150 Best Bars in America Slideshow
June 14, 2011
Best Dive Bars
Wikimedia Commons/Ricardo Martins
The 5 Point Cafe (Seattle, Wash.)
This long-standing bar’s motto pretty much defines dive bar attitude: “We cheat tourists and drunks.” Completing the look are duct-taped furniture, a jerry-rigged periscope with a view of the Space Needle in the men’s room, and an all-day-n-night breakfast menu to complement the 40-ouncers of Olde English.
• The Raven Grill (Washington, D.C.)
• Marshall's Pub (New Bedford, Mass.)
• The BAR (Hollywood, Calif.)
• Replay (Lawrence, Kan.)
• Specs (San Francisco, Calif.)
Bars with the Best Bar Menu
Holeman and Finch Public House (Atlanta, Ga,)
Chef Linton Hopkins aimed to create a late-night bar with great food — including his storied homemade burger, of which only 24 a night are served — for Atlanta's chefs at Holeman & Finch, and he's done just that.
• Father's Office (Santa Monica, Calif.)
• Aviary (Chicago, Ill.)
• Quinn's (Seattle, Wash.)
Best Tequila Bars
✓Expert Pick: Mayahuel (New York, N.Y.)
The brainchild of tequila guru and Death & Co alum Philip Ward, Mayahuel offers an extensive list of tequilas, mezcals, and cocktails like The Pale Rider (featured left) made with fino Sherry, jalapeño tequila, sugarcane, and lime.
• Tommy's Mexican Restaurant (San Francisco, Calif.)
• El Agave (San Diego, Calif.)
• Las Perlas (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Best Tiki Bars
Tonga Room (San Francisco, Calif.)
Since 1945, San Franciscans dreaming of the tropics and visitors to the city alike have been escaping to the South Pacific via this appropriately decorated restaurant and tiki bar located in San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel. And there's more than mai-tais on the offer here — for instance, the sounds of tropical rainstorms and a Hawaiian band floating on a barge in a pool in the middle of the room.
• PKNY (New York, N.Y.)
• Trader Vic's (Atlanta, Ga.)
Best Wine Bars
Butcher Shop (Boston, Mass.)
Star chef Barbara Lynch’s neighborhood joint offers both a full-service butcher shop and an extensive list of old world wines from Italy, France, and Spain. Wine Director Cat Silrie handpicks the wines and can suggest the perfect pairing to go with the housemade patés, terrines, sausages, and rilletes.
• Terroir (New York, N.Y.)
• Bar Covell (Los Feliz, Calif.)
Best Rum Bars
Smuggler's Cove (San Francisco, Calif.)
Owner and rum fanatic Martin Cate opened this nautical-themed, pirate-inspired watering hole with a menu dedicated exclusively to rum. Think Prohibition-era cocktails and Caribbean concoctions.
• Cuba Libre (Washington, D.C.)
• Rhumbar (Las Vegas, Nev.)
• Cana Rum Bar (LA, Calif.)
Station Inn (Nashville, Tenn.)
Having hosted some of the best in bluegrass for over 30 years, this Nashville institution is considered one of the places to go to for easy listening in a comfortable family-friendly setting. (The fact they serve pizza, beer, hot dogs, nachos, coolers, and are open seven days a week doesn't hurt either.)
• Rebels (Austin, Texas)
• Billy Bob's Texas (Ft. Worth, Texas)
Best Political Power Bars
Old Ebbitt Grill (Washington, D.C.)
If you've always wanted to drink like a president, come to this Victorian-style saloon (established in 1856, albeit at another location, and the city's oldest watering hole) — a favorite of presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Grant, and Cleveland. Four bars, each serving up Ebbitt's menu of classic cocktails, ensure that your glass will never go empty.
• Round Robin at the Willard (Washington, D.C.)
• Hawk 'n Dove (Washington, D.C.)
Best Bars for Business Drinks
Ace Hotel (New York, N.Y.)
Since the New York outpost of the Ace Hotel (the first one was in Seattle) burst onto the scene, its lobby bar has been the place to see and be seen by media hounds, both day and night. The freelance army camps out on the couches and tables during the workday, and then around 5 p.m. well-heeled movers and shakers descend for post-work drinks.
