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5 Cocktail Bars With Epic Views

By Tobey Grumet
January 12, 2022
rooftop ice skating bar
Courtesy Top of The Gate
These bars and lounges deliver views as spectacular as the cocktails.

When you’re traveling, it probably feels like you spend most of your day going from stop to stop—historic site, buzzy restaurant, charming shopping district, scenic park. Sometimes, though, taking the longview of a city can help you understand its soul as well as you would if you were sitting in a café chatting with locals. Tourist favorite viewing sites, like NYC’s iconic Empire State Building, require advanced planning and pricey online reservations as well as some serious wait time once you get there. But what if you could instantly be swept up to a perfect perch which not only offers spectacular sights—but a civilized way to enjoy them? Check out these five bars and lounges that offer jaw-dropping vistas and a respite from the crowds. A beautifully prepared drink, snack, or meal seals the deal.

1. The Aviary: New York

Head to the 35th floor of Manhattan’s Mandarin Oriental and you’ll find this dramatic lounge (aviarynyc.com) overlooking Central Park and much of midtown. Set within the massive Time Warner shopping complex at Columbus Circle, this is the perfect place to kick up your feet after a long day of sightseeing or bring out-of-town guests for a special treat. Not only will you enjoy the view from the curved, floor-to-ceiling wall of windows, you’ll be tickled by the playful array of drinks and small dishes on the experimental menu. The whimsical cocktails here make The Aviary as destination-worthy as the views. They typically involve smoke, dry ice, or exotic Instagram-worthy garnishes and vessels. If you've never had a cocktail poured from a plastic bag, now's your chance to try it. During daytime hours, a good bet is the $45, three-course lunch. Walk-ins are encouraged though if you want a prime seat next to the windows, you’ll want to make a reservation on took.com.

2. 71 Above: Los Angeles

71Above.jpg?mtime=20181016090418#asset:103486(Courtesy 71Above)

Perched nearly 1000 feet atop the US Bank Tower building in downtown Los Angeles, this circular restaurant and lounge (71above.com) offers an unrivaled, panoramic view of the City of Angels. Once seated, you’ll be able to appreciate the seamless glass window panes which automatically darken for better daytime viewing and then lighten as dusk falls—and each table also comes with its own simulated compass to help you gauge your direction. The mood is old-world opulence and you can walk in any time for a well-crafted cocktail at the bar in the lounge. Stick to the classic vibe and order a Vesper, the gin, vodka, and Lillet Blanc mix that James Bond made famous. There’s also a special bar menu of small bites. If you’re after the $70 prix-fixe option, you’ll have to make reservations. The menu includes French classics like steak tartar, oysters in Champagne, and foie gras—balanced with more modern dishes like the surprisingly luxe parsnips roasted in duck fat. You can also reserve seats by the window. 

3. Top of the Gate/Top of the Skate: Washington D.C.

Politics may be on everyone’s mind these days, but the recently refurbished Watergate Hotel (thewatergatehotel.com/dine-and-drink/top-of-the-gate) promises to keep things lighthearted. Inside, you’ll find a few small, cheeky gestures with a swipe at the namesake’s complex past, including drink coasters inscribed with “Well, I am not a crook,” and Mad Men-inspired uniforms for the staff. But it’s the year-round rooftop, featuring 360-degree views of D.C.’s familiar skyline and monuments, that inject an element of fun and fancy to every visit. During warmer months, you can head up to the 15th floor and perch yourself at the bar for an array of fruity, cheery cocktails like the Key-Bridge Sunset with Jamaican rum, pineapple, lime and ginger, or choose something simple from the G&T Bar. A popular food option is one of the sweet or savory pizzas, served with a wink in a delivery box. Come November, Top of the Gate becomes the Top of the Skate, offering those same views to ice skaters on the open-air rink—as well as a skate-up bar with seasonal selections like a bourbon-spiked hot cider and hot chocolate with Bailey’s and Irish whiskey. You can book a table or lounge seating for a minimum of $50 per person. Guests will be charged the full $50 even if the order totals less than that sum. 

