Travel

Madrid's Dani Brasserie Is One Bar Worth Traveling For

Some bars feel like home… but these aren't just some bars.

Photo courtesy of the Four Seasons
Photo courtesy of the Four Seasons
Photo courtesy of the Four Seasons

Wanderlust is a condition with many potential causes. For some, it stems from cultural curiosity-an earnest attempt to know and experience a place other than their own. Merely seeing it is just window dressing. Sure, white sands and turquoise seas can make for enviable social media content, but it’s not necessarily going to satisfy a craving for interaction, for complete immersion.

For my money, there’s no more intimate way to spark this conversation than by getting to know the cuisine and cocktails of any given destination. You’re literally absorbing the flavours of the place-its smells and tastes. And these offerings are so frequently presented alongside personal accounts, delivering the sort of context that’s near-impossible to convey via Instagram posts. It’s difficult enough using actual words‚Ķ

Yet, that’s the business we’re in. In an effort to spread the travel gospel, Thrillist Travel is launching a column spotlighting bars so amazing, so perfectly appointed, and so rich with local ambience, they justify braving flight delays, long layovers, and even a hit to the bank account. These are bars worth travelling for.

Photo courtesy of the Four Seasons
Photo courtesy of the Four Seasons
Photo courtesy of the Four Seasons

First up: Dani Brasserie, an elegant, semi-al fresco outpost positioned atop the Four Seasons Madrid. The property itself occupies a 130-year-old cultural heritage monument in the heart of the Spanish capital, just a block away from Puerta del Sol. More on the hotel later-we’re here for the drinks and, most vitally, the vermut.

Vermouth acts as a modifier in some of the world’s most celebrated cocktails (we’re looking at you, Martinis and Manhattans). But in many parts of Spain, this aromatized wine is the star of the show, particularly during aperitif hour when it’s often served on the rocks with nothing more than a spritz of soda and a twist of citrus.

Four Seasons Hotel Madrid
Four Seasons Hotel Madrid
Four Seasons Hotel Madrid

The Four Seasons showcases the cultural significance of the drink by stocking their very own proprietary label-or barrel, more specifically. Bodegas Barbadillo, located in Somontano de Barbastro, crafted an exclusive version of its Atam√°n Vermouth just for the hotel, which is kept in a sherry cask propped above the lobby bar. It’s a relatively dry offering despite the hints of cinnamon and orange zest characterizing its rounded body, flavours mined from a recipe unused since the 1960s. Up on the rooftop at Dani, these tasting notes pair wonderfully with the afternoon sun shimmering off the historic colonnades of Puerta del Sol. But if you’re committed to enjoying Spanish vermouth in cocktail form, beverage director Ra√ļl Navarro has just the preparation-or four-for you. The seasoned barkeep weaves the native juice into several numbers on the drinks menu. Known locally as the “bearded bartender of Barcelona,” Navarro most recently spent a six year stint behind the stick at the Four Seasons Kyoto. There, he honed a knack for the subtle compositions familiar to the Far East bar scene, working on inventive ways to rework standards.

Photo courtesy of the Four Seasons
Photo courtesy of the Four Seasons
Photo courtesy of the Four Seasons

My personal favourite is the Leyenda, a bitter-forward, slightly herbaceous tipple that riffs on the Tailspin.

“It’s a seemingly simple take on the classic, but by replacing gin with agave spirit it creates a significant departure from the original,” explains Navarro. “This is a cocktail with strong personality and passion. At the beginning, the different flavours might have a strong impact, but after some sips, the different nuances give way to flavours you never imagined before.”It shines even brighter when served alongside another Spanish staple: acorn-fed Iberico ham. At Dani, the dish is prepared both traditionally-with a simple pan con tomate-or in funkier fashion, combined with a creamy b√©chamel in croquette form. Either way, “la hora del vermut” is an unforgettable one here as evening descends on the city and a warm breeze blows across the verdant outdoor space.

Four Seasons Hotel Madrid
Four Seasons Hotel Madrid
Four Seasons Hotel Madrid

Through and through, the Four Seasons Madrid is an exceptional addition to the luxury brand’s global portfolio as well as to the landscape of the city itself. It is among the largest and most expensive hotels in all of Madrid (the most modest of its 200 guest rooms start at $700 a night). But it also had the misfortune of opening in September 2020 at the heart of the pandemic, and so it’s only now starting to hit its stride as a hub for high-end food and shopping. That status has been cemented with the opening of Galeria Canalejas, an adjoining collection of designer stores-plus a basement food hall-spread across more than 15,000 square meters.

While all that will surely tickle the fancy of travellers who allocate spare luggage space for trinkets, again, I’m here for the drinks. And for avowed beverage enthusiasts such as myself, the new Four Seasons is a destination in its own right. And its coordinates within the city gives way to yet another boozy gift: La Venencia-only the best damn sherry bar on earth-sits less than two blocks from the hotel’s lobby. What makes it so special? Well, that’s a story for another day.

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Brad Japhe¬†is a freelance journalist with a wicked case of the get-up-and-gos. He’s usually found at the junction of food, booze, and travel. Follow him¬†@Journeys_with_Japhe.

Travel

Take a Submarine to the Bottom of the Great Lakes

You too can sink down to the watery grave-er, depths.

Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images
Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images
Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images

When the waves of Lake Huron closed over my head as I sank down to the bottom of the Great Lake, I admit I was a little panicky. I definitely thought about drowning. After all, I’d nearly drowned three times in my life.

Though the first two times I was too young to now recall, the third time was in Wisconsin and the sensation has stuck with me. I remember how, as a middle schooler, I got pulled deeper and deeper into a wave pool until every wave sucked me underneath just long enough to choke on a gurgly mouthful of water. Despite kicking and fighting to swim back to safety, I could feel the water overtaking me, bubbling up over my head as I sank down. The pool was choking me, I was suffocating, and the fear of death was right in my face. As you can probably guess, I was eventually saved. Someone noticed and pulled me out of the pool, and that relief was enormous.

But here I was again, as an adult, watching sediment from the bottom of the lake swirl up around me. But this time I wasn’t drowning. This time I was perfectly safe. This time I was in a submarine.

My small group and I were passengers on one of Viking Cruises’ newest itineraries, the Great Lakes Explorer. The expedition allows guests on the Viking Octantis ship to see one of the great lakes from the other side of the surface. Though guests can participate in science-research activities like microplastics research, bird-watching, and weather balloon launches, it’s also just really cool to dive in a submarine. Whether you’re overcoming your own childhood experiences or you’re just an adventurer at heart, here’s what to know about going on a submarine expedition in the Great Lakes.

Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises
Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises
Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises

Boarding a submarine

These are-of course-yellow submarines. Can you guess their names? If you picked John, Paul, George, and Ringo‚Ķ you’re absolutely right.

The Beatles can go down to about 1,000 feet and stay underwater for eight hours. Each side of the submarine has three very comfortable seats for passengers, surrounded by glass domes that allow optimal viewing at the dive site. It’s a small space (you can’t stand up straight), but you can hardly tell once you’re in the water. The seat platforms swivel so you can look out over the lake floor instead of staring at the pilot and other passengers.

The submarines are equipped with lights, cameras, and some handy claws to pick up anything valuable the pilot sees on the lakebed. They’re typically used as research vessels to take information back to the Octantis’ science program, which works in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA eventually plans to tack instruments to the bottoms of the submarines to get more detailed information about the water, the lakes, and the lakebed.

If you’re like me (that is, both claustrophobic and afraid of drowning), you’ll be happy to know that the subs are awash with safety features. Onboard, you’ll find directions on what to do if the pilot goes unconscious, supplemental oxygen hoods, a big green button to push if the sub needs to surface immediately, and a program that tells the submarine to surface if it doesn’t detect any activity from the pilot. Up above you, the sub is followed by a safety boat with a team that ensures the surrounding waters stay clear and everyone is safe beneath the surface. (So even when the safety boat radioed our pilot, Peppe from Sweden, and said, “You’re a little close to the rocks, but that’s as good a dive site as any,” I decided to trust the marine scientist.)

Photo by Jennifer Billock
Photo by Jennifer Billock
Photo by Jennifer Billock

Sinking down to the depths

Here’s how the dive works. You take Viking-owned Zodiacs (military-grade rigid inflatable boats) to a predetermined dive site that the scientists onboard the ship picked out that morning. For now, the sites will always be in Canadian waters-because Viking is Norwegian, the Jones Act disallows them from deploying subs in the United States. To transfer from the Zodiac to the submarine, you have to hold onto a metal bar, climb out of the Zodiac, and sit down on the edge of the submarine hatch. You swing your legs into the hatch, then climb down a three-rung ladder into the middle of the sub to find your assigned seat.

Once everyone is in the sub, the pilot climbs in, closes the hatch, and then radios to the safety boat to make sure you’re clear to sink. With the all-clear, air is released from outside tanks on the submarine, and thrusters push the entire thing underwater.

For our dive, we went down about fifty feet to the floor of the lake. It had been raining all morning, which stirred up the sediment around us, making everything a mossy green colour that spotlights sparkled through to highlight the lakebed. I saw a few tiny fish and a ton of invasive zebra mussel shells. Depending on the weather and your dive site, you’re likely to see more. But even just exploring the floor of the Great Lakes, something almost no one in history has done before, is an amazing thing.

Sign me up!

If you want to take a submarine dive into the Great Lakes yourself, you have to be a passenger on the Viking Octantis or sister ship, Viking Polaris. As of this writing, no other companies offer passenger submarine trips down into the lakes-especially not in a military-grade exploration submarine that is worth $6 million each. The Great Lakes expedition itineraries start at about $6,500 and can be booked on the Viking website.

Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images

Hike, kayak, or get yourself a cinnamon roll afterwards

What you can see nearby depends on your dive site. On Octantis, the subs went down in Lake Huron and Lake Superior-my dive was in Lake Huron, surrounded by the stunning Georgian Bay UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Canada. Here, you can kayak in the bay, hike through the surrounding landscape, and enjoy a Zodiac nature cruise.

Or if you can, try to take your submarine dive at Silver Islet in Ontario’s slice of Lake Superior. The small community is historic and completely off the grid, and the general store has some of the best cinnamon rolls you can find around the Great Lakes.

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Jennifer Billock is a freelance writer and author, usually focusing on some combination of culinary travel, culture, sex, and history. Check her out at JenniferBillock.com and follow her on Twitter.

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