50 Best Restaurant Bars in the U.S.

Top 50 Vibrant Bar Scene Restaurants 50 Best Restaurant Bars in the U.S.Do you enjoy starting — or ending — your evening of dining out with a cocktail at a restaurant’s bar? Of course, you do — which is why OpenTable is pleased to announce the winners of our 2009 Diners’ Choice Awards for restaurants with the “Most Vibrant Bar Scenes.” Derived from nearly four million reviews submitted by OpenTable diners for more than 10,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, this list speaks to diners who love to mix and mingle at the bar before or after dinner.

Out just in time for the super-social holiday season, this list, along with our Good for Groups winners as well as our new Private Dining Pages, can help you find the perfect place to get in the spirit of the season with friends, family, and coworkers. Winners include Chicago’s 33 Club, Chino Latino in Minneapolis, Henry’s 12th Street Tavern in Portland, Loft 610 in Plano (where “Top Chef” contestant Tre Wilcox runs the kitchen), meZ in Charlotte, Ozumo in Oakland, and YOLO in sunny Fort Lauderdale, among others.

From classic cocktails and craft beers to seasonal creations and diverse wine lists, these bars are also feature plenty of opportunities for people watching. Tell us if your favorite made the list, and be sure to fill out OpenTable’s Dining Feedback Forms to make sure your voice is heard next year.

Fine Dining: Don’t Call It a Comeback

Fine Dining Dont Call It a Comeback Fine Dining: Dont Call It a Comeback After all, it’s been here for years. But, the economy is bouncing back — and so is fine (make that “superfine”) dining. Manhattan’s refurbished Pierre Hotel now houses the recently opened Le Caprice, which New York Magazine‘s Adam Platt says “looks like a grand, Gilded Age train car done over by Noël Coward and his friends in Art Deco tones of black and pearly white” and serves “a variety of classically executed Continental favorites.” In other words, the check may not be modest, but nor will the dining experience.

Up in Boston, chef-restarauteur Barbara Lynch is opening what she hopes will be the crowning jewel in her Boston restaurant empire. Menton, named for a French town on the Italian border, is slated to start serving in January and will feature tasting menus of four or seven courses with prices hovering around $150 per person (including wine). Lynch, whose other restaurants include B&G Oysters, No. 9 Park, and Sportello (among others), promises The Boston Globe, “You’re going to want to dress up. It’s going to be very luxurious, very elegant.”

Are you looking forward to dining at more upscale eateries in the new year? Chime in here or over on our Facebook page.

Bazaar Love Affair: Why Diners Love The Bazaar by José Andrés

Tapas at The Bazaar by Jose Andres Bazaar Love Affair: Why Diners Love The Bazaar by José AndrésThe not-so-secret secret is out. The Bazaar by José Andrés is a resounding success. Decidedly different than many restaurants, The Bazaar eschews entrees and appetizers for an all-tapas menu. It received four stars from The Los Angeles Times and was recently named “Restaurant of the Year” by Esquire. The Bazaar by José Andrés was also a winner of OpenTable’s 2009 Diners’ Choice Awards in the Fit for Foodies category.

This week, The Wall Street Journal looks at this year-old sensation and wonders if Mr. Andrés has figured out the future of restaurants, comparing some of his tactics with those of other high-profile restaurateurs. What makes this standout, well, stand out? Is it the small plates? The location? The bustling bar scene? The open floor plan? The break with tradition? Learn what The Journal thinks — and what Andrés’s peers, including Joseph Bastianich, do, too.

Top Chef Restaurants: Where Your Favorite Contestants Are Cooking

Three Finalists Top Chef Restaurants: Where Your Favorite Contestants Are CookingThe Bravo television program “Top Chef” is one of the great gifts of the aughts. It’s made armchair chefs and judges of foodies across America — and likely around the world, and it’s made Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, and Gail Simmons into household names.

With the sixth season finale set to air tonight, we tracked down some former contestants to let you know where you can judge their fare for yourself. Keep in mind, not every contestant has headed back to a restaurant kitchen. Some have decided to step out from behind the line and in front of the camera. Others are consulting. A few are traveling around the world to expand their culinary horizons. And, a number have changed jobs so frequently that we cannot keep track of their current whereabouts.

