This post originally appeared in the September 16, 2023 edition of Eater’s Travel newsletter, a place for Eater’s editors and writers to share their tips for navigating the world’s most delicious destinations. Subscribe now.
If I tell you to “meet me at my spot,” I likely mean one thing: the hostel bar. And no, I’m not a 21-year-old, bright-eyed summertime traveler, schlepping a trekking backpack through cobblestoned streets — I am a 32-year-old, often-traveling-but-aspiring-to-be-in-stasis, hostel bar-crawler. And I’d love a Kingston Negroni, please.
Hermetically sealed hotels have never been for me. Since my first slap-dash trip to Germany and the Czech Republic just barely post-college (where I stumbled into bone-filled dungeon bars in Prague, got dumped by my long-distance boyfriend, and then enjoyed many, many mulled wine-filled walks with the Brazilian tourists who adopted me as their own), I knew a hostel would always be my first stop on any future trip... or start to a night out.
Long a standby for locals looking for a cheap, after-work drink anywhere from Bruges, Belgium, to Austin, Texas, the hostel bar is the ultimate untapped spot to feel the ever-changing pulse of a city, whether you’re in the mood for a speakeasy, a spot to read with a pint, or a Florentine rooftop pool bar to see and be seen. This is because hostels, as a low-cost, dorm-style accommodation, are communal in more ways than one: The rooms, meals, and happy hours are all shared. Much like hotels, they can range from quiet and subdued and yes, bar-less, to party-centric and Soho House-adjacent. Many have bars that are open to the public (Hostelworld and Google Travel are useful for pointing them out). And, as it turns out, this model also appeals to swanky hotel brands, like Freehand, which offer shared, hostel-style rooms alongside traditional suites to cash in on the buzzy, youthful spirit hostel patrons might bring along to its James Beard-award nominated bars.
The tell-tale signs of a good hostel bar are not dissimilar to those of a normal bar: a cheery spilling out of folks onto the sidewalks and patios, a chalkboard sign running out of room to list the night’s events, and an energy I can only describe as “new school orientation,” where people are eager to mingle and share a table with near strangers. They’re under-the-radar spots, and yet I’m not worried about letting everyone know about the ones I’ve loitered in over the years for fear they’ll be overtaken or commodified. Because it’s impossible to do so: Hostels can be scrappy, ragtag, and they change daily (nearly hourly) depending on who checks in and out and who moves into the neighborhood.
In Amsterdam, families and Erasmus kids meet up for Saturday late afternoon pints at the Generator’s Oosterpark. Housed in an old, refurbished zoological university building, you can enjoy a frosty Brouwerij ‘t Ij beer or a crisp Grolsch in its auditorium bar or at the club that used to be the boiler room.
Paris has a lore I don’t need to add to, but if I can, it’s to recommend the bar at 3 Ducks Hostel. In a sleepy corner of the residential 15th arrondissement, the bar is easily 70 percent post-work locals to 30 percent hostel guests. Glasses of Burgundy are also incredibly cheap for Paris standards, with a lush tucked-away terrace perfect for people watching with a rolly cigarette.
The People’s Strasbourg location once again proves my theory that the best cheeseburgers are actually made, confoundingly, in France (it’s all that Comté cheese), perfect with a glass of local Alsatian Crémant. The Yellow Hostel in Rome is a city all its own on a single Roman block; you don’t have to leave the via Palestro hostel to get a haircut, a stracciatella gelato, or a top-notch Campari spritz.
Unlike hotel bars, hostel bars allow you to actually rub elbows with locals in overlooked neighborhoods. As was the case for my recent visit to Austin’s Firehouse Hostel off of East 6th, which features a speakeasy through a bookshelf in the hostel lobby. It took me less than 10 minutes to be absorbed into a group of 10 locals who’ve made Firehouse one of their own spots and to be served a Jungle Bird that briefly wiped my memory of the Texas humidity coating the city.
If you’ve yet to challenge your assumptions of what a hostel (and hostel bar) can be, I kindly ask you to do so now. Hostels’ reputation for hosting unsavory characters, being full of sub-par amenities, or just for the “youths” no longer apply to many of them. I’ll see you there.
Mackenzie Filson is a Los Angeles-based food & beverage writer, whose writing has appeared in TASTE, Delish, PUNCH, Kitchn, and EatingWell, amongst others. A former cheesemonger, barista, and bartender, she often covers topics like restaurant culture, strange TikTok trends, and the intersection of food and mental health.