The Best Bar in Every State 2016 (Slideshow)
Alabama: Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham
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One of the best people-watching venues in the city of Birmingham, Highlands Bar & Grill is a cozy, classic, 20-seat bar inside the Highlands restaurant that serves as a destination in itself. The bar, run by beverage director Matt Gilpin, offers the full restaurant menu — including fresh-shucked oysters — plus 20 wines by the glass, 300 wines by the bottle, and 18 cocktails. The most popular drink at the white, U-shaped Alabama marble bar is the pecan Old Fashioned made with Knob Creek bourbon, house-made pecan orgeat, orange peel, and bitters.
Alaska: Salty Dawg Saloon, Homer
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The Salty Dawg Saloon is housed in a late-nineteenth-century building, one of the original cabins from the town site in Homer. Opened in 1957, the low-ceiling bar (tall folks have to duck to enter) is an institution. The fun décor includes life rings, dollars, and endless bric-a-brac (for years, the eclectic curios even included a prosthetic leg, until someone stole it to take it back to its owner). Ask the friendly bar staff, who have been tending the bar for decades, for signature cocktails like the Salty Dog (vodka — the original was made with gin — and grapefruit juice with a salted rim) and the Duck Fart (a shot purportedly originating in Kodiak, compossed of Kahlúa, Bailey’s Irish Cream, and Crown Royal).
Arizona: Kon Tiki Lounge, Tucson
For 50 years, Kon Tiki Lounge has brought an island vibe to Tucson. The tiki bar looks almost exactly as it did when it first opened — complete with gas-powered tiki torches, the world's largest collection of Milan Guanko tikis, and assorted island curios. The likes of Clint Eastwood, Robert Mitchum, Lee Marvin, and Robert Wagner stopped by Kon Tiki when films were shot in and around Tucson, so you know it’s the place to go. Indulge in 46 island drinks like the Koko Pino (tropical pineapple and coconut blended with shaved ice and rum) or the Kanaloa (banana, orange, and pineapple mixed with Absolut Mango). And the frosty drinks pair nicely with the food on offer. Don’t miss the Kon Tiki pupus (appetizers) like Monkeys On A Stick (tender cubes of sirloin skewered, marinated, and charbroiled, and served with a teriyaki glaze) and Birds On A Stick (same idea, but with chicken); Tiki Chips (sugar-coated wonton chips served with teriyaki or sweet and sour sauce); and the Hawaiian BBQ chicken (seasoned, grilled, and finely basted chicken breast with house recipe barbecue sauce, all topped with a pineapple ring).
Arkansas: White Water Tavern, Little Rock
There’s arguably no bar in Arkansas that’s more historic than the White Water Tavern in Little Rock. Is it the oldest bar in the state? No. Did an important historical event happen there? Not really. But, boy, this place been through a lot. Originally opened in the 1940s as a beer bar called The Pitcher, the place was founded under the White Water name in 1976 by two canoe enthusiasts. Thirty days later, it was badly damaged in a fire — an intentional fire set by Ron O’Neal, whose family owned another bar in town. O’Neal also completely torched Little Rock’s Bennigan’s Tavern on the same night. Then there was a second White Water fire in 1982, again set by O’Neal. (In all, O’Neal was responsible for fires at a minimum of six local businesses, and is currently serving a life sentence for an unrelated murder.) Then there was a third fire in the late ‘90s, this time accidental, and the business changed hands shortly after. However, it’s still thriving today, mostly off of sales of PBR and Jameson, along with other whiskey and beer, and simple staples like vodka, gin, rum, and Jägermeister. The walls are still adorned with some of the same bric-a-brac from the old days, even though a lot of it was removed by patrons prior to the change of ownership in the ‘90s. Eventually many of the mementos returned after it was clear the beloved White Water Tavern wasn’t going to hell under the new owners and would remain the same solid hangout that it always was.
California: Bar Marmont at Chateau Marmont, Los Angeles
Photo by Anne A. via Yelp
Bar Marmont at the famed Chateau Marmont is most famous for its high-profile guests, Hollywood heritage, and unique spins on classic cocktails, such as the Jerry Thomas Manhattan (rye whiskey, fresh lemon juice, sugar, grenadine, and absinthe) and the Ginger Rogers (gin, apple liqueur, fresh lemon and orange juices, meddled ginger root, and sugar). The drink menu features 21 cocktails and more than 60 wines. They pair well with its culinary program, which includes oyster nights, live jazz, and memorable parties filled with Hollywood glamour. Executive chef Dean Yasharian (formerly of New York City’s Bar Boulud) took over last year for the departing Carolynn Spence, and has continued to provide a hearty menu that highlights fresh local produce with dishes like rustic lamb bruschetta, Cheddar pierogis with bacon onion jam and sour cream, and carrot griddle cakes and smoked salmon with avocado and crème fraîche.
Colorado: Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Denver
Photo by Rachel L. via Yelp
Located within an old foundry building-turned-marketplace called The Source (No. 45 on our list of the best food halls in America for 2016), Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project has 22 taps filled with a variety of sour beers, wild ales, and saisons. The industrial-chic bar’s sour beers have gained a cult following, and huge crowds come out for the specialty tappings on “Tap-it! Tuesday.” You won’t find cocktails on the menu here, but they do have beer and kombucha blends like Happy Leaf Kombucha, which can be blended into one of the brewery’s core brands of beer (Surette Provision Saison, Vieille Artisanal Saison, and St. Bretta Citrus Wildbier). The taproom features stainless steel gates, brick walls awash in old graffiti, a custom wood tap tower, stave tap handles, and colorful murals. There’s no food, but the friendly bartenders, overseen by taproom manager Ben Riewer, allow customers to carry in food from two restaurants in The Source (Acorn and Comida), and Mondo Market prepares cheese and charcuterie plates for customers on weekends.