While many of the Season 1 San Francisco alums are no longer cooking in a restaurant for a living, winner Harold Dieterle is. He is chef and co-owner of Perilla in Manhattan. Serving up seasonal American cuisine in the heart of Greenwich Village, Perilla is a true neighborhood gem that enjoys a steady stream of regulars. Shot in Los Angeles, Season 2 had a cast of memorable faves, including handsome also-ran Sam Talbot (who runs a restaurant in a Montauk, NY resort), villain Marcel Vigneron, who recently left his post as sous chef at The Bazaar by José Andrés in Beverly Hills, and winner Ilan Hall, who is working to open a restaurant in Los Angeles. Tre Wilcox, whose premature knife-packing shocked fans of Season 3 (shot in Miami), is helming the kitchen at the sexy Loft 610 Urban Restaurant and Lounge in Plano, Texas. Love-to-hate-him Hung Hyunh, who took home the grand prize, is overseeing Anja Bar (formerly known as the popular Buddha Bar) in New York City’s Meatpacking District.

The city of Chicago played host to Season 4 and its talented and occasionally caustic castmates. Erik Hopfinger is bringing a brand new brunch to Nova Bar and Restaurant, a hotspot in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. He’s also helping revamp the restaurant’s menus. San Franciscan diners can also enjoy feisty faux-hawked Jennifer Biesty’s ingredient-driven cuisine at Scala’s Bistro in Union Square. Biesty’s opponent on the show/partner in real-life Zoi Antonitsas now serves as executive chef at Zazu in California’s wine country, where she cooks rustic Northern Italian cuisine with sustainable ingredients from Zazu’s chef’s garden. Manhattan attracted its fair share of Top Chef-testants as well, with Manuel Trevino landing the executive chef position at newly opened Travertine, a hip Bowery boîte with a Mediterranean menu. Gifted-but-gruff Dale Talde is a sous chef at Buddakan NY, one of the city’s most grand and gorgeous dining spots, and likable Lisa Fernandes, the runner-up, is a sous chef at Dos Caminos, serving can’t-miss Mexican in midtown.

Season 5, filmed in and around the Big Apple, had several breakout stars. Sultry Jill Snyder is a chef at Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen, where local ingredients, not Ostrich eggs, are de rigueur. Speaking of ingredients, Jamie “Top Scallop” Lauren, is the executive chef at Absinthe Brasserie in San Francisco, where she has worked since July 2007. Lauren, a born-and-bred New Yorker, continues to serve cutting-edge yet accessible cuisine at this Hayes Valley favorite. Farther south in California, Stefan Richter, known for his unerring confidence and banana lollipops, has his own restaurant, Stefan’s at L.A. Farm, where he serves up classic ingredients with an unusual twist (oysters with Absinthe Jell-O, anyone?). The witty and whimsical Fabio Viviani has two Italian (‘natch!) restaurants under his belt Café Firenze and Firenze Osteria. He is also the culinary consultant for Santa Margherita wines, providing pairing recommendations and recipes. Stay tuned, too, for Fabio’s upcoming BravoTV show, “A Catered Affair.” Winner (and favorite of contestant Leah Cohen) Hosea Rosenberg is a multi-tasker with several projects cooking, but he still finds time to work as the executive chef at Jax Fish House in Boulder, Colorado.

Season 6 of “Top Chef” is being filmed in Sin City (aka Las Vegas). In the interest of not attempting to uncover any spoilers about tonight’s finale (or making the nice people at Bravo mad!), we have listed the restaurants the current contestants worked in just prior to joining the cast of “Top Chef.” Eve Aronoff is chef/owner of Eve in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where you’ll find contemporary cuisine prepared using French techniques. Jennifer Carroll, who was eliminated in the first part of the season finale, is the chef de cuisine at 10 Arts by Eric Ripert in Philadelphia’s Ritz Carlton. Ash Fulk, perhaps Padma’s least favorite contestant, is a sous chef at Trestle on Tenth, preparing American and European specialties with Swiss care and French flair in Chelsea’s gallery district. Ron Duprat is executive chef at Latitudes Beach Café at the Hollywood Beach Marriot in Florida, where he serves fresh ingredients with a Caribbean twist. In Hotlanta, check out Hector Santiago, who joined the show to make his customers proud (and did!) and his restaurant Pura Vida, which features to-die-for tapas. You can sample contestant Michael Isabella’s food at the José Andrés restaurant Zaytinya in Washington, D.C. (at which he prepares authentic Mediterranean mezze — and vegetables — expertly!). Maltin Noblia can be found preparing Basque food (and dreaming of Jessica Alba) at his restaurant Illuna Basque in San Francisco. Finally, finalist Kevin Gillespie is executive chef and a partner at Woodfire Grill in the ATL, where local, organic ingredients are the stars of the menu. Bryan Voltaggio is a chef/partner at VOLT in Frederick, Maryland, and his equally inked brother Michael Voltaggio is chef de cuisine at The Dining Room at The Langham in Pasadena, California. Both specialize in new American cuisine.