4. J Parker: Chicago

JParker-HiRes-28.jpg?mtime=20181016090423#asset:103487(Courtesy The J. Parker)

The 13th floor of the Hotel Lincoln (jparkerchicago.com) delivers stunning views of the Chicago skyline, Lincoln Park Zoo, Lake Michigan, and the city’s Gold Coast. The bar, named after the eponymous president’s bodyguard, is an all-weather destination with an outdoor rooftop and a glass-enclosed space to enjoy the globetrotting cocktail program featuring drinks from Mexico, Cuba and Spain—like the Capri, stirred with gin, aloe liqueur, kiwi, and lime. Quiet, cozy times can be found on the banquettes and couches, or near one of the two fireplaces. But if, for instance, you’re coming in from the beach or a day of strolling the city, take a seat at the bar or one of the high-top tables and relax with an order of the house punch—served by the bowl-- or addictive snacks like truffle fries and cheesy polenta sticks. Reservations are available for larger groups, but otherwise it's first come, first serve.

5. Top of the Mark, San Francisco

This 19th floor bar sits atop the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins (intercontinentalmarkhopkins.com/top-of-the-mark.aspx), which is perched above Nob Hill. There’s nothing here that falls short of the best of what San Francisco has to offer. Take a trip on the exclusive elevator to a throw-back, glass-walled, penthouse hotel bar. It’s a classy roost, where choosing a martini from the “100 Martini Menu” is as enjoyable as soaking in the views which include the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz. The wraparound perspective is perfect for sunset or a twinkling nightcap. Cocktails here lean classic with a contemporary twist. Tapas and small bites are served daily, touting locally sourced cheese and caviar, as well as shareable plates like Dungeness crab nachos. Check the online calendar for live music and dancing and if you want to make a brunch date with The City By the Bay, reservations on reserve.com is the way to go. 