Connecticut: The Griswold Inn Tap Room, Essex
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The Griswold Inn opened its doors in 1776, promising “First Class Accommodations, Fine Food and Spirits.” Some 240 years and six family owners later, the Inn, its wine bar, and its Tap Room at The Gris (which opened in 1801) still lives up to that promise. Popular with yachters, locals, and celebrities alike (Katherine Hepburn, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Billy Joel, and many others have had drinks here), the hotel and Tap Room are filled with maritime art, brass bells, and binnacles. There is live music every night, from Dixieland and swing to sea shanties. The Tap Room has an elegant domed ceiling that evokes a time gone by, part of what New York Magazine once called “the best looking drinking room anywhere in America.” Additionally, a Christmas tree sits year-round on top of a potbelly stove in the center of the room, and there’s an antique popcorn machine that continuously pops popcorn. There are several beers on tap including the bar’s own Revolutionary Ale. Cocktails change seasonally, but perennially popular ones are the Connecticut Mule and Liberty Lemonade in the summer, hot buttered rum in the winter, and the Bloody Mary all year round. Tavern food is served 2:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. daily, and includes award-winning New England clam chowder.
Delaware: Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats, Rehoboth
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The folks at Dogfish, who founded the brewpub in 1995, use atypical ingredients to craft a range of unique beers. Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats describes its beer as “off-centered ales for off-centered people.” The Rehoboth, Delaware, location has a rustic, beach-casual vibe and a small brewery where experimental batches are made. There are 23 Dogfish Head beers on tap including cask and exclusive house-made varieties. There is also a selection of Dogfish’s eponymous bottled beer including vintage brews. For non-beer drinkers, the brewpub offers nearly a dozen cocktails made from spirits like vodka, gin, and rum, all distilled upstairs. The signature cocktail is the blood orange cosmo (house-made Dogfish Head vodka infused with blood oranges and limoncello). Pair this with brewpub food like the crab and corn chowder, a staple of the menu and a favorite of regulars.
Florida: Skybar, Miami
Skybar is one of the places to see and be seen in South Beach. Each week, there are new cocktails, popular DJs, and celebrity guests at the Art Deco-style Shore Club. The sleek, tropical bar features cobalt blue walls, fountains, pergolas, a red lacquered teak floor, a steel pool table, and antique French Napoleon III chairs. There’s an intimate garden of perennials, bougainvillea, and passionflowers populated with Oriental furniture evoking an outdoor living room. The rum bar, ensconced between two pools, serves 75 different rums. Signature drinks include the pear and strawberry Rekorderlig cider and the Watermelon Smash (Grey Goose vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup, and crème de framboise). Nibbles include lobster mac and cheese bites and ahi tuna flatbread.
Georgia: Holeman & Finch Public House, Atlanta
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Holeman and Finch Public House was at the forefront of the burgeoning craft cocktail movement in Atlanta back when it opened in 2008, and it remains a leader in the industry. To keep things exciting, head bartender Kaleb Cribb rotates the cocktail offerings seasonally; each new cocktail menu has a thematic continuity. There are six beers on tap, plus a rotating bottle and can list of a dozen or so brews; a carefully curated 50 bottle wine list; and the cocktail list, which has 10 original creations and six specially highlighted classic cocktails. Check out the custom-built charcuterie and wine cave and sample some of chef Linton Hopkins’ whole animal and Southern vegetable cookery. Standouts include the roasted bone marrow with pain au levain and parsley salad; his wife and co-owner Gina Hopkins’ pimento cheese; tea-braised collards with bacon and sorghum; and the famous burger, a house-ground double stack on an H&F Bread Co. bun with American cheese and red onion, served with hand-cut fries and house-made ketchup and mustard. Originally, only 24 burgers were served nightly, but the burgers were so popular that they are now offered on the daily menu and at H&F Burger locations across the city.
Hawaii: Mai Tai Bar, Honolulu
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Mai Tai Bar is the quintessential Hawaiian experience, complete with open-air bar, palm trees, koa wood couches, and one of the best pau hanas (happy hours) on the island. As the name suggests, the Mai Tai (Bacardi Gold Rum, Myers’s Dark Rum, Kraken Black Spiced Rum, and freshly squeezed orange and pineapple juices) is a hallmark of the menu. However, the signature drink is the Icy Mai Tai, made with shaved ice and tropical fruit juices. To round out the experience, there is live music and a range of sharable appetizers. Diners can enjoy fried calamari rings served with pepperoncini, roasted red peppers, and chile ancho and cocktail sauce for dipping; seared rare ahi tuna (caught fresh daily) with a Cajun crust, served with wasabi and pickled ginger, and soy sauce; and Baja-style fish tacos served blackened with tomatillo sauce on soft corn tortillas.
Idaho: Pengilly's Saloon, Boise
Opened in 1976, Pengilly’s Saloon is nestled in the Old Boise Historic District. The early-twentieth-century-style bar features live music, pool tables, vintage wallpaper, mounted animal heads, and drinks of all kinds served on a 114-year-old hardwood Brunswick bar. Tabs are rung up on a turn-of-the-century National Cash Register, adding to the old-school vibe. On most nights, there is no cover charge for the live music.
