The 150 Best Bars in America
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, which we’ve been compiling annually since 2011.
Choosing a bar is a personal matter, and just as every 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 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.
It was extremely challenging to curate this list because there are so many exemplary bars. While our final ranking is by no means exhaustive, we trust it will serve as a conversation starter for bar-goers seeking to find the very best bars in the nation. The places mentioned in this ranking are the go-to watering holes of our editorial staff, expert panelists, and other 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.
Our ranking 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.
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.
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 also have vibrant bar scenes. We whittled the nominees down from 3,000 to a more manageable 973 bars, and then asked our panelists to evaluate the selection and vote for their favorites according to the following six criteria:
- 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.
- MIXOLOGY: Panelists evaluated the quality of 1) drink preparation and "pour"; 2) presentation; and 3) adherence to handcrafted excellence.
- 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 ambience.
- DECOR/EXPERIENCE: From the bar's interior to the ambience to the service of all staff, panelists evaluated the bar for the overall experience it provides. (For very casual places, where ambience and service are beside the point, panelists judged how appropriate the surroundings were for the drinks being served.)
- 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.
- 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…)
Whether you like it neat, dirty, on the rocks, up, with a twist, shaken, or stirred, there’s a watering hole on this list that’ll have your whistle wet in no time. So pull up a stool, tip your bartender, and check out our annual ranking of the 150 best bars in America for 2019.
Colman Andrews (@Colmanandrews) and The Daily Meal editorial staff contributed to the 150 Best Bars in America.