The Basics Drinking Out

At These 7 Bars, You’ll Want to Stare at the Bar Tops Themselves. Not Just Your Cocktail.

Ophelia in New York City.

Move that bowl of peanuts and cocktail napkin aside. You won’t want to miss one square inch of these seven bars topped with everything from deep-sea fossils to antique curiosities from the 1920s.

  • Tilt (Washington, D.C.)

    Stepping inside this craft cocktail bar in the hip 14th Street neighborhood is meant to evoke the feeling of being inside a pinball machine. (One of the signature cocktails is an adult version of a PB&J sandwich dubbed the PNBL WZRD.) The bar top is crafted from the glass backs of games collected from the owner over the years and is lit underneath to give the entire space a glowing luminescence. “A cool bar top can change the entire look and feel of the bar,” says cocktail director George Sault. “It also makes for very cool photos on Instagram.”

  • Bar VIA (San Francisco)

    It goes without saying that lighting can affect the vibe of a bar. Too bright and guests feel self-conscious and unable to relax. Too dim and they can’t see the menu let alone what they’re drinking. State-of-the-art technology from C Walters Design at this upscale hotel bar at Hotel VIA gives the bartender carte blanche to control the mood and aesthetic. A custom-cast glass bar top with customizable LED under-lighting is joined by lights on backbar shelves that can make the space go from vibrant and energetic to chilly and loungy at the flick of a switch.

  • The Daily Dish (Silver Spring, Md.)

    When the team behind The Daily Dish decided to reinvent its bistro and coffee and juice bar as a farm-to-table restaurant, they wanted a nontraditional bar top that felt like a gathering place. So they enlisted the help of local artisan Chris Jarmin, who installs bars in houses. His stunning concrete bar top is laid with ancient ammonites (extinct marine mollusks), hand-cut marble mosaics, petrified wood and even a chess board, which gets some play during quieter moments. “We fell in love with having a bar top that connected us to the earth,” says co-owner Zena Polin. “There’s something about how solid it is that gives it a sense of permanence.”

  • Outlier (Seattle)

    Adela Lee

    This Seattle restaurant gives a nod to the city’s beer scene with multiple art installations touting bottle caps, a 12th Man beer can wall and a Jimmy Hendrix mural. The bar top was designed by Julie Coyle Art Associates using recycled caps from many Washington breweries and was even part of a Hoppy Holiday contest for guests to guess the exact number of caps. “It took a lot of dedicated drinking from the team to provide all of those beer caps!” says general manager Brian McFarland.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • Root Down (Denver)

    At this airport bar, open suitcases were slid into custom-made cubbies filled with clothes, accessories and trinkets and enclosed in a custom glass curved bar top. Each one unveils a different chapter of the American travel experience, says Justin Cucci, the owner of Edible Beats, the hospitality group that runs Root Down. The overall effect serves as a snapshot in time and communicates the story of the passenger who may have toted the luggage on a trip. “Ultimately, we wanted something that would engage people at the bar as solo travelers and start a dialogue perhaps with the travelers in groups, especially in the context of the journey they were about to perhaps embark on,” says Cucci.

  • Water Grill (Dallas)

    The bivalve bar top at the Dallas location of this seafood restaurant and raw bar uses oyster shells shucked by the staff. They were placed in the bottom of the bar top mold, which was filled with concrete. In addition, the base of the whole bar is covered with custom tiles that resemble fish scales. It all comes together swimmingly.

  • Ophelia (New York City)

    Cross a jewelry box with a curio cabinet, and you get the inspiration behind the 24-foot-long pewter bar top at this rooftop lounge atop Beekman Tower. Its glass insets display oddities ranging from tarot cards and antique silverware to flapper hats and postcards from women who used to live in the building. Most of the items are curated from the 1920s and ’30s and are all set under subtle vintage lighting.