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Budget Travel Lists

Top Travel Trends for 2019

Turns out, you can learn everything there is to know about the travel industry in a day and a half. Each year, hundreds of travel executives and professionals gather at the Skift Forum in Manhattan for two days of talks that essentially comprise a state-of-the-union-like overview on the travel industry. This September, presidents, CEOs, and other head honchos of companies like Delta, JetBlue, Hilton, Marriott, and Google took to the stage to give the rundown on what’s going on with their companies and what the future might bring. While jargony buzzwords like "digital engagement" and "aligning with partners" were tossed around with abandon, there were a few key points that you, dear reader, can put in your back pocket to stay ahead of the game and think about as you plan your travel in the coming year. THE TECH BACKLASH After several years of news headlines and water cooler talk of Jetsonian touches in hotel rooms, some executive are tugging on the reins and bringing things back down to earth. It's a reaction that was perhaps best summed up by Matthew Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso, a digital network of luxury travel advisors, when he said "I don’t like the term 'intermediaries.' As technology gets more ubiquitous, there will not only be a desire, but a craving for authenticity." The emotional impact of good service or a memorable interaction, he said, lasts much longer than the novelty of any gadget. Technological enhancements in hotels, of course, cannot evolve or be implemented faster than those in society overall. Arne Sorenson, President and CEO of Marriott International, which, after the acquisition of Starwood Hotels in 2016 for $13 billion, encompasses 30 brands and 6700 hotels around the world, says there is a future for connected "smart" rooms, but we have a way to go.  “There’s a potential for connected rooms and voice search, but it’s a tool we’re collectively figuring out how to use," he said, noting a big pilot they're working on with Amazon Alexa. "It offers convenience to do things online and through voice, but as a society we’re still figuring out: are these devices that we can trust? Does it offer enough convenience that we can be confident that it’s not listening to us when we don’t want to?” But really, isn’t automation and digitization something people travel to escape from?After all, going on vacation to “unplug” is certainly something we all can dream about. “At the end of the day, it’s all about people. We can’t let technology override that," Sorensen added. "Everything we do is within the quest of serving guests in more effective ways, whether at our properties or online. 'Technology bling' is cool, it’s fancy, but at the end of the day, it might not work well, it may not be intuitive." ONE-STOP TRIP PLANNING If things go according to plan, the days of hopping from website to website to organize a trip will soon be a thing of the past. Several giant companies are expanding their offerings, aiming to become one-stop shops for an increasingly broad range of services and tools. TripAdvisor, which is home to more than 661 million reviews of 7.7 million airlines, restaurants, accommodations and experiences, announced in early September that they are overhauling their site to include features like a social-media-like personal travel feed that includes tips, recommendations, and photos from people in a user’s network as well as TripAdvisor-appointed influencers. Users will also be able to filter their searches by destinations to find site-specific information and more comprehensive planning tools. At the conference, the company’s CEO, Steve Kaufer, elaborated, “When we look at how we make travel decisions, reviews are never the only source of information,” he said, referring to the site’s defining feature. “Everyone reaches out to friends, their social network, old-style branded content, social influencers. I envision a day when people go to TripAdvisor for the whole trip. They can save things really want and make a bucket list, of sorts. A large percentage of our audience is already Facebook-connected. People are interested in where friends have gone and what they like, we’re just streamlining that process.”  AirB&B is also expanding its reach. The decade-old company, which has logged 400 million guest arrivals, is looking beyond accommodations at how to bring experiences into the fold. “Airbnb started with a community. There are lots of passionate artists and activities in local communities,” said Greg Greeley, President of Homes for Airbnb. “The way we think about evolution and extensions is by listening to the community. We ask: are we driving innovative travel that’s people-powered and centered on local experience?” ON FOOD AND DESIGN “A lack of innovation means a lack of charm,” said Ian Schrager, the legendary 1970s nightlife mogul who founded Studio 54 and later the trend-setting hotelier who pioneered the boutique hotel concept. While Schrager did not completely dismiss technology, conceding that it’s the “next frontier,” he lamented how young people don’t go to bars the way they did in the Studio 54 era and said, point blank, we’re not using technology well. It’s not about having an iPad or Echo in every room, he said. It should be more integrated. It’s about making every transaction in a hotel easier and cheaper for a reason.  What does have an immediate and emotional impact, which ends up making a lasting impression, is design. “What takes away from personal contact is ridiculous. It's fun to razzle-dazzle customers, but attention to design has the upside to blow people away.” According to Marriott's Sorenson, design and dining are two ways to ensure that guests have a localized experience. “The product and service experience at each individual hotel has to be very strong, especially when it comes to localized architecture, food, beverage and service experience, and a team with an authentic welcome,” he said. “Fundamentally that’s the product being sold.”