Illinois: The Aviary, Chicago
Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas' cocktail venture in Chicago, The Aviary (No. 1 on our list of the 150 best bars in America), is an experience: From the setting and the cocktails to the service and the food, no detail is overlooked at this “redefined” cocktail bar. Even the ice that is used to craft the cocktails is elevated to high art: the ambitious ice program churns out more than 25 types of ice, from miniscule ice balls to flavored spheres to enormous blocks for hand-chipped ice. Tickets are sold on the bar’s website and come in three varieties: as a deposit that goes toward your bill, a three-course package that includes three cocktails, and a five-course package of five cocktails, each paired with food ranging from one bite to a small course. You can also try your luck at the door. Even more exclusive is the basement speakeasy, The Office, which is available by invitation only or can be rented out for intimate private parties. While the cocktails and food change frequently, The Daily Meal has enjoyed The Ginger (Peychaud's bitters, shiso, lime, vodka, and a light, quasi-powdery "ice," garnished with paper-thin slices of hot pepper and stirred with a lemongrass swizzle stick) and counts its time spent at The Aviary as unparalleled. The proprietors describe it best on their website: “The Aviary is where cocktails and service are given the same attention to detail as a four-star restaurant; where bartenders are trained as chefs; where the produce and herbs are carefully sourced and procured fresh daily; where the name and branding of the spirit mixed is less important than its actual flavor; where drinks are made quickly and consistently in a state-of-the-art drink kitchen; where innovation and tradition are both honored.” Cheers!
Indiana: Red Key Tavern, Indianapolis
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The Red Key Tavern is an institution that has been in the Settle family since 1951. The bar’s late proprietor, Russ Settle, was famous for his list of “the rules” that every patron had to follow. His wife, Dollie (the decades-long bartender), son Jim, and granddaughter Leslie still faithfully enforce them today: no feet on the furniture, no chairs in the aisle, cash only, hang up your coat and hat, use your indoor voice, don’t swear, and, most importantly, the bartender is always right! (Not that anyone ever doubted it.) The bar, which is frequented by locals, touring musicians, and writers such as Dan Wakefield, is known for its ice-cold bottled beer (from craft beer to “throwback” brews like Stroh’s) and straightforward cocktails. The place itself is a throwback. From the neon sign over the door (four musical notes depict the old boozy song “How Dry I Am”) to the post-war selection of ‘45s on the jukebox to the original 1950s Formica tables and straight-back chairs, the bar’s décor has remained virtually untouched since the day Settle bought the place. The linoleum-tiled floor has a path worn between the jukebox and restrooms, and there’s plenty of kitsch here, too, like the stuffed antelope head behind the bar and the World War II-era model planes hanging from the ceiling. Don’t miss the cheeseburgers — cooked on a flattop grill — or Dollie’s potato salad.
Iowa: El Bait Shop, Des Moines
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It’s all about craft beer here at El Bait Shop, a rustic bar populated with taxidermy, beer signs, and bicycles. The bar also doubles as Des Moines’ “unofficial bicycle headquarters,” given its proximity to a number of bike trails in downtown Des Moines. With more than 185 beers on tap and 100 by the bottle, this is a beer-lover’s paradise. Try the Root Down shot, made with locally produced Millstream Root Beer and Jägermeister, and enjoy the fish tacos and bacon-wrapped tater tots while chatting with beloved bartender Joe Tolpingrud.
Kansas: Johnny’s Tavern, Lawrence
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Housed in a former tractor/farm implement store, Johnny’s Tavern was founded way back in 1953, and the original sign still hangs out front today. Since then, the bar has changed hands, renovated the upstairs to include an additional bar and party rooms, and expanded into eight other locations in Kansas and Missouri. Still, people keep coming back to the original location in Lawrence for the daily drink specials, the loyalty program, and Cajun Night on every first and third Wednesday of each month. As per Kansas state law, all bars must serve food, and Johnny’s honors this with some of the best pizza in town and about 25 topping options. It also happens to be the best place in town to watch a KU or Royals game.
Kentucky: The Old Seelbach Bar, Louisville
Since its opening in 1905, celebrities, presidents, Grammy-winning artists, and even gangsters have frequented the restaurants and bar of the Seelbach Hilton. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel houses the perennially popular Old Seelbach Bar, where, as legend has it, F. Scott Fitzgerald began writing The Great Gatsby on the bar’s cocktail napkins. Try the signature Seelbach cocktail (Old Forester bourbon, triple sec, Angostura bitters, Peychaud’s bitters, and Champagne, served in a fluted glass adorned with fresh orange) created in 1917, which disappeared during Prohibition and was rediscovered by a hotel manager in 1995. Located off the hotel lobby, the turn-of-the-century bar also offers more than 70 bourbons and a comforting, warm bourbon chocolate pecan pie. The bar food menu features a variety of Kentucky-accented dishes like Kentucky bison sliders with Kenny’s horseradish Cheddar and mini brioche buns, “cheese fries” (beer-battered fries with chorizo, Sriracha, and warm Cheddar sauce), and funnel cake fries with powdered sugar and bourbon caramel. We’re pretty sure you had us at “bar.”
Louisiana: Sazerac Bar, New Orleans
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The landmark hotel bar is named after the Sazerac, a cocktail that many consider to be the world’s first mixed drink. The Sazerac Bar’s décor evokes old New Orleans with some elegant updates like Paul Ninas’ murals that flank the African walnut bar. The bar itself, including its stools and banquettes, has been fully restored to its original splendor. A small collection of white and red wines by the glass and beers support the main drink menu focus: the cocktails. Classic cocktails like the Sazerac (Sazerac 6-year rye, Peychaud’s bitters, and sugar in an Herbsaint-rinsed glass); the 1840 Sazerac (Pierre Ferrand “1840” Cognac, Peychaud’s bitters, and Herbsaint Legendre); and the Pink Squirrel (crème de almond, light crème de cacao, and cream) are given equal weight as new classics like the Thibodeaux Tickle (Oryza gin, rhubarb bitters, cranberry bitters, sugar, and soda); Prickly Pear (pear vodka, Chambord, fresh citrus, and ginger beer); and Bywater Detour (Sorel hibiscus liqueur, pimento bitters, and Gosling’s ginger beer).