• Peninsula Hotel (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Best Intellectual Bars
Backspace (Portland, Ore.)
A progressive day/nightlife concept for Portland’s brainy set, Backspace Café merges an artistic coffee house ethos with a brews-and-games bar scene. Poetry slams jostle with local indie rock bands on the café’s eclectic calendar.
• The Association (Los Angeles, Calif.)
• KGB Bar (New York, N.Y.)
Best Upscale Bars
Brandy Library (New York, N.Y.)
A well-dressed yet unpretentious doorman ushers you inside an indirectly lit bar filled with shelves of brandy, bourbon, and other comforting spirits. There are plush chairs, a beautiful tiled bar, gilded edges (and service), and artfully prepared classic cocktails. The Brandy Library also serves New York's best gougères, and if you're hungry after a few drinks, the city's most underrated burger is across the street at Walker's.
• Rose Bar at the Delano (Miami, Fla.)
• Redwood Room (San Francisco, Calif.)
The Raines Law Room (New York, N.Y.)
Named for an 1896 ordinance established with hopes of curbing liquor consumption in New York City, this subterranean Chelsea speakeasy serves up a variety of well-made, freshly-stirred classic cocktails in a dimly-lit, low-key romantic lair decorated with plush velvet and wood (not to mention some highly suggestive bathroom wallpaper).
• Bourbon and Branch Tavern (San Francisco, Calif.)
• La Descarga (Los Angeles, Calif.)
• Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Best Gay Bars
Mary's Attic (Chicago, Ill.)
With its delightfully kitschy décor and can't-miss theme nights, Mary's Attic inevitably inspires its patrons to let loose. From Mary-Oke Wednesdays to Attic-Tion Sundays (with a $5 special on the addictive frozen slushies), the party goes on all week long. If you get hungry, head downstairs to Hamburger Mary's for excellent burgers and fries.
• Bedlam (New York, N.Y.)
• Blackbird (San Francisco, Calif.)
Best Sports Bars
Bleacher Bar (Boston, Mass.)
Located beneath the bleachers in Fenway Park’s center field, this Red Sox fan-friendly spot more or less eliminates the need for flat-screens since it offers a windowed view of the outfield. It’s probably about as close as one could hope to get to the Green Monster without having to buy a ticket.
• Blue Crew Sports Bar (Indianapolis, Ind.)
• Goal (Los Angeles, Calif.)
• Vines on Clark (Chicago, Ill.)
• Hap's (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Best College Bars
Eskimo Joe's (Stillwater, Okla.)
Known as much for its cheese fries as for its nonstop sense of fun, Eskimo Joe’s is a quintessential college sports bar, in the best sense (Oklahoma State University is the college in question). It’s humble, welcoming, and festive — which is why patrons often leave with ridiculously big smiles on their faces, just like the one on Eskimo Joe, the establishment's cartoon logo.
•Kickbacks (Jacksonville, Fla.)
•Albatross Pub (Berkley, Calif.)
•Johnny O's (Ithaca, N.Y.)
•Yankee Doodle Tap Room (Princeton, N.J.)
Best Bars for Dancing
Black Cat (Washington, D.C.)
As one of the mainstays of the D.C. live music scene, the Black Cat is also known for its inventive themed dance nights, from vintage hip hop to a “queer night” of rock and pop. A variety of DJs keep bodies moving, whether dancing under the lights in the 7,000-square-foot main room or getting your groove on in the downstairs back room.
• The Enormous Room (Cambridge, Mass.)
• Skully's Live Music Diner (Columbus, Ohio)
Best Irish Pubs
✓Expert Pick: McSorley's Old Ale House (New York, N.Y.)
This legendary Irish pub in New York’s East Village is also the city’s oldest continuously operating bar. And you need but look around at the dust-caked chandeliers, sawdust on the floor, and walls stacked with memories to believe it hasn’t changed much since 1854 — though fortunately for the male-heavy crowd, McSorley's did abandon its no-women policy in 1970.