Budget Travel Lists

9 Ethnic Neighborhoods With Incredible International Cuisine

Thanks to America's beautifully diverse immigrant population, more types of cuisines are available to U.S. diners than ever before—which is great news for those who like to explore the world through food. You can't always hop on a plane and experience a new culture in situ, but look closer to home, and the odds are good you'll find the corresponding fare on these shores. From more familiar flavors like Polish and Korean to lesser-known ones like Bukharian and Hmong, here's where ambitious eaters can get their next fix—no passport required. 1. AVONDALE, CHICAGO: Little Poland Industrial smokestacks and ornate church steeples make up the skyline of Avondale, a largely Polish neighborhood in northwest Chicago. Murals depicting Eastern European traditions bring color to the streetscape, once a drab strip of manufacturers like Florsheim Shoes. Polish immigrants started moving to the neighborhood after the Civil War, and though immigration has slowed in the last few decades as Poles started finding greater opportunities in other parts of Europe, the culture here remains strong, and restaurants and food markets sit as cornerstones of the neighborhood. Staropolska, which was given a makeover a few years ago, remains one of the area’s most traditional. Its extensive menu includes all the staples, like smoked cheese, herring, schnitzel, and pierogi with various fillings. At Kurowski’s Butcher Shop and Rich’s Bakery, a veritable emporium, there's almost always a line at the meat counter for the celebrated kielbasa, smoked sausage, and ham, so make the most of your time and stock up for the trip home. 2. ANNANDALE, VIRGINIA: Korean food As a gathering place for diplomats and global leaders, it makes sense that Washington, D.C., and its surrounds would be hotspots for international fare. Few, however, have as significant a concentration of a single regional cuisine as Annandale, Virginia, located 13 miles from metro D.C., where Korean restaurants line the streets. D.C. locals will point you to high-profile spots like Honey Pig and Bon Chon Chicken, but there’s plenty more for the adventurous eater to discover. Jajangmyun, a noodle dish with fermented black bean sauce, is the calling card at Jang Won. Sok Jip, a seemingly unremarkable shop in a strip mall, is the go-to for samgyetang, a whole young chicken that's stuffed with garlic, ginseng, and red dates and served in its own broth. Any meal is best wrapped up with pat bing soo, a shaved ice indulgence with condensed milk, mochi, fruit, and red bean paste. Shops serving the treat are abundant. 3. PHILADELPHIA: Little Africa In most cities, ethnically distinct neighborhoods emerge informally and take on an identity casually. While Little Africa in Southwest Philadelphia started out that way, it’s become a district with an official city-ordained distinction. The telephone poles in this 10-square-mile community are festooned with flags of many African countries and the Caribbean. Amid the West African grocery shops, hair salons, and travel agencies advertising trips to Accra and Dakar sit restaurants specializing in the many foods from Africa. The flavors of Senegal are showcased at Kilimandjaro, known for Senegalese street food like plates of small pieces of spiced, roasted meats. African Small Pot features a mix of West African seafood and kebabs. A medley of traditions and flavors blend at Le Mandingue, where the chefs hail from Liberia, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and elsewhere. And that's just to name a few. In the warmer months, the sidewalks of Woodland Ave, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, fill with people lined up to buy kebabs and other spicy bites from popup grills. 4. PATERSON, NEW JERSEY: Little Lima Across the river from Manhattan, just 20 miles from the Lincoln Tunnel, New Jersey’s third-largest city is home to a diverse population, but it’s perhaps best known for its Peruvian community. Paterson was once a player in the textile-manufacturing industry, and in the 1950s, it drew many Peruvian emigrants in search of employment. They settled downtown in what would become known as Little Lima and soon opened businesses and restaurants of their own. In 2016, a two-block section of Market Street was officially designated as Peru Square, and today, an estimated 30,000 peruanos call the Silk City home. Here, you’ll find traditional fare like ceviche, lomo saltado (a stir-fry of steak, onions, and tomatoes), and stewed guinea pig at La Tia Delia, a longtime local favorite; crisp-skinned rotisserie chicken with a kicky ají amarillo–laced sauce at D’Carbon; and sweet treats like mazamorra morada, a purple corn–based pudding, at Dulcemente Peruano. Pro tip: Carry cash, as many spots don’t take cards. And if you're in town in July, join the 7,000-plus crowd that floods the streets for the annual Peruvian Parade. 