Maine: Ebenezer's Pub, Lovell
Our estimates say there are roughly a billion amazing bars in Portland (shout out to one of our favorites, Novare Res Bier Café) — but allow us a moment to explain why we instead picked a Maine spot that’s basically in the middle of nowhere. With 35 Belgian beers on tap and 700 bottles of various vintages available, Ebenezer’s Pub and its head bartender, "Sir" Christopher Lively (he was knighted in September 2014 by the Belgium Brewers Guild), have been racking up awards: the pub was voted No. 1 Beer Bar in America by Ratebeer and was twice named the No. 1 Beer Bar in the world by Beer Advocate. The signature beverage is the Black Albert, a filthy rich royal imperial stout that was brewed specifically for the bar by the top brewers De Struise, and, in 2008, was named the top beer in the world. The pub also serves lambic and gueuze, Belgian beer styles seldom seen outside their native country. There is a wide variety of cuisines on offer, too, from local favorite lobster rolls to modern gastropub fare. Ebenezer hosts a 12-course beer dinner in August that is cooked by Belgium's top chefs; the wait list for last year’s 2015 dinner had more than 2,000 entries — more than the entire population of Lovell.
Maryland: The Brewer's Art, Baltimore
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Located in an old row house built in the early 1900s, The Brewer’s Art is famous for its Belgian-style ales. Two bars and a dining room provide three different atmospheres united by superb beers. The upstairs bar is light and classic with high-top tables, an ornate bar area, and a lounge area with a working fireplace; the downstairs bar is dark, loud, and popular with college students and locals; and the casual dining room serves chef Ray Kumm's seasonally changing European continental cuisine. There are six house-brewed beers offered including the Birdhouse, which is the bar’s version of a pale ale; Resurrection, an abbey-style brown ale brewed with five types of malt and three varieties of hops; and the light-colored Beazley ale, a tribute to Belgian “Devil” beers, which boasts full flavor and a dry finish. The Beazley ale was named for head bartender Mark “Beazley” Barcus, who has been with the bar since its opening 19 years ago. For non-beer drinkers, there are other options: the bar serves several bourbon cocktails such as the Stein (Buffalo Trace bourbon, citrus black tea syrup, Charm City Meadworks honey, and cardamom bitters).
Massachusetts: Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar, Boston
Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar has more than 200 whiskeys including a rolling list of the niche, century-old wooden bar’s own hand-selected single barrels. There are rare and nearly impossible-to-find bottles, weekly whiskey flights, a whiskey club, and one of Boston’s strongest craft cocktail programs, led by bar and beverage manager Joy Richard. The signature drinks at the bar — which is punctuated with bubble glass pendant lights, local art, chalkboard drawings, and worn leather booths — are Fernet-Branca on tap and the Ideal Manhattan (Maker’s Mark, St. Germain, Cinzano Rosso, Angostura bitters, and grapefruit bitters). The bar is known for its oysters, upscale tavern fare, and whole roasted pig dinner for 10. Citizen is also conveniently located just behind Fenway Park in case you want to celebrate a Sox win (or drown your sorrows after a Sox loss) in a classy fashion.
Michigan: Goodnight Gracie Jazz and Martini Bar, Detroit
Goodnight Gracie Jazz and Martini Bar is indeed, as the name suggests, a martini bar, but it also stocks a plethora of whiskey, Scotch, and bourbon. The intimate bar, with dark mood lighting, live music, and a lively dance floor, specializes in concoctions made with house-infused Tito’s vodka, including raspberry-infused for the Vixen Martini, strawberry-infused for the strawberry mule, pineapple-infused for the pineapple mule, and serrano chile-infused for the LemonPEPPPERcello. There are 23 martinis on the menu, the signature non-martini cocktail being the Kentucky Buck (Ridgemont Reserve 1792, the bar’s exclusive single-barrel hand-selected blend, with freshly muddled strawberries, fresh lemon juice, Angostura bitters, simple syrup, and ginger beer). Save room for the sliders, which include prime rib with “zip” cheese, crab cake, and chicken Parmesan.
Minnesota: Marvel Bar, Minneapolis
Simply put, Marvel Bar combines classic Japanese bartending methods with new American cocktail creativity. “Our minimalist, outside-the-box style of innovation has led to the invention of new genres of drinks, such as emulsified sours, hyper-diluted cocktails, charcoal-filtered cocktails, and alkaline cocktails,” says beverage director Pip Hanson, whose favorite beverage is the dry martini. His favorite martini recipe was adapted from a French cocktail book published in 1904: a 3-to-1 gin to dry vermouth with a single dash of orange bitters and a lemon twist. “Hand-chipped ice, one of our signature Japanese influences, makes an enormous difference in the final temperature and dilution of this drink,” explains Hanson, who tended bar at Roppongi Hills Club in Tokyo and studied classic Japanese cocktail technique. Marvel Bar has 400 different spirits, 11 single barrels of bourbon and rye from Kentucky, and a constantly rotating cocktail menu featuring classics and avant-garde original creations crafted with the perfectionism of Ginza cocktail masters. Additionally, GM Peder Schweigert was a culinary producer on Top Chef Season 5, worked the kitchen at Alinea in Chicago, and won Iron Bartender in 2010 after less than a year of working with spirits. He crafts Marvel Bar’s signature cocktails like the Oliveto, a combination of an egg white gin sour with olive oil that the bar dubbed an "emulsified sour.”
