blue dining room/bar and plug in. Owner St. John Frizell will make sure your Pimm's Cup runneth over.
Best Austin bar... to meet with angel investors
With a focus on Texas' best beers, Craft Pride is the perfect place to convince investors that they should keep their money in-state. The bartenders (aka "beer gurus") know their way around 56 local options. Enjoy your brews in the extended backyard or the rustic-chic lounge.
Best Austin bar... to use as an office
Tucked away in humble yet hip East Austin, two blocks from downtown, this cozy hangout offers sanctuary from generic coffee-shop work sessions. Young, artsy types work and mingle away the day on the Wi-Fi-ready patio. Cenote gets you going with its coffee bar, but the beer and wine menu awaits, including a short but sweet selection of local craft brews.
Best Austin bar... for company happy hour
Your staff deserves better than the beer special around the corner. Instead, have them meet you at Péché, where absinthe and craft cocktails rule. Gather at the polished bar or kick back in the speakeasy-style lounge and order up a raft of upscale appetizers, from mortadella corn dogs to fried oysters.
Best Austin Bar... for a meeting
Second Bar + Kitchen
No matter how casual or serious your meeting, Second has you covered. Choose from seats at the long communal table or, for more privacy, head to the spacious patio upstairs, ideal for one-on-ones. Pair drinks from the extensive craft cocktail, beer and wine list with local celeb chef David Bull's farm-to-table menu. If all goes well (and it will), keep the meeting going at the gleaming bar.
Best Chicago bar... to be inspired by the city
The J. Parker
In a manned elevator you'll be escorted skyward to The J. Parker, the rooftop bar at the Hotel Lincoln. From this swanky and intimate perch, look right, and you'll see the downtown skyline; look left, and it's neighborhood city. The full panorama offers a view of both the hard work that has gone into making the City of the Big Shoulders what it is, and all the opportunity remaining to 'treps who are up for a challenge.
Best Chicago bar... to get business gossip
The Old Town Ale House
Is it enough that the late Roger Ebert cited this mainstay, open since 1958, as "the best bar in the world"? Bartender and manager Grace Tydings says all of Chicago comes in for a drink, from actors (the bar is across from Second City) to judges to bus drivers. They come to learn who might be hiring or which developer is going belly up, as well as to check out the subversive, politically themed art on display. (But did we need to see a Rod Blagojevich nude?)
Best Chicago bar... for a meeting
The vibe at Scofflaw is as much a hybrid as its gin- and craft-beer-focused drinks list: a lounge look with the feel of a neighborhood joint. A noted see-and-be-seen destination, this is the place to show prospective partners or investors that you are well-connected. If your meeting lasts beyond the drinks phase, you can dine from the solid gastropub menu.
Best Chicago bar... to use as an office
Wilde Bar & Restaurant
Irish pubs don't have a reputation for quiet. But Wilde Bar's grand library (with actual books) and fireplace are a calming influence. That, along with free Wi-Fi, makes it perfect for those days when it feels like the office walls are closing in on you. Named after Oscar, the spot's literary leanings may help get your creative juices flowing. But if that's not enough, the impressive beer list at two well-stocked antique Brunswick bars should do the trick.
Best Nashville bar ... to use as an office
Fat Bottom Brewing
When you need to focus, this bar and microbrewery housed in the old Fluffo Mattress Factory is the place to decamp. There's ample space for a laptop at the tables, on the bar or in the beer garden. The lighting is sufficient for reading and, well, the beer ain't bad, either. The Java Jane coffee porter will give you the jolt you need to make that deadline.
Best Nashville bar ... to look sophisticated without going broke
Every 'trep wants to live large yet preserve cash. At the impressive Monday through Saturday happy hour at this East Nashville mainstay, you can grab a seat at the classic, mirror-backed bar next to folks wearing suits and order a sophisticated martini for just $5. Premium beers are $3. Image protection? Priceless.
Best Nashville bar ... to get in on the tv buzz from nashville
The 5 Spot
This watering hole was considered a dive until it was given a starring role on the prime-time ABC soap opera Nashville. It's still a dive, but now it's frequented by anyone who's anyone in the entertainment industry. The bands and the crowds they attract change nightly, so you can network with different groups of people seven nights a week.