"McSorley’s is classic. I like that you get two beer choices: dark and light, both foamy as all get-out.”
— Joshua M. Bernstein, food writer and craft beer expert
• Tom Bergins (Los Angeles, Calif.)
• Wilfie & Nell (New York, N.Y.)
• Blackthorn (Boston, Mass.)
Best Hotel Bars
Redwood Room (San Francisco, Calif.)
Located in Ian Schrager's Clift Hotel, this historic red-walled bar has been reinvented as a sophisticated, modern drinking spot — one of the most popular places to dance, see, and be seen in San Francisco.
• Bemelman's Bar (New York, N.Y.)
• Alibi at the Liberty Hotel (Boston, Mass.)
• Thoroughbred Club (Charleston, S.C.)
• Tabu (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Best Restaurant Bars
The Publican (Chicago, Ill.)
Garnering buzz from near and far, Publican — owned by the same team that has the highly regarded Blackbird (see Best Date Bar) — is Chicago’s best haven for meat- and raw-shellfish-loving imbibers. A minimalist interior with wooden accents lets diners focus on the impressive food and drink menus (think oysters and charcuterie with microbrews and rye whiskey).
• New Rivers (Providence, R.I.)
• Waterloo & City (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Best Date Bars
Blackbird (Chicago, Ill.)
The duo behind Blackbird, Paul Kahan and Donald J. Madia (also proprietors of Publican; see Best Restaurant Bar), claim to have been inspired by classic beer halls of the 1800s when designing their restaurant, but the atmosphere is about as modern as can be. The same holds true for the hand-crafted cocktails. Sip on any of the concoctions available on mixologist Kyle Fountaine's seasonal cocktail menu and luxuriate in the sensuous atmosphere; the rest is up to you.
• The Tar Pit (Los Angeles, Calif.)
• Marvin (Washington, D.C.)
Best Pick-up Bars
The Woods (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
With its million-dollar condos, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, isn’t the insular hipster enclave it once was, meaning that bars like The Woods now cater to a variety of types — as in, “What’s your type?” Weekend nights see a surging dance floor but also a more laidback crowd eating tacos at picnic tables outside.
• Local 16 (Washington, D.C.)
• Roger Room (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Best Jazz/Blues Bars
Preservation Hall (New Orleans, La.)
Preservation Hall is a classic jazz club that leaves pretensions at the door, favoring an intimate setting and focusing on great music. The house band plays three feet away from where you’re sitting — sometimes right on the hardwood floor. OK, so they don't serve drinks, but you can BYO (to-go cup Hurricanes, anyone?)
• Green Mill Jazz Club (Chicago, Ill.)
• Wild Bill's (Memphis, Tenn.)
• B.L.U.E.S. (Chicago, Ill.)
• Etta's Lounge (Houston, Texas)
Best Jukebox Bars
Lucy's (New York, N.Y.)
Best dive bar, best East Village bar, best New York bar, best end-of-night bar — Lucy's is all these, and a great jukebox bar too. For all its dive qualities, there's an internet jukebox so the selection is wide open. Some of the top 15 most-played songs include classics you might pick yourself and guilty pleasures you're secretly glad someone else picked: Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire, Nothing Else Matters, Under my Thumb, Rocket Man, and of course, every night-ender, Bittersweet Symphony. Also in the mix, formica tables, cheap (and strong) rail drinks, two crowded pool tables, bathroom scrawl to rival that at the Raven in D.C., classic overheard New York conversations, and red fluorescent lights that make you feel like you're about to do something illegal. And of course, there's Lucy herself behind the bar with her Polish accent and amazing hair.
• Jones (Los Angeles, Calif.)
• Tosca Café (San Francisco, Calif.)
✓Expert Pick: Portsmouth Brewery (Portsmouth, N.H.)
Loyalists have been known to set up camp outside this beloved brewpub for hours in the rain just to get a taste its rare, once-a-year-only Russian Imperial Stout, Kate the Great. The verdict: Totally worth it.
"I love Portsmouth Brewery. Their sampler trays are epic."