Mississippi: The Upstairs Bar at City Grocery, Oxford
Since 1992, James Beard Award-winning chef John Currence has been crafting a conglomerate of eateries and bars in Oxford, Mississippi. The French-inspired Southern fare at City Grocery (No. 55 on our list of the 101 best restaurants in America) draws diners to its fine dining room, and the more casual upstairs bar, aptly titled The Upstairs Bar at City Grocery, has become a destination as well for its extensive wine list, short list of classic cocktails, and snacks. Try the Jesús María (Patrón tequila, Cointreau, orange juice, lime juice, and simple syrup) and the Oxfordian (Maker’s Mark bourbon, lemon juice, and simple syrup topped with Prosecco) and pair them with bar snacks like crispy fried hot chicken with honey; fried bologna sandwich with America “whiz,” yellow mustard, and toasted white bread; and shrimp and grits (spicy Original GritGirl grits, sautéed shrimp, garlic, mushrooms, scallions, white wine, lemon juice, and Big Bad Bacon).
Missouri: Taste by Niche, St. Louis
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Head mixologist Kyle Mathis and chef Gerard Craft are all about providing a mix of creative and classic cocktails with seasonal new American small plates at Taste by Niche. The cocktail menu includes 35 classics and 15 originals served in the intimate, steampunk-style speakeasy. “For me, it’s all about the foundations of bartending," says Mathis, who has been in charge of mixology here since 2013. "We honor the classics at Taste by Niche, but also offer a menu that intrigues guests to try new spirits and cocktails.” The signature cocktail, Port of Spain (an Angostura bitters-heavy drink made with rye whiskey, Allspice Dram, grenadine, egg white, and lemon), is a must-try. The bar food includes bacon-fat-fried cornbread, fried cheese curds, and a number of small and large plates.
Montana: Charlie B's, Missoula
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Charlie’s Bar (aka Charlie B’s) is a dive that has been around for decades. With a bar that runs down the entire space, a pool table, and small-town vibe, even out-of-towners will feel welcome at the cash-only establishment that caters to everyone from college students to retirees. The back room, the Dinosaur Café, serves burgers and Cajun and Creole cuisine that’s absolutely worth trying.
Nebraska: The Homy Inn, Omaha
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Originally called The Homey Inn (all the letters wouldn’t fit on the sign), this is a homey place with walls lined with charming vintage Americana like tap handles, rare baseball cards, and political buttons. Opened in 1956 by Maynard Finkle (today his son Terry Finkle runs the bar), The Homy Inn quickly gained a following for its Champagne on tap, which comes in four varieties: dry, sweet, strawberry, and peach. It’s served by the flute — for less than $5 — or by the pitcher. If you run up a $100 tab, you get a free T-shirt. Some regulars are so dedicated that they’ve probably amassed an entire wardrobe by now.
Nevada: Vesper Bar, Las Vegas
Named for the 1953 cocktail in the original James Bond novel, Casino Royale, Vesper Bar inside the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is an example of modern sophistication juxtaposed with firm roots in the elegance of the past.
Surrounded by mirrored tiles and centering on an ornate wooden liquor cabinet, it is certainly charming. Vesper Bar has a menu of 20 beers, 11 wines by the glass, and 10 cocktails separated into two styles: classic (traditional renderings of classic drinks) and Vesper interpretations (drinks based on the originals but infused with modern additions to show off the evolution of the industry). Specializing in "molecular" mixology, edible cocktails, and tequilas, Las Vegas native and chief mixologist Mariena Mercer brings extensive knowledge to the operation — making this a must-visit bar.
New Hampshire: Portsmouth Brewery, Portsmouth
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Open since 1991, the Portsmouth Brewery was New Hampshire’s first brewpub. Housed in a nineteenth-century brick building in Portsmouth’s historic downtown, the two-story establishment is the quintessential New England neighborhood bar. The beer is brewed in house and there are whiskey-based cocktails, too, like the Market Street Manhattan (Woodford Reserve bourbon, sweet and dry vermouths, and Woodford Reserve bourbon-barrel bitters). The drink offerings include 12 draft beers upstairs, 16 downstairs, two cask-conditioned beers, 18 wines, 25 high-end bottled beers, and cider offerings curated by head brewer Matt Gallagher. You’ll also find 10 cocktails and a few mocktails. The bar’s décor includes eclectic art, rolled steel tabletops, high ceilings, a cupola, a seasonal outdoor beer garden, and a view of the beer-making process. The downstairs Jimmy LaPanza Lounge is a more laid-back affair with velvet nude paintings on the walls, low ceilings, a pool table, and a tabletop shuffleboard game. Try the Thaizenheimer: a wheat ale brewed with ginger, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass. It pairs well with the spicy curried mussels cooked in a broth infused with curry spice, coconut milk, lemongrass, and a touch of spicy chile sauce.
New Jersey: McGovern's Tavern, Newark
For 80 years, McGovern’s Tavern, an Irish pub located six blocks from Newark’s Penn Station, has attracted a clientele of blue collar types, office workers, college students, and police officers and firefighters (many of whose hats and helmets hang from the ceiling). Originally opened by Frank McGovern in 1936 as a meeting place for Irish immigrants, the bar survived the Newark riots in 1967 (which led to the closure of many businesses) and today serves up pints of Guinness, other brews, and bar fare like a 10-inch pizza and a sandwich called the Dublin Decker (corned beef, turkey, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Russian dressing served on rye bread). McGovern's is closed on weekends.
New Mexico: Tiny's Restaurant and Lounge, Santa Fe
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For 65 years, the family-owned Tiny's Restaurant and Lounge has been a popular spot, though it has changed locations several times. It’s well known for beer (there are 34 varieties to choose from), steak, and Mexican fare like Frito pie (Fritos, ground beef, red chiles, and beans garnished with lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese), chile relleno (two jumbo Hatch green chiles stuffed with pepper jack cheese, dipped in house breading, and served with Spanish rice, pinto beans, and posole, a hominy soup), and char-broiled rib eye. Several nights a week, the old-school dining room — adorned with artwork by local artists — and patio erupt with live music, karaoke, and dancing. The bar and dining area also boast one of the Southwest's largest decanter collections.