Best Nashville bar ... for a meeting
The Stone Fox
If you want to show clients you're in the know, take them to Nashville's new "it" spot. Everyone from Rosanne Cash to Fats Kaplin (aka Jack White's fiddle player) has played the stage at The Stone Fox, but the space is designed so you can sit, eat and talk without being overwhelmed by the music. Paint-by-numbers art and drinks served in Mason jars will underscore your hipster cred.
Best L.A. bar ... for hardcore networking
Exclusivity rules at this members-only club in Santa Monica. Entrepreneurs from the Silicon Beach tech scene and execs from the worlds of entertainment and finance pay an annual fee of $2,000 ($1,250 if they're under 30) to mingle in the chic Spanish-inspired bar, restaurant and outdoor terrace. Members are vetted to represent a range of professions, and there's an equal number of men and women, so you're just as likely to see some cross-industry wheeling-dealing as some good, old-fashioned hooking up.
Best L.A. bar... to use as an office
Bar | Kitchen
High ceilings and clean, sleek décor make this sophisticated downtown bar and eatery an inviting place to pull out the laptop. Inside the trendy O Hotel, the bar has a cozy fireplace, helpful waitstaff and tasty craft cocktails that should help get your innovation flowing. Should you need a snack, the celebrated small plates--many less than $10 during happy hour--will further fuel your creativity.
Best L.A. bar... to take a starving writer
Dan Tana'sThe bar at this legendary West Hollywood restaurant remains relevant as a place to sign talent, spot celebrities and eavesdrop on tales of exploits from the film, TV and music industries. (Phil Spector famously dined here the night of Lana Clarkson's murder.) Order a whiskey or an Italian red, and invite your aspiring screenwriter friend to soak it up with traditional Italian fare from a menu that pays tribute to the 49-year-old tavern's regulars, past and present. (Veal Scaloppine Karl Malden, anyone?)
Best L.A. bar... for a meeting
ABH at Thompson Beverly Hills
One of the city's most beautiful rooftop bars, ABH (Above Beverly Hills) makes for a meeting spot that is both ritzy and refreshing. The Thompson's scenic views provide an inspiring backdrop for discussions concerning serious capital.
Before you go ...
The act of conducting business imposes certain demands on a bar: It must be lively but not too lively, laid-back but not too laid-back, and serve many kinds of things--and quickly. The problem is that doing business in a bar often means being in an unfamiliar place--maybe you're traveling; maybe you're meeting someone across town. So herewith, some time-tested guidelines for determining if a bar is a good bar for business before you even set foot inside.
Consider the name. It should make you think of a person, place or thing. The best involve either a first-name possessive ("John's"); a noun, often related to drinking ("Shaker"); or a noun preceded by "The" ("The Shaker"). No creative spellings ("Drinx," "Altered St8," "O-U-Drank-1-2"). The name should provoke neither smile nor frown; it should be earnest and sturdy. In a word: businesslike.
Consider the Yelp review. It should go something like this: Price range: $$. Alcohol: full bar. (Wine bars make for awful business bars.) Coat check? Yes. Noise level? Average. Wi-Fi? Yes. Skilled yet not aloof bartenders? Yes. (The last one is not an official Yelp category, but it should be.)
Consider what's happening outside. No leftover St. Patrick's Day paraphernalia. No specials advertised via human sandwich board. No bouncer. No inability to see inside the bar from the outside. (If you can't see inside from the outside, then what you have is a drinker's bar, not a business bar.)
Consider dogs and babies. If there are leashes or strollers, this is not your bar. Unless you work at a tech company in Northern California, pets, tots and business don't mix.
The best approach is to ask someone you trust--associate, friend, concierge. But don't ask for a place where you can conduct business--that's a vague concept, after all. Ask for a place where there are many kinds of things to drink, the bartenders are nice, it's not too loud and there's space to spread out. Because to do business in a bar--to do business anywhere--you need options, a friendly environment and a little room to negotiate. --Ross McCammon