— Joshua M. Bernstein, food writer and craft beer expert
• Dogfish Head Brewpub (Rehoboth Beach, Del.)
• Breckenridge Brewery (Breckenridge, Colo.)
Best Bars for Belgian Beer
✓Expert Pick: Ebenezer's (Lovell, Maine)
With nearly 35 Belgian beers on tap plus some 1,000 bottles of various vintages in-house, there’s a reason why this remote beer shack claims that to drink here is “like you died and went to Belgium.”
•Publick House (Brookline, Mass.)
•Granville Moore's (Washington, D.C.)
•Cadieux Café (Detroit, Mich.)
Best Housemade Bitters/Infusions
The Varnish (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Nestled into a tiny, unmarked back room of the legendary LA sandwich shop Cole’s French Dip, The Varnish is a dark speakeasy-style bar with an unflinching passion for the freshest homemade infusions and mixtures. It’s the kind of place where you almost wish you needed a password to get in, and where you’ll always enjoy drinking the "bartender’s choice."
• Violet Hour (Chicago, Ill.)
• Drink (Boston, Mass.)
Bars with the Best View
✓Expert Pick: Nepenthe (Big Sur, Calif.)
The only thing that improves this patio bar’s breathtaking views of the Santa Lucia Mountains and Big Sur’s iconic coastline is that you get to enjoy it with a glass of wine or cocktail in hand.
• Top of the Hub (Boston, Mass.)
• Stratosphere Tower Air Bar (Las Vegas, Nev.)
• Crabby Joe's Deck & Grill (Daytona Beach, Fla.)
Best Outdoor Bars
✓Expert Pick: Zeitgeist (San Francisco, Calif.)
Emblematic of the gritty Mission, Zeitgeist is an unpolished gem whose beer garden is just as crowded on Saturday at noon as it is on Saturday night. Long picnic tables hold a motley crowd drinking the 40 on-tap beers, sipping the famous Bloody Marys, or downing food from the outdoor grill.
• Mohawk bar (Austin, Texas)
• Rontoms (Portland, Ore.)
Best Beach Bars
Nikki Beach (Miami, Fla.)
A sleek, St. Tropez-esque hot spot (there are outposts in eight countries, from Mexico to Morocco), Nikki Beach is perfect for drinking sexy cocktails by the water while lying around scantily clad — and/or staring at those who are.
✓Expert Pick: House Without a Key (Honolulu, Hawaii)
• Beachcomber (San Diego, Calif.)
• Duke's Canoe Club (Honolulu, Hawaii)
• The Flora-Bama Lounge and Package Store (Pensacola, Fla.)
Best Beer Gardens
Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden (Astoria, N.Y.)
The walled-in courtyard of this 100-year-old Queens beer garden is full of benches, the smell of sausage on open-air grills, and barmaids who bring by round after round of Straropramen, Czechvar, Pilsner Urquell, Krusovice, and Golden Pheasant. Don't forget to order a few plates of goulash or halusky (fried noodles and cabbage) to build a base for all that great beer. Na Zdraví.
✓Expert Pick: Memphis Taproom (Philadelphia, Pa.)
• Scholz Garten (Austin, Texas)
Best Garden-to-Glass Cocktails
Cyrus (Healdsburg, Calif.)
Garden-to-glass trailblazer Scott Beattie helped shape the seasonally-inspired cocktail program at this Sonoma County restaurant’s bar. On the menu you’ll find (literally) fresh concoctions featuring anything from lavender spice bitters to bergamot juice.
• Comme Ça (LA, Calif.)
• PX (Alexandria, Va.)
Best Bars for Craft Beers
✓Expert Pick: Toronado Bar (San Francisco, Calif.)
This Lower Haight bar is known for its well-curated beer selection, but it stands out among its competitors for its lack of pretension. The divey atmosphere and loud music may scare away the more refined hop-heads, but you’ll have a blast while drinking those hard-to-come-by craft beers.
• Max's Taphouse (Baltimore, Md.)
• Spuyten Duyvil (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
• Schlafly (St. Louis, Mo.)
✓Expert Pick: ChurchKey (Washington, D.C.)