New York: The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, New York City
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Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry’s tri-level mid-nineteenth-century saloon, The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, is not your average, run-of-the-mill Irish pub. In its three years in business, there’s a reason the bar has been racking up accolades. “We are continually pushing for improvement and scrutinizing everything we do. We also want to shatter the dogma or misconceptions associated with the Irish bar,” says McGarry, who was named America’s top bartender by The Daily Meal in 2014. The pub’s specialization is Irish whiskey; they serve more than 150 whiskeys in all, and the number is growing. McGarry’s bar has illustrated the diversity and adaptability of Irish whiskey, particularly single-pot still Irish whiskey. Half of the bar’s 72 cocktails, served in the second-story sit-down parlor, are dedicated to Irish whiskey. Try the expertly executed Irish coffee, made with quality filtered coffee, not espresso; cream with more than 36 percent fat content; and low-pot still/high grain blend whiskey like Jameson’s Original or Clontarf 1014. No wonder 200 – 300 Irish coffees are sold daily! Always bustling, the ground-level taproom serves craft beers, Irish whiskey, and basic cocktails. The hearty Irish and British food menu has all the requisites like fish and chips, sausage rolls, and Scotch eggs, along with some modernized offerings like burgers and truffle fries.
North Carolina: He's Not Here, Chapel Hill
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He’s Not Here is a true old-school college dive bar, known as “the oldest on-campus 45-year-old.” If you ever went to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or are just a Tarheels fan, then you have probably had a 33-ounce Blue Cup — the classic $5 cup of beer — at He’s Not Here, which is located on the town’s main street.
There are 38 beers on tap and 35 by the bottle on offer. Chapel Hill was originally a village, and the bar’s courtyard was originally “the green.” It pays homage to the town’s history with bumper stickers that say “He’s Not Here — on the village green.” As for the name? There are many urban legends about its origin, but one popular story is that celebrities — like Michael Jordan — often frequented the bar, and folks called the bar to find them. The bartenders answered, “He’s not here.” Don’t miss the scene in the courtyard, which accommodates 1,000 rowdy college kids, hosts live bands three times each week, and where you’ll no doubt see hundreds of those iconic Carolina-blue cups.
North Dakota: The Parrot’s Cay, Grand Forks
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People general know The Parrot’s Cay in Grand Forks, North Dakota for two reasons. First, it’s a solid place to hang out, watch a game, and/or drink a few drafts. Although it’s located in a less crowded part of town, Parrot’s can get quite busy at times, but that doesn’t stop the staff from being attentive, accommodating, and oh so friendly. The other reason people know this joint? The wings. Served swimming in sauce that ranges in spiciness from a level-3 to a level-15 (13 is supposed to make you sweat), regulars claim the bar is actually willing to go as high as 40. There’s also a famous wing challenge that required contestants to eat seven extremely spicy wings (so spicy that they don’t appear on the regular menu and gloves need to be worn when handling them) in five minutes for the opportunity to win a T-shirt and a $100 gift card. Even those who aren’t into chicken wings will stop by to order one of the specialty sauces by the quart. Get it on something, anything, and stick around for a couple rounds. This is still a bar, after all.
Ohio: The Velvet Tango Room, Cleveland
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Proprietor Paulius Nasvytis and the bartenders of The Velvet Tango Room are “torchbearers of tradition.” Since 1996, the bartenders here were serving classic cocktails long before it was trendy. There are now more than 80 cocktails on the menu, and about 30 of them are house creations, including the India Lime Fizz (a rich, creamy, and powerful cocktail that combines gin, rum, flora India limes, vanilla, and a whole egg). The bar is housed in a space that was once a speakeasy — bullet holes can still be seen in the ceiling — with the bars made of refinished mahogany and the front room featuring a baby grand piano at which music is played nightly by a three-piece jazz combo and a late-night pianist. The second room is reached by walking through a mirror in the coatroom. There’s another baby grand piano there, along with a cozy fireplace, comfy leather chairs, and a patio where some of the bar’s cocktail ingredients are grown. Both rooms have an old-fashioned black-and-white TV that shows classic movies with no sound. There are limited snacks such as speck, which is locally sourced smoked pork belly made by a German family in Cleveland.
Oklahoma: Edna’s, Oklahoma City
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The claim to fame for Edna’s in Oklahoma City is that it’s “home of the original Lunchbox.” Of course, this doesn’t mean much to folks who only know lunchboxes as a way to transport your sandwich. At Edna’s, however, the Lunchbox is a signature cocktail made of Coors Light, an amaretto shot, and a splash of orange juice. (The food menu also includes the option to “Lunchbox up” your sweet potato fries by drizzling amaretto-infused marshmallow sauce on top and adding almonds.) Sadly, owner Edna Scott passed away in 2014 at the age of 72, so you can no longer see her dance on the bar every time the jukebox plays “Great Balls of Fire” — but stopping in for an honorary Lunchbox toast is still a must if you find yourself in Oklahoma City.
Oregon: Horse Brass Pub, Portland
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Credited with helping start the craft beer revolution — if not across the country, then certainly in Oregon — the late Don Younger, longtime co-owner of the place (he died in 2014) is practically a patron saint of the community. His traditional English-style Horse Brass Pub has been serving proper 20-ounce pints since 1976. There are 58 taps including four hand-pumped cask engines, three ciders, five nitro-taps, and several imports. There is the requisite pub food, too, like bangers, Scotch eggs, sausage rolls, ploughman’s lunch, and halibut fish and chips — all of which are exceptional. As Tom May sang, “You’re a stranger no more when you walk through that door” at this neighborhood pub.
