The Absolute Best Bars In The U.S.

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There's really no way to ever create a definitive ranking of "best bars," