150 Best Bars in America 2015

A spirited guide to the country's top watering holes

Ravi Bangaroo

The Daily Meal’s list pays homage to bars that have become influencers, whether for their hoppy brews, kitschy drinks and décor, commitment to crafting classic cocktails, or penchant for pushing the bartending boundaries with ambitious ice programs.

The Daily Meal walks into a bar and — we peruse the menu, the clientele, and the drinks list; we scrutinize the drink, the place, the vibe; we take mental notes. Then, we decide to grab a wad of cocktail napkins and start scribbling notes for a list like this.  

See 150 Best Bars in America 2015 Slideshow

Choosing a bar is a personal matter, and, just as each person is unique, so is each bar.  Sure, there are plenty of cookie-cutter Irish pubs, tacky tourist joints with sticky-sweet frozen drinks, and lackluster lounges with watered-down booze, but there are also many thousands of wonderful drinking places across the United States, too.

From simple beach bars and swanky cocktail lounges to innovative houses of "molecular" mixology to dusty dive bars and dens of iniquity, there’s a bar for everyone. Bars are ubiquitous and unifying. They are the great socioeconomic equalizer: nearly anyone of legal age can enter a bar, pull up a stool, and buy him- or herself a refreshing glass of liquid luxury in its many forms: from a budget ice-cold brew to a fine wine to a potent shot to a classic cocktail to a spectacular modernist creation. Bars are relatable and welcoming; they are a comfort to many in good times and bad.

The Daily Meal set out to find the most iconic bars, famous pubs, and legendary cocktail lounges in America. We did this once before — back in 2011, in the early days of The Daily Meal — with a list of 150 bars, arranged by superlatives like “best dive bar,” “best gay bar,” and the like. (Some 29 bars from the 2011 150 Best Bars in America list are honored here too, this time by rank.) Two months ago, we identified The 150 Best Bars Outside the United States, ranking them in order, from one to 150, regardless of style — and now we're taking the same approach with bars within our borders.

The List

It was extremely challenging to curate and rank this list, because there are so many exemplary bars in America. We literally had shortlists of 150 bars per city for some half the cities on this list. While our final ranking is by no means exhaustive, we trust it will serve as a conversation starter about what constitutes a “best bar” and as a starting point for bar-goers seeking to find some of the very best bars around. These bars are our favorites, the go-to bars of our editorial staff, panelists (see below), and trusted sources. What we've come up with is an admittedly subjective — but well-researched and wide-ranging — collection of great places to drink all over the country. Each one provides a great drinking experience — no two alike, guaranteed.The Daily Meal’s list pays homage to bars that have become influencers, whether for their hoppy brews, kitschy drinks and décor, commitment to crafting classic cocktails, or penchant for pushing the bartending boundaries with ambitious ice programs and avant-garde mixology — and also to bars that are just, well, bars. We recognize places that specialize in one variety of liquor, as well as those that have encyclopedic back bars. We include beer bars, and establishments with world-class wine lists.  

The inaugural ranked list includes 150 bars from 44 states and the District of Columbia, with New York State having the most establishments, at 25, all of them in New York City (counting six in Brooklyn and one in Queens). California followed closely behind with 22 bars — half of them in San Francisco, with eight in the Los Angeles area, two in San Diego, and one in Big Sur — and Illinois placed third with 13 bars, all in Chicago.

Despite the number of bars from New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and L.A., this list should not be dismissed as big-city-centric. We offer choices in some 68 municipalities; including such smaller places as Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Vancouver, Washington — even such remote locales as Homer Spit, Alaska, and Perdido Key, Florida.

The Daily Meal’s list pays homage to bars that have become influencers, whether for their hoppy brews, kitschy drinks and décor, commitment to crafting classic cocktails, or penchant for pushing the bartending boundaries with ambitious ice programs and avant-garde mixology — and also to bars that are just, well, bars. We recognize places that specialize in one variety of liquor, as well as those that have encyclopedic back bars. We include beer bars, and establishments with world-class wine lists.

The Panelists

In choosing our 150 best, we called upon more than 150 experts in cities large and small across the United States: bar and restaurant critics, celebrity chefs and bartenders, food and drink writers, and bloggers with wide bar-going experience (meet the panelists here). These experts were supplemented by The Daily Meal’s well-traveled, bar-hopping editorial staff.

We started with a list of 3,000 bars and asked all the respondents to nominate places they thought were missing. We didn't include nightclubs or establishments that function predominantly as live music venues, though bars that happen to feature live music were considered. We did include a good number of restaurant bars; in some cases, the establishments are known primarily for their food, but we also found vibrant bar scenes that definitely needed including here. We whittled the nominees down to a more manageable 973 bars in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Then, we asked our panelists to evaluate the selection and vote for their favorites according to the following six criteria:

1. DRINKS: From innovative cocktails and traditional offerings to regional and house specialties, panelists evaluated the bar's drink menu according to 1) selection; 2) presentation; and 3) fidelity to tradition and/or innovative excellence.
2. MIXOLOGY: Panelists evaluated the quality of 1) drink preparation and "pour"; 2) presentation; and 3) adherence to hand-crafted excellence.
3. BARTENDER: Panelists evaluated the 1) professionalism; 2) skills; and 3) personality and style of the bar staff and how they contribute to the drink preparation and the bar's ambiance.
4. DECOR/EXPERIENCE: From the bar's interior to the ambiance to the service of all staff, panelists evaluated the bar for the overall experience it provides. (For very casual places, where ambiance and service are beside the point, panelists judged how appropriate the surroundings were for the drinks being served.)
5. CUISINE: While not a requirement to make the list, The Daily Meal wishes to recognize bars that offer an exceptional food menu in addition to drink menu. From innovative menu options and traditional regional cooking to modern international fare to plating/presentation to quality and taste, panelists evaluated the bar’s cuisine according to 1) freshness; 2) flavor; 3) presentation; and 4) either fidelity to tradition or innovative excellence.
6. ESSENTIALS: Panelists voted for the bars considered "don't miss" establishments, definitive of their city or region. (Think in these terms: You can't leave [given city/region] without drinking at…)