5. REGO PARK, QUEENS: Bukharian food Countless noted food writers have sung the praises of Queens, New York City’s most diverse borough, according to census data. (Linguistic experts have estimated that nearly 800 languages are spoken there.) Some have even pegged it for having more exciting food choices than Brooklyn or Manhattan. One of the more unique cuisines to be found here is in Rego Park, where there’s a large population of Bukharian Jewish emigrants from former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, as well as Afghanistan and western China, regions once home to Silk Road cities. Their kosher restaurants and bakeries line what’s known as Bukharian Broadway (aka 108th Street) and offer staple dishes, mostly based on rice, lamb, potatoes, carrots, and spices (think: cumin, paprika, and chili) influenced by Silk Road stops in China and India. Try lamb kebabs; shurpa, a cumin-spiked beef soup; rice pilaf, often of the fragrant, fluffy variety; and traditional lepeshka, a chewy bread. Just note that many restaurants close from Friday night to Saturday night for the Sabbath. 6. JACKSON HEIGHTS, QUEENS: Indian food In the bustling neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens, the main subway station is above ground. The moment you step out of the train and onto the platform, you can smell the curry wafting from the restaurants that fan out from the frenzied intersection below. Once you get down to street level, your other senses are ignited by colorful displays in the windows of high-end sari shops and Indian music blaring from storefronts. Come to shop, stay to dine. The Indian restaurants range from sweeping eateries that look like banquet halls to much more modest counter-service curry shops and everything in between. Jackson Diner is the most well-known of the former, packing in crowds for a daily all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Indian restaurants definitely dominate, thanks largely to a wave of immigrants in the 1970s, but people from other nations followed, as evidenced by the neighborhood's many Tibetan restaurants and food trucks. Don't leave here without trying a plate of momos, meat-filled plump dumplings. Amdo's, a longstanding food truck beneath the subway tracks, is run by a former monk. He sells a plate of eight that will set you back $5. 7. ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA: Hmong food For thousands of years, the Hmong (pronounced mung), an ethnic group, have lived in southwestern China without a nation to call their own. In the mid-1600s, under heavy persecution, they migrated to Laos, Thailand, and other nearby countries. Due to a series of events after the Vietnam War, the U.S. helped them resettle as refugees, and today, Minnesota has the second largest population in the country, mostly concentrated in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood. Considering that the Hmong didn’t have a written language until the 1950s and traditions were passed down orally, the city's many markets and eateries serve as something of a living history museum. Sample the rich heritage at the Hmongtown Marketplace’s vibrant food court or the pavilion at Hmong Village, where there are many options for classic dishes like larb, a minced meat and mint salad that originated in Laos, khaub poob, a curry noodle dish, and Hmong barbecue. There are myriad restaurants and delis to choose from, too. 8. MIAMI: Little Havana Since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, a reported 700,000 Cubans have made their home in south Florida, and the local food scene has never been the same. Little Havana, a neighborhood west of downtown, is Miami’s epicenter of Cuban culture, especially the vibrant area around colorful Calle Ocho, an historic street. Shop for hand-rolled cigars and Latin records, then indulge in some of the best Cuban food in the country. The hugely popular restaurant and bakery Versailles, for instance, offers an extensive menu that's a celebration of traditional island fare, from hearty plates like ropa vieja (a stew of shredded beef, onions, and peppers in a wine and tomato broth) and picadillo (ground beef sauteed with raisins and olives) to what some deem to be the best Cubano sandwiches in the city. Nearby, El Cristo delivers equally authentic dishes like roast pork and empanadas. (Don’t skip the plantains.) For dessert, hit the iconic Velvet Crème Doughnuts or grab an overflowing cone from the artisanal Azucar Ice Cream Company. Too many options? Sign up for a neighborhood food tour and let an expert set the itinerary for you. 9. WHITE CENTER, SEATTLE: Cambodian food (Vladzymovin/Dreamstime)White Center, a neighborhood in west Seattle, is home to a diverse community, including the city’s biggest Cambodian population, which emerged in the 1980s once the Khmer Rouge fell from power, the genocide ended, and refugees arrived in the US. While rising housing prices in Seattle have kickstarted gentrification here, a number of Cambodian businesses are still going strong alongside the Thai restaurants, Vietnamese cafés, and Salvadorian bakeries that make up the historic business district. Sample regional Khmer fare at Queen’s Deli, known for its spicy Phnom Pehn noodles and samlor kako, a ratatouille-like dish, and browse the extensive grocery aisles at Samway Market, a veritable East Asian food museum.

