Bars are wonderful institutions, part watering hole, part social hub, part cultural phenomenon — places where people go when they want to be out in a crowd or else to be alone; where they can (depending on the bar) laugh, talk, dance, sing, sulk, play, fight, flirt, and of course leave sobriety far behind if that's what they're after. Places where people just go.
Every bar has its own personality, influenced by location and décor, by specialty (music, featured booze, clientele), and by the personality of its proprietors and bartenders — but that personality can change over time, meaning either from hour to hour or year to year. There are reasonably sedate after-work places that turn into raging singles scenes as midnight approaches, and there are bluegrass bars that evolve into biker bars over the course of a decade.
There are bars with rigidly defined customer bases, bars with themes, bars with specific kinds of music, bars with encyclopedic collections of certain kinds of liquor… There are bars for everyone (even teetotalers) — because if there wasn't a bar for whatever kind of person you are, someone would open one.
It is a measure of both our thirst and worldliness here at The Daily Meal that we know bars, of all kinds and in many places, pretty well. In assembling this list of the 150 Best Bars in America, then, we drew first and most of all on our not inconsiderable collective personal experience. We also, though, solicited the opinions of some bar-savvy friends of ours — people like cocktail book author (and Bartender Magazine editor) Ray Foley, who likes the classic cocktails at The "21" Club in Midtown Manhattan as much as we do; and wine writer Roger Morris, who's the kind of guy we're likely to run into at Cibo, a great bar in the Philadelphia airport.
We spoke to Southern Foodways Alliance director John T. Edge, a fellow fan of The Twisted Spoke in Chicago; and craft beer expert Joshua M. Bernstein, who tipped us off about the treasure-trove of Belgian beers at Ebenezer's in Lovell, Maine… Then we narrowed our choices down to 150 places and divided our selections into categories according to style, location, specialty, and clientele, offering more than one recommendation in each.
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. Every one provides a great drinking experience — no two alike, guaranteed. If your favorite bar isn't on our list, let us know in the comments below. We're always looking for new ones.
Click here for The Daily Meal's Summer Drinking Guide.
The 5 Point Cafe (Seattle, Wash.)
The Raven Grill (Washington, D.C.)
Marshall's Pub (New Bedford, Mass.)
Replay (Lawrence, Kan.)
Specs (San Francisco, Calif.)
Holeman and Finch Public House (Atlanta, Ga,)
Father's Office (Santa Monica, Calif.)
Aviary (Chicago, Ill.)
Quinn's (Seattle, Wash.)
Alligator Lounge (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Jbar (Chicago, Ill.)
Mayahuel (New York, N.Y.)
Tommy's Mexican Restaurant (San Francisco, Calif.)
El Agave (San Diego, Calif.)
Las Perlas (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Seven Grand (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Twisted Spoke (Chicago, Ill.)
Char No. 4 (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Smuggler's Cove (San Francisco, Calif.)
Cuba Libre (Washington, D.C.)
Rhumbar (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Cana Rum Bar (LA, Calif.)
Tonga Room (San Francisco, Calif.)
PKNY (New York, N.Y.)
Trader Vic's (Atlanta, Ga.)
Butcher Shop (Boston, Mass.)
Terroir (New York, N.Y.)
Bar Covell (Los Feliz, Calif.)
Station Inn (Nashville, Tenn.)
Rebels (Austin, Texas)
Billy Bob's Texas (Ft. Worth, Texas)
Old Ebbitt Grill (Washington, D.C.)
Round Robin at the Willard (Washington, D.C.)
Hawk 'n Dove (Washington, D.C.)
Ace Hotel (New York, N.Y.)
Peninsula Hotel (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Backspace (Portland, Ore.)
The Association (Los Angeles, Calif.)
KGB Bar (New York, N.Y.)
Brandy Library (New York, N.Y.)
Rose Bar at the Delano (Miami, Fla.)
Redwood Room (San Francisco, Calif.)
The Raines Law Room (New York, N.Y.)
Bourbon and Branch Tavern (San Francisco, Calif.)
La Descarga (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Mary's Attic (Chicago, Ill.)
Bedlam (New York, N.Y.)
Blackbird (San Francisco, Calif.)