Pennsylvania: Monk's Café, Philadelphia
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Monk’s Café is a Belgian beer emporium with a repertoire of rotating beers on tap and hundreds by the bottle, from the limited supply Chimay Dorée, to the drier Tripel Karmeliet on tap, to Achel Blond and Westmalle Tripel by the bottle. The bar also stocks locally made Belgian-style beers, so there is something for everyone. The hearty sandwiches, burgers, and mussels pair well with the beer.
Rhode Island, Cook & Brown Public House, Providence
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Cook and Brown Public House is a modern New England-inspired take on a European gastropub. The bar, which has a separate restaurant area, is well known for its extensive selection of spirits with a predominant focus on whiskeys. The back bar is crammed with 200 bottles of spirits, liqueurs, and bitters. The seasonally changing drink menu is populated with a rotating punch, a hot drink, and a barrel-aged cocktail along with 10 cleverly named concoctions along the lines of Port-Tea Like it’s 1999 (Mellow Corn, Six Grapes Port, Meletti Amaro, lemon, and black tea) and the Vieux from the Flor (Tequila Ocho Reposado, Lustau Palo Cortado sherry, St. George NOLA Coffee liqueur, Cardamaro, and orange bitters), a favorite of head bartender Gillian White, who was a participant in the 2014 CAP Tales of the Cocktail Apprenticeship program. The Orchard House, a “fancy riff” on a whiskey sour (Rittenhouse rye whiskey, Giffard Peach liqueur, St. George Spiced Pear liqueur, lemon juice, maple syrup, salt, and apple bitters) is another favorite of White’s. “It's one of my favorites because it takes the ‘fear’ out of whiskey drinks for people," she says. "Or, as I like to call it, ‘rye with training wheels,’ which then leads people into trying more from our selections of whiskeys." The seasonally changing food menu, curated by proprietor and head chef Nemo Bolin (who previously worked at L’Etoile on Martha’s Vineyard), pairs well with the drinks. One of the most popular dishes is the chicken liver pâté built up with beef bone marrow and served with a rotating selection of mustard, house-made jam, house-made pickles, and crusty country toast.
South Carolina: Proof, Charleston
Craig Nelson’s Proof is an intimate craft cocktail bar with an extensive wine-by-the-glass list and a beer list full of pilsners, lagers, stouts, sours, and ciders. But the real attraction are the 32 creative concoctions like the Pink Rabbit (Ancho Reyes liqueur, Hendrick’s gin, Proof’s house-made strawberry “quick,” and mole bitters); Knuckle Ball (Old Grand Dad 114 bourbon, Mexican Coca-Cola reduction, orange bitters, and pickled boiled peanuts); and the Charleston Buck (Woodford Reserve bourbon, Tuaca, citrus, egg white, Proof’s ginger beer, and blood orange bitters). There is a daily changing menu of small plates, which are scribbled on the bar’s chalkboard.
South Dakota: Full Throttle Saloon, Sturgis
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The self-proclaimed world’s largest biker bar is a sight to behold, particularly during the annual summertime Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, when tens of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts descend on this South Dakota town to drink beer — lots of beer. The Full Throttle Saloon, created by Michael Ballard, is an adult playground replete with the Flaunt Girls (a burlesque dance troupe), little person wrestling, a burnout pit for bikes, a mechanical bull, a zip-line, a body paint area, and numerous concerts featuring big-name bands. There’s also a cabin area, open June 1 through the last day of the rally, and theme nights to add to all the shenanigans.
Tennessee: Robert's Western World, Nashville
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Home of traditional country music, hillbilly, and rockabilly (and host to a much-loved house band, Brazilbilly), Robert’s Western World is a legendary honky-tonk. Plenty of stars of the Grand Ole Opry and actors on shows like Hee Haw and Nashville Now have called the place home in the years since it opened, originally as a steel drum manufacturer, followed by a boot and apparel store. Currently owned by singer Jesse Lee Jones, the bar brings back the Golden Era of country music and pays homage to its past with quintessential hillbilly flair: shelves of boots, fresh-grilled Angus burgers, fried bologna sandwiches — piled high with seven slices of bologna and served slightly grilled with lettuce and tomato — moon pies, live music, and cold PBR.
Texas: Anvil Bar and Refuge, Houston
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Anvil Bar and Refuge was one of the first bars in the United States to serve classically styled cocktails like The Brave (mezcal, tequila, amaro, Curaçao, and Angostura bitters, served at room temperature) at lower prices. There are 110 cocktails on the menu, but the bartenders can make far more. The lively space, opened by Bobby Heugel in 2009 when he was just 24 years old, features a bar running the length of the space and a huge spirit collection. Heugel is also one of the bar owners behind OKRA Charity Saloon, a not-for-profit bar. There is a small food menu of nibbles like cheese, charcuterie, and snacks.
Utah: High West Distillery & Saloon, Park City
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The world’s only ski-in gastro-distillery, High West Distillery & Saloon is all about the whiskey. There are some perennially popular mainstays on the cocktail menu like Dead Man’s Boots (Rendezvous rye, reposado tequila, fresh lime juice, sugar cane syrup, and ginger beer) and High West Lemonade (a concoction of High West syrup — a mixture of sugar, water, lemon, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, vanilla bean, and whole nutmeg — fresh lemon juice, fresh water, High West Double Rye, and one mint sprig). However, the drinks that truly highlight the talent here are the classic whiskey cocktails like the excellent Old Fashioned. The bar’s buildings, which are on the National Historic Registry, are worth a visit, too. The livery was used to shoe horses and mules that worked in the mines; it then became a garage. The exterior of the livery has exposed lettering and signage that was essentially baked on when the coalition mine building burned down. Excellent whiskey cocktails, delicious High West burgers, and welcoming and knowledgeable bar staff all add up to perfection.