Click here for the 150 Best Bars Slideshow

 

Give Us Your Two Cents

Any list like this one is bound to stir disagreements among discerning drinkers; even our own staff was divided on which bars should make the final cut.After checking out The Daily Meal’s 150 Best Bars in America, share your compliments and critiques in the comments section below — or on Twitter using the hashtag #bestbars — and let us know what bars you think should have been included, or should have been left out.

If you have imbibed at any of these bars, pin your favorite photos on The Daily Meal’s Pinterest board. Which bar made it to the top of the list? The answer might just surprise you.

Lauren Mack is The Daily Meal’s New York City Travel Editor. She is the former Travel editor and Special Projects editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @lmack and laurenmack.com.

Editorial director Colman Andrews (@Colmanandrews) and The Daily Meal editorial staff contributed to 150 Best Bars in America.

150 Tiny's Restaurant and Lounge

149 Dogfish Head Brewpub

148 Cook & Brown Public House

147 The Frying Pan

146 Cheers Boston (aka Bull and Finch Pub)

145 He's Not Here

144 Bar at The Modern Hotel

143 The Lounge at Nobu

142 Double Down Saloon

141 Pengilly's Saloon

140 The Office Bar

139 Duke's Canoe Club

138 The Foundry

137 Breckenridge Brewery and Pub

136 Bourbon

135 Cadieux Café

134 Bobby Valentine's

133 McGovern's Tavern

132 Full Throttle Saloon

131 Ebenezer's Pub

130 Deep Eddy Cabaret

129 The Sink

128 Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

127 Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden

126 Oyster Club

125 The Bayou

124 Taste

123 Mai Tai Bar

122 Flora-Bama Lounge and Package

121 Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon

120 Extra Fancy

119 Jimmy's

118 Butcher and the Rye

117 Arnold's Bar and Grill

116 Old German Beer Hall

115 Carousel Bar

114 Deep Ellum

113 Greasewood Flat

112 Blind Lady Ale House

111 The Spare Room

110 Nepenthe

109 McMenamins

108 Radegast Hall & Biergarten

107 "one star"

106 The Red Key

105 Marvel Bar

104 Old Absinthe House

103 The Bazaar

102 Robert's Western World

101 Proof

100 The Brewer's Art

99 Lobby Bar at the Brown Hotel

98 Skybar

97 Three Dots and a Dash

96 The Hawthorne

95 The Redwood Room

94 The Griswold Inn Tap Room

93 McGlinchey's Bar & Grill

92 The Berkshire Room

91 Mikkeller Bar

90 The Velvet Tango Room

89 Williams & Graham

88 Milk & Honey

87 No Vacancy at the Juniper Hotel

86 Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen

85 Zig Zag Cafe

84 Kon Tiki Lounge

83 Canon

82 Clyde Common

81 The Polo Lounge

80 Salty Dawg Saloon

79 Tiki-Ti

78 Sable Kitchen & Bar

77 Napoleon House Bar & Cafe

76 Revolution Brewing

75 The Round Robin Bar

74 Bellocq

73 Maison Premiere

72 The Publican

71 Haymarket Whiskey Bar

70 Portsmouth Brewery

69 The Toronado Pub

68 Herbs & Rye

67 Big Star

66 Horse Brass Pub

65 Elixir

64 Frankie's Tiki Room

63 Bourbon & Branch

62 The Varnish

61 The Old Fashioned

60 Bar at Church and State

59 Monte's Downtown

58 Goodnight Gracie Jazz and Martini Bar

57 El Bait Shop

56 Musso & Frank Grill

55 Bemelmans Bar

54 Apotheke

53 Pump Room

52 ChurchKey

51 Anvil Bar and Refuge

50 The Pegu Club

49 The Upstairs Bar at City Grocery

48 Pouring Ribbons

47 Eastern Standard

46 The Buena Vista Café

45 Little Branch

44 Drink

43 The Old Seelbach Bar

42 Smuggler's Cove

41 Holeman & Finch Public House

40 PDT (Please Don't Tell)

39 Sportsman's Club

38 Alembic

37 Scofflaw

36 The Bar Room at The Modern

35 Billy Sunday

34 LAVO

33 Ray's Boathouse

32 Monk's Cafe

31 Tørst

30 Blackbird

29 The Homy Inn

28 Bar Agricole

27 No. 9 Park

26 French 75 at Arnaud's

25 Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar

24 Vesper Bar

23 Cure

22 Charlie B's

21 Crooked Slave Artisan Beer Project

20 Spuyten Duyvil

19 Noble Experiment

18 Booker and Dax

17 Angel's Share

16 21 Club

15 Employees Only

14 Sazerac Bar

13 Clover Club

12 Highlands Bar & Grill

11 The NoMad Bar

10 High West Distillery & Saloon

9 PX Lounge

8 McSorley's Old Ale House

7 Trick Dog

6 The Violet Hour

5 Old Ebbitt Grill

4 Death + Company

3 Bar Marmont at Chateau Marmont

2 The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog

1 The Aviary

 

150 Best Bars in America Panelists

More than 150 panelists voted for this year's 150 Best Bars in America. Some asked that their names not be used. Below are the panelists who gave permission for us to identify them.

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