Tune in to Bravo tonight to find out if your favorite contestant wins. And, check back for interviews with former “Top Chef” winners and competitors.

New Year’s Eve and Restaurants: Dining Out on the Last Day of the Decade

New Years Eve Celebrations New Years Eve and Restaurants: Dining Out on the Last Day of the DecadeRinging in the new year at a restaurant is almost as popular as eating turkey on Thanksgiving. With less than a month left before the end of the year — and the decade, now is the time book your reservation, especially if you’re interested in the evening’s most prime dining times.

You can learn about special offers, unique celebrations, and moutwatering menus and make reservations by clicking on the “New Year’s Eve 2009″ link under “Offers and Events” on your city’s start page. If you plan on dining out in another destination in our nation or around the world, visit our international New Year’s Eve page.

Power Tables in Washington, D.C.: Where Politicos Dine Every Day

Washington DC Power Tables Power Tables in Washington, D.C.: Where Politicos Dine Every DayIf so-called gatecrasher couple Tareq and Michaele Salahi wanted to rub elbows with Washington, D.C.’s political elite, they didn’t have to sneak into the White House. CNN recently compiled a compelling list of who lunches where between noon and 2PM on and around the Hill; the Salahis could have simply booked a table at any of these D.C. dining hotspots.

According to CNN, you can find some of our capital’s (and our nation’s) most influential movers and shakers at restaurants including Blue Duck Tavern (the First Couple), Café Milano, Charlie Palmer Steak (serving more than 100 congressmen and senators every week), Johnny’s Half Shell, Lebanese Taverna (Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayo), The Monocle, Old Ebbitt Grill, The Oval Room, Oyamel (Michelle Obama), The Palm (Rahm Emanuel, Madeline Albright, James Carville, and Mary Matalin, among others), Rasika and SEI (both host to the First Lady), and Tosca Ristorante (Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and David Axelrod).

If you’re looking for an opportunity to dine alongside your favorite lobbyist, senator, Supreme Court Justice, or even the President of the United States, you don’t need an invitation — just an OpenTable reservation.

Dining Trends for 2010: Next Year’s Menus Will Feature Feel-Good Food

2010 Dining Trends Dining Trends for 2010: Next Years Menus Will Feature Feel Good FoodIt’s hard to predict every dining trend that takes hold in restaurants around the nation, but Restaurants & Institutions magazine has come up with a list of things you’re sure to spot on menus in the upcoming year. You may already have seen a lot of these movements and trends gaining momentum in your neck of the woods, but you can expect them to become far more ubiquitous at restaurants in big and small cities and towns in the U.S.

Things to expect include affordable comfort food (think Mom’s pot roast), Asian-Latin fusion (see truck, Kogi), bigger beer menus, old-school desserts (Retro root beer float, anyone?), eggs in everything, vegetables as entrées, fried chicken (make room, Colonel Sanders), environmentally efficient restaurants, local liquors (like LiV Vodka), wheat-free foods (Take that, Celiac!), and more chefs and restaurateurs embracing the Little House on the Prairie lifestyle at their establishments (i.e., pickling, curing, smoking, and canning products in-house).

Read the full list here, and tell us what you think we’ll see more of at restaurants in the next year — and decade — here or on Facebook.

Private Dining on OpenTable Now in 22 Metro Areas

Private Dining 22 Markets Private Dining on OpenTable Now in 22 Metro AreasOpenTable’s Private Dining pages have proven so successful that we have added eight additional metropolitan areas. You can now use Private Dining pages to help you plan your next event in Baltimore, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, New Orleans, Orlando, Phoenix, Sacramento, and San Diego.

