For top tourist tips, skip the concierge and cozy up to the bar

  • Kerri Westenberg
  • Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
6:00 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017 Travel
Bartenders, not concierges, often know what's "hot" and "not" in a city. (Dreamstime)

I was starving. 

I’d been in Mexico for two hours, shuttling from the airport to my resort, and in the process, I’d skipped lunch. I was in desperate need of some killer tacos. And I knew just who to ask for recommendations on the best in town.  

I took the elevator down to the lobby, walked right past the concierge desk and trekked into town, where I found a cool bar and bellied up. 

Who was pouring the beer? My de facto travel guide.  

Meet bartenders — the real experts of a given locale, and my go-to beacons of advice when I’m on the road.  

Like most travelers, I like to research and plan before I take off. But you can’t always nail down every moment, and sometimes it’s better to get real-time feedback on the ground.  

And who knows a food-and-drink scene better than its bartenders? Who is more plugged into what’s new, what’s hot and who just got a really bad health inspection grade? No reliable source that I’ve found, including concierges, who often make certain assumptions about what you want to do — and how much you want to spend — based on where you’re staying.  

Concierges often send travelers to the most touristy of spots, since that’s apparently what most tourists want.  

If you don’t want a cookie-cutter evening, perhaps consider your source. Via bartenders, I’ve found everything from restaurants and bars to secret beaches, cliffside views and hidden markets in Europe, Asia, South America and across the U.S.  

I often hand a bartender my culled list of highlights, asking them to add places I’d neglected to find and cross off ones that weren’t as fun or interesting as that website had led me to believe. For a truly local experience, I’ll emphasize that I want to know where they eat, drink and hang — not where they think I’d like to. 

Oh, and in Mexico, the tacos were indeed killer.