Budget Travel Lists

7 Unique Bookstores in the U.S.

Independent bookstores play the role of literary sanctuary for readers both young and old, and the fact that bookstores are celebrated in the age of Kindles and digital downloads is a testament to the written word. From stores that specialize in a certain genre, like children’s books in French, to others that offer creative features such as a public typewriter, they also often function as community centers, hosting readings with both local and well-known authors. We scoured the country from the Pacific Coast to New England to the Deep South to bring you seven unique bookstores that deserve a visit, whether you're passing through or looking for a way to spend a day. The French Library: New Orleans, LA Boasting the largest selection of children’s French books in the country, The French Library (thefrenchlibrary.com) is an enchanting bookshop that lures in young readers with its artful arrangement of books and toys. It opened in 2016 to fulfill a need within New Orleans’s French immersion community, and owner Katrina Greer is devoted to nurturing children’s imaginations. In addition to stocking books in English and French for children up to age 11, they also sell toys and games. Wander to the back of the store and you will encounter un petit café that serves local coffees, teas, and pastries. They also offer French classes for children and other kid-centric activities including private tea parties. Literati: Ann Arbor, MI Literati (literatibookstore.com) is located in downtown Ann Arbor, only a few blocks from University of Michigan, and it certainly lives up to its name by attracting high-profile authors and hosting a variety of book clubs. But perhaps its largest claim to fame is the public typewriter which stands proudly amid the store’s sprawling shelves. Visitors are invited to type their musings, whether that’s a love poem or a corny joke. A collection of these musings, Notes From a Public Typewriter, was recently published by the store. Let the aroma of brewing coffee from the full-service espresso bar entice you upstairs, where you can sip a cup of joe and savor your latest purchase. Harvard Book Store: Cambridge, MA Locally owned and independently run since 1932, Harvard Bookstore (harvard.com) has become known as a Harvard Square landmark. Stocked with an extraordinarily diverse selection of new, used, and remaindered books, you’re guaranteed to find something of interest here. Don’t miss the beloved used book basement, where the walls are plastered with old newspaper clippings, book covers, and bookmarks, most of which were found by the staff in the previously read books. The store hosts an award-winning author series with more than 300 author events a year, and a Signed First Editions Club. For writers interested in self-publishing, they also have a print-on-demand machine on site that can print books in the store at an affordable price. Alabama Booksmith: Birmingham, AL Intended for the true bibliophile, Alabama Booksmith (alabamabooksmith.com) is the only bookstore in the world whose entire inventory is composed of books signed by the author. As every book in the spacious store is signed, they are each displayed face-out on the shelves, ensuring that shoppers are able to view the carefully-curated stock. Most of these books are first editions, and the store also offers a Signed First Editions Club, which is now in its fourteenth year. Each month, the shop selects a new book and a signed copy is sent to hundreds of members around the world. There is no cost to join, and selections are charged monthly at the regular retail price. As owner Jake Reiss explains, "Like fine wine, signed first editions increase in value," so it's a great investment. Over the years they've had books signed by many award-winning and well-respected authors, including John Updike and Isabel Allende. Laguna Beach Books: Laguna, CA Situated just across Pacific Coast Highway from the beach, Laguna Beach Books (lagunabeachbooks.com) is a gem that reminds many of the the bookstore in You’ve Got Mail. I should know — I’ve been lucky enough to work here for the past ten years. Inhale the salty ocean breeze and admire the replica of the Main Beach Lifeguard Tower which stands just inside the front door. Adorning the shelves are handwritten notes by staffers to express their enthusiastic recommendation for a particular book. LBB, as it is affectionately referred to by locals, is known for its clever gift items, such as their “Make America Read Again” hats. BookBar: Denver, CO Is it a bookstore? A wine bar? The answer would be yes and yes, as owner Nicole Sullivan combines the best of both worlds when she created BookBar (bookbardenver.com) in Denver. Stroll through the open space, past the bookshelves brimming with treasures, and make your way to the wine bar, which also serves as a community gathering place. For writers (and readers) in need of a room of one’s own, consider renting BookBed (bookbeddenver.com) a spacious and fully-furnished one-bedroom apartment located above the shop. Sullivan has also created BookGive, the non-profit arm of BookBar, which donates thousands of books every year to those in need. Birchbark Books: Minneapolis, MN Birchbark Books (birchbarkbooks.com) describes itself as “a locus for Indigerati — literate indigenous people.” Owned by esteemed Native American author Louise Erdrich, the staff is dedicated to nourishing and building a community that revolves around books. With a special emphasis on Native American literature and arts, you will encounter traditional basketry, dreamcatchers, and Native paintings. As you meander through the small store, take note of the handmade wooden canoe hanging from the ceiling. For those feeling especially gluttonous, sidle up to the store’s confessional booth (or forgiveness booth, as it’s now referred to.) Young children will delight in the tiny loft and the hobbit hole that inspires them to indulge their creativity.