Best Molecular Mixology
Aviary (Chicago, Ill.)
It's not often a place so extravagantly heralded actually delivers, but this much-anticipated cocktail venture by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas actually does. The dynamic drinks, the vessels, even the ice textures create, without hyperbole, the best and most creative cocktails (and bar snacks) in America. Everything's don't-miss, so do a cocktail tasting menu, then order everything not included.
Bar Centro at Bazaar (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Best Barrel-Aged Cocktails
Clyde Common (Portland, Ore.)
Where better to enjoy the fruits of the burgeoning barrel-aged trend than at the bar helmed by the guy who got the ball rolling in the first place? See what all the fuss is about by sampling either the Barrel-Aged Chrysanthemum or the Barrel-Aged Remember the Maine.
• Rickhouse (San Francisco, Calif.)
Best Classic Cocktails
Anvil Bar & Refuge (Houston, Texas)
“Sorry, man, we’re just not that kind of bar.” It’s a phrase you’re likely to hear repeated if you spend even just a few hours at Houston’s young temple to the craft cocktail. No, this lively haunt doesn’t deal in Long Island Iced Teas and shots of Jäger, but rather in expertly constructed classics and spirits-driven originals.
• Clover Club (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
• Gin Joint (Charleston, S.C.)
• Cure (New Orleans, La.)
Best Bars for a Martini
Columbia Room (Washington, D.C.)
D.C.’s Columbia Room is almost like a friend’s chic, inviting living room — assuming that your friend mixes up classic cocktails like a pro. Lauded by GQ for having the best martini in America (made with gin, of course), this place is all about cocktail craftsmanship.
• Four Seasons (New York, N.Y.)
Best Piano Bars
Pete's Dueling Piano Bar (Austin, Texas)
This Austin classic started with one piano in '92 and in true Texan fashion soon went bigger with a second one. Foot-stomping, cheering, singing along, and lots of drinking are the keys to making even the shyest and crankiest patrons belt out classic songs, smiling and participating even against their will.
• Dresden Room (Los Angeles, Calif.)
• Bombay Club (New Orleans, La.)
• Pat O'Brien's (New Orleans, La.)
Santos Party House (New York, N.Y.)
Part-owner and singer Andrew W.K. must have fused some of his famously high wattage energy into Santos Party House because it turns into a seething, rollicking two-floor force of nature. The Chinatown venue also showcases live music, but its roster of talented DJs set the industrial warehouse-like club on fire.
• Tryst (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Best Bars for Cheap Drinks
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop (New Orleans, La.)
The oldest continually occupied bar in the United States, this place was once, according to legend, owned by the pirate Jean Lafitte. The tiny open air bar on Bourbon Street pours them cheap and fast to the point that you might actually start believing that you're seeing the ghosts said to frequent the place.
• Terrible's Casino (Las Vegas, Nev.)
• Barfly's (Austin, Texas)
Best Bars for Celebrity-Spotting
Chateau Nightclub (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Vegas is one of the best cities to spot celebs in: It’s smaller and more concentrated than LA or New York, and the star-power shines just as brightly. Whether it’s Khloe Kardashian Odom’s birthday party, the official Miss USA after-party, Akon's Memorial Day bash, or Samantha Ronson’s regular DJ set, Chateau Nightclub (at the Paris Hotel) is one place where you’ll see as many celebs onstage as you will partying in the crowd.
• Bar Centrale (New York, N.Y.)
• Roger Room (West Hollywood, Calif.)
• Four Seasons (Beverly Hills, Calif.)
• Tropicana Bar (Hollywood, Calif.)
Best Airport Bars
Vino Volo (Oakland, Calif.)
Significantly improve your airport layover experience by taking a seat at Vino Volo, where you can order a themed wine flight (as it were) of two to three glasses, including a ‘Sommelier Series’ showcasing top-of-the-line wines. Pair wines with a variety of small plates, artisan cheeses, and dry-cured meats from the food menu.
• New Belgian Hub Bar & Grill (Denver, Colo.)
✓Expert Pick: Cibo (Philadelphia, Pa.)