It’s not too late to find a venue that’s right for your holiday party. Use these tips from Michael Fazio, “Concierge to the Stars,” and learn more about how Private Dining pages work here.

Holiday Party Planning Tips from Michael Fazio, Concierge to the Stars

Michael Fazio Holiday Party Planning Tips from Michael Fazio, Concierge to the StarsPlanning any kind of event is often fraught with stress, but thanks to OpenTable’s new Private Dining pages and these exclusive tips from Michael Fazio, you can plan your next party with less stress, in less time. Fazio, whose book Concierge Confidential will be published soon by St. Martin’s Press, says, “I love-love-love the Private Dining pages on OpenTable because they offer in one step what normally requires three.” He elaborates, “When a client asks us to arrange a private dining experience for a group, we ‘d have to leave a phone message for the person who books private events. We’d only get details about the room capacity and basic pricing structure when our call was returned. Finally, we’d then receive photos of the space and sample menus. What I adore about Private Dining pages is that I can view the room and its capacity and availability, peruse sample menus, and make contact with the event booker — ALL IN ONE STEP!”

Fazio, cofounder of Abigail Michaels Concierge, providers of a vast repertoire of concierge services to nearly 40,000 New Yorkers, shares five tips for planning a party like a pro in the know.

1. Manage your own expectations. “We should never ‘lower’ our expectations, but we all need to be realistic in understanding that the dining experience for a party of four is vastly different than the dining experience for a party of 40,” he says. Fazio suggest that planners stick to less intricate dishes to ensure service goes smoothly.

2. Sidestep sticker shock. While you can plan your own budget, it is difficult to calculate the per-person price of an event simply by looking at a standard menu. Fazio reveals, “Clients will see a menu listing apps for $10, entrées for $25, and wines by the glass for $8. Their logic tells them that the per-person price should be app + entrée + two glasses of wine = $72, yet the group menu starts at $85 per person plus tip and beverage. We have to explain that group events have different pricing because different components are required, such as additional kitchen and wait staff.”

3. Look for ways to save. If your needs are flexible, the restaurant’s pricing may be as well. He advises party planners, “Peak nights are always Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but a restaurant may offer a reduced rate if your event is held any other night.” You may also find a bit more wiggle room in pricing when restaurants have private dining rooms that are part of their regular restaurant space. Fazio points out, “If they can fill those tables with normal business before or after your event, you’ll probably have more bargaining power when it comes to settling on pricing.”

4. Never be afraid of negotiating. According to Fazio, whose company also serves clients in Chicago and Washington, D.C., “Negotiating, when done tactfully, is always acceptable. ” After you get a full proposal from a restaurant, he recommends looking for ways to reduce the rate. “Consider different selections, foregoing dessert, or asking if you can bring your own wine,” he says. Remember to find out if a corkage fee applies.

5. Don’t disregard details. Once you have your menu and beverage selections set, don’t neglect the other factors that can make your event run smoothly. “Think about things like parking, handicap access, and availability of taxis. You’ll want to inform your guests of these details before they arrive,” says Fazio, a regular segment contributor to “The View,” where he often shares secrets of how everyday Americans can get treated like VIPs.

You can visit Abigail Michaels to learn more about Michael Fazio and his services. And, don’t forget to browse our Private Dining pages when you’re planning your next event.

Nominate the OpenTable Android App for a Crunchie!

Do you love OpenTable’s awesome Android app? Share your enthusiasm by nominating it for a 2009 Crunchie award. Celebrating the best tech accomplishments in 2009, the Crunchies “are to technology what the Oscars are to Hollywood.” Co-hosted by GigaOm, VentureBeat, and TechCrunch, The Crunchies depend on users like you to nominate and vote for your favorite tech innovations of the year.

You can nominate OpenTable’s Android app now through midnight, PST Friday, December 4. The Crunchies Committee will then choose five finalist companies for each award category from all the nominations. Voting for finalists opens Monday, December 21 through Wednesday, January 6 midnight PST.

Click here to nominate OpenTable (up to one time per day per IP address,) and stay tuned to see if we’re selected as a finalist. And, if you don’t have the OpenTable for Android app, download it today!