Budget Travel Lists

5 Things To Do in Fairbanks, Alaska

When I visited Fairbanks in early August (2018), the Blockbuster Video store was closing. It was the second-to-last outlet of the once-ubiquitous video rental depot, and it survived here because residents’ cable signals weren’t consistently dependable and, because of the town's secluded location in Alaska’s interior, internet fees have long been quite high. Technology has helped with the signal issue, but Fairbanks (population around 32,500) will always be quite isolated: Denali, a six-million-acre national park and preserve, and the 2,525,512-acre Yukon-Charley Rivers Preserve are some of its nearest neighbors. That remoteness makes the city a bustling tourist destination when it comes to viewing astrological wonders. From mid-August to mid-April, the Aurora Borealis puts on its annual show, and the midnight sun season delivers 24 hours of daylight for 70 days (May 17 to July 27). Plus, what it lacks in proximity to other cities it makes up for with a vibrant creative culture. From its time as a territory through the boom years of the Gold Rush and the oil bonanza, Alaska has possessed a mythical allure, and people have been drawn to the possibilities that go hand-in-hand with the state's sprawling landscape. Here are just a few ways that imaginative and resourceful locals take advantage of all that opportunity today, making Fairbanks an alluring American city. 1. VISIT THE MARKET (@tananavalleyfarmersmarket/Instagram) Creativity is often a consequence of living in extreme weather, especially in a remote locale. (Consider, for instance, Reykjavik, Iceland, where children are required to start learning an instrument in school at a very young age. The dark winters give them lots of time to practice, after all. As a result, the city’s lively music scene makes it a hotspot on the global map.) Fairbanks’s artists and makers are diverse and prolific, and their wares are on display at the seasonal Tanana Valley Farmers’ Market. On an impossibly hot August afternoon, as locals queued up at food stalls for crepes, Thai food, reindeer dogs, and soup, I browsed displays of handmade knives handmade by Native artisans, bowls, dishes and cups carved and whittled down from raw wood, ceramics, and knitted accessories made by a soft-spoken elderly woman named Joan who was skillfully creating new inventory as we chatted. Paintings, photographs, soaps, jams, and t-shirts were also in the mix. But about the market’s namesake farmers. Given the brutal winters, it's easy to assume that Fairbanks is barren, but the 24-hours of sunlight and warm summers make it a prime growing region. Kale, asparagus, carrots and jumbo cabbage are just a few of the items for sale. 2. FEAST LIKE THE PIONEERS There are restaurants and there are dining events. The Salmon Bake and all-you-can-eat affair, is among the latter. The location sits adjacent to Pioneer Park, frontier-themed grounds built in 1990 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the purchase of Alaska from Russia. It includes a mock gold-rush village and a theater that stages nightly revues. The all-you-can-eat restaurant—virtually a campus—encompasses several log-cabin-like buildings that house the different food and drink stops, like the salad bar, a cute dessert bar, the spacious dining room and bar, and more, most adorned with Arctic-kitsch décor (see: colorful fake fish mounted on the walls). But the main attraction of the meal, is the grill, where a crew of personable pitmen—many of whom return season after season—turns out salmons, sirloins, and beer-battered cod, at a steady clip. They serve about 60,000 pounds of prime rib and 40,000 pounds of salmon in a season. It’s a family-run operation founded in 1979 by owner Beth Richard’s father Rick Winther, who wanted to bring fresh seafood to the interior. The beer-battered cod, in fact, is her grandmother’s recipe and is said to have been served to President Warren Harding on his 1923 trip to Alaska. Beth’s son Max, who turned 20 the day I met them, dons a grilling apron and gets to work during his summers home from college. He says his favorite offering is the homemade mousse, which happens to be Beth’s recipe. Looks like her legacy is safe and sound. 