Vermont: Ye Olde Tavern, Manchester
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You know a place is old when its establishment date is defined as “circa” something. If it’s been around so long that people can’t even remember exactly when it opened, that speaks volumes. Having “ye olde” in the title is a dead giveaway, too.
That being said, Ye Olde Tavern was built circa 1790, back when Vermont was that pesky new state on the block that crashed the original 13 colonies’ party. Although the tavern has changed hands numerous times since — and a major renovation was undertaken in 1975 — the uneven floors, slanting doorways, and antique furnishings have remained undisturbed. The tavern has since been listed on the Vermont Register of Historic Places, adding further authenticity to a place that serves Prohibition-era cocktails, an extensive and expertly curated selection of wine, and a 1790 Taproom Ale brewed especially for the bar.
Virginia: PX, Alexandria
Walk along King Street and look for a blue light, the landmark for PX (Person Extraordinaire). If the light is lit or if the pirate flag is flying, the 1920s-style lounge above Eamonn's A Dublin Chipper (owned by Eat Good Food Group, the folks also behind PX) is open. Sommelier and mixologist Todd Thrasher, a native Virginian, handcrafts memorable cocktails at this intimate, 38-seat place. The limited hours (it's open Wednesday to Saturday nights only), the dress code (jackets required for men), and the fact that reservations are strongly encouraged give PX an air of exclusivity and glamour. The 18 seasonally changing "avant farm" drinks like the This Is Snow Cream! (Buffalo Trace bourbon and vanilla whey) and the Grog and Sweet Basil (a mix of rum and lemon verbena tea served in a pirate's mug with a see-through bottom), are equally classy and memorable. Be sure to try the Irish-style fish and chips served with a choice of seven different house-made sauces.
Washington: Ray's Boathouse, Seattle
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The amazing panoramic views of Shilshole Bay and fantastic sunsets are not the only things that make Ray’s Boathouse the best bar in Washington State. With more than 40 signature cocktails, more than 20 seasonal and rotating taps, and more than 400 bottles of wine, there are many sensational sundowners to try at the complex that features both the sophisticated boathouse and the casual, homey café. Options include the Admirals Manhattan (Buffalo Trace bourbon, Dolin vermouth, chile ancho liqueur, and bitters); the white peach cosmo (white peach, vodka, white cranberry juice, lime, and rosemary); and head bartender Clint Kneebone’s creation, the Northwesterner (a boozy twist on a Bloody Caesar, garnished with a smoked clam-stuffed olive). Pair your drink of choice with oysters and the James Beard Award-winning grilled sablefish in sake kasu.
Washington, D.C.: Old Ebbitt Grill
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The oldest saloon in Washington, D.C. (it opened in 1856 and served most presidents, beginning with Ulysses S. Grant, though it has moved several times), is a legendary watering hole less than one block from the White House. Old Ebbitt Grill bartenders can make nearly any cocktail, but there are a dozen seasonal cocktails on offer, too, like the signature Bloody Maryland. It’s the bar’s take on the classic Bloody Mary with the addition of a jumbo shrimp and a glass rimmed with Old Bay seasoning, of course. The deep mahogany bar is a sight to behold: A beautiful antique stein collection runs along the top, punctuated by animal head trophies purportedly bagged by Teddy Roosevelt. Try the oysters; there is an Oyster Happy Hour 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. daily and again from 11 p.m. until close. Feeling fancy? Go for the wine, as Old Ebbett has now won Wine Spectator Magazine’s “Award of Excellence” for 18 years in a row.
West Virginia: Mario’s Fishbowl, Morgantown
Like many of the bars on this list, a trip to Mario’s Fishbowl (est. 1963) is like a drinking history lesson. The original owner’s name still stands. The namesake “fishbowl” glasses — made at the old Morgantown Glass Works — are a relic of days when the building was Richwood Avenue Confectionary. The signs on the walls are proclamations of victory in various drinking and eating contests held over the years by WVU students and other patrons with competitive streaks. Although the owners have changed, the menu has expanded, and the kitchen has been updated, the nostalgia of the Fishbowl has always remained the top priority. Any doubters of this fact will be silenced as soon as they take their first sip of the largest, coldest beer in town.
Wisconsin: The Old Fashioned, Madison
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Inspired by the traditions of Wisconsin taverns and supper clubs, The Old Fashioned has beers, brats, cheese, and more. Opened in 2003, the bar is quintessential Wisconsin (its motto is “Where Wisconsin is king!”), complete with a food menu that highlights local specialties from Wisconsin producers to create traditional home-cooked feasts like fish fry, prime rib, and wood-fired chicken. The drink menu is similarly rich in state pride, featuring 52 Wisconsin beers on tap and about 100 bottled beers, wines, spirits, and specialty drinks — including its namesake, the classic, hand-muddled Old Fashioned. As if the food and drink weren’t enough of a draw, the tavern has a rewards program, Big Shot, where points ($1 equals one point) can be redeemed for merchandise like bumper stickers, tap beers, Wisconsin cheese, or a party.
Wyoming: Million Dollar Cowboy, Jackson
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Hope you're comfortable on the saddle — Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is as Western as they come, complete with leather saddles atop their bar stools. The joint refers to itself as a “landmark watering hole,” which is hard to deny since you can’t miss the enormous glowing sign across the front of the building, topped with a neon cowboy riding a bucking bronco. Upon entering, guests are greeted by a giant grizzly bear before coming face to face with the largest selection of single barrel Jack Daniels in the Northwest. The food at the attached steakhouse is great, and the live music is always entertaining, but there’s still nothing better than downing a drink at the bar of an old western saloon — especially one that was the first in the state to receive a liquor license after the repeal of Prohibition.