In Defense of Airport Bars, the World’s Most Underappreciated Bars

Mark Yocca / Supercall

I hate flying. Between the uncomfortable seats, the screaming children and the constant fear of dropping out of the sky and dying in a fiery crash, it’s just not my favorite way to pass the time. But there is a silver lining to traveling by plane: airport bars. I love airport bars.

When I am forced to fly, I make sure to get to the airport extra early—not because I’m afraid of long lines, but because I want to spend some quality time at the bar. The fact that a couple of drinks helps me make peace with the small chance of dying in an inglorious blaze after crashing into the Rockies is purely a bonus. Far more than just waiting rooms with beer taps, airport bars are right up there with speakeasies, tiki lounges and dive bars in my book. They are their own beast of bar, and like other types of bars, they have their own wonderful qualities and unique amenities. Here, why airport bars are wonderful oases and deserve to be treated with respect.

You’re Actually Expected to Drink Alone at Airport Bars

Though drinking alone at real world bars is nothing to be ashamed of, it often comes with pittying looks and unwanted attention. But drinking alone at an airport bar is de rigeur. In fact, solo sippers are often in the majority. It’s downright freeing to belly up to a bar filled with fellow lone drinkers.

You Can Order Whatever You Want, No Judgement

Not only is it okay to drink alone at the airport bar, it’s also okay to order whatever you want. You don’t have to impress anyone and, to be honest, no one is paying much attention to you anyway. So go ahead and order that Cosmopolitan you’ve been craving since they went out of style in 2003, or indulge in a glass of berry-sweet White Zinfandel (splurge on that extra half glass), or disregard the fact that it’s 8 p.m. and order a Bloody Mary—they’ll make one for you.

Airport Bars Somehow Make the Best Bloody Mary

Speaking of that Bloody Mary, let’s talk about just how good airport bar Bloodies are. I’m not sure how they do it—they’re certainly not using fresh tomatoes or probably even fresh black pepper—but airport bar Bloody Marys are, in general, better than most of the craft bar Bloodies I’ve had (and I’ve had a lot). Maybe they’ve locked in on the perfect pre-made mix. Maybe I’m just already in a Bloody Mary mindset in preparation for the virgin Bloody Mary mix I’m definitely ordering on the plane. Or maybe Bloody Marys just taste better in a windowless, three-walled bar.

You Can Wear Your Headphones or Read a Book in an Airport Bar

While reading a book in a real world bar is totally acceptable, it’s not easy thanks to the dim lighting. Airport bars are always well-lit, so you can whip out a book whenever you want without having to strain to see the words. Listening to your own music or podcast at a real world bar, on the other hand, is never allowed. But those types of rules go out the airlock at an airport bar. Go ahead and jam your buds into your earholes. No one will mind if you would rather listen to This American Life than the Top 40 hits blaring over the bar’s soundsystem.

Airport Bars Are Real Cultural Melting Pots

Unlike bars in the real world, airport bars aren’t destinations. They don’t market themselves as anything but a place to get a drink before a flight. They aren’t hipster hangouts. They aren’t meat markets. They aren’t hard-living dives. They’re fairly generic watering holes that attract a diverse group of drinkers. And should you choose to put Ira Glass on hold and actually strike up a conversation with a fellow patron, there’s a good chance you’ll wind up having a pretty interesting conversation (or at least learning more about selling medical equipment than you ever thought possible).

Airport Bars Have Great Service

Unless you’ve decided to fly during the annual snowpocalypse and find yourself fighting with eight delayed planes’ worth of people for a drink, airport bars are largely mellow. That means the staff have enough bandwidth to get you that extra-large Sam Adams and—most crucially—get you your check in a flash when you realize your group was just called to board.