3. ENJOY COFFEE AND COMMUNITY (@venuefairbanks/Instagram) Venue looks like your average hip coffee shop, complete with minimalist furniture and art on the walls. But when Isaac Mangum, a graphic designer and native son, opened Venue in downtown Fairbanks in June 2015, he intended it to be much more than a go-to for a quick caffeine kick. “It’s where Fairbanks happens,” he told me. “Coffee is just a catalyst. You’re surrounded by beautiful things here.” To be sure, there’s a gallery-like feel to the space as well as the adjacent shop that stocks Alaskan-made goods, making it a cozy spot for locals to gather and for visitors to get a sense of the town’s easy-going vibe. And cozy is exactly what a city that endures brutal weather conditions needs. Well, that and great coffee. And there’s no shortage of spots to grab a great fantastic cup. Like many other Alaskan cities, coffee huts are abundant here. The modest roadside huts, often with cute names like Mocha Moose, offer all the artisanal espresso drinks you’d find at any full-size coffee shop. In the summer they’re a convenience. In the winter, they’re a necessity. But when it comes to hanging out, check out Lulu's Bread and Bagels, a local favorite known for fresh-baked breads and pastries. Alaska Coffee Roasting Co. and Petunia’s (now closed 2021) are also excellent choices for whiling away the hours. 4. EXPLORE THE ART OF THE AUTOMOBILE (Liza Weisstuch) Transportation ranks pretty high among the many challenges to surviving in Fairbanks’s Arctic weather. It’s not unusual for temps to fall to 60 degrees below, Fahrenheit, and lower. Given that frigidity and snow, plus the state’s massive area (it’s twice the size of Texas) and the inaccessibility of so many towns, one out of 78 Alaskans has a pilot’s license to operate small aircrafts. But before aviation was a norm, people had to get creative to devise ways to navigate snowy, icy roads. The ingenuity of engineers is on display at the Fountainhead Antique Car Museum. Among the dozens of vehicles, there’s a T-Model Ford affixed with wood runners, the creator of which christened it a “snowmobile” and patented a DIY kit, and all sorts of industrial-looking vehicles. Collectively, it’s a chronicle of how the area came to be accessible and livable. But the packed museum explores the style aspect of transportation as well functionality. Early and very rare Cadillacs and Chryslers are presented alongside the fashionable clothing of their times, which gives you a thorough understanding of what the town streets must have looked like. 5. DRINK IT IN (Liza Weisstuch) The Old City Hall in Fairbanks, which was built in 1935, sits on the National Register of Historic Places. Patrick Levy bought the building in 2014, built a steam-powered distillery inside it, started making vodka with Yukon potatoes, and christened the spirit 68 Below in honor of the freezing temps. He turned part of the town hall into a tasting room that handily serves as a local hangout and now cocktails made with the house vodka flow. Pat’s likeness to Santa Claus is rather striking, not least because the town of North Pole is 15 miles away. He delights in pointing out the irony of making booze in the same building that the town drunk tank once stood. The Fairbanks Distilling Company is just one of several spots that have a social aspect to its booze business. Brewers are in on the game, too. At HooDoo Brewing Co. you can buy your pint or a flight at the bar and drink it on the spacious family-friendly patio—in the warmer months, at least. There’s plenty of hangout space in the taproom for when the chill comes. At Silver Gulch Brewing and Bottling, the beers are served in a dim, cozy dining room with stone walls and a long wood bar. Anything from the menu of familiar comfort food makes a fine accompaniment to one of the small batch brews.For more information on Fairbanks visit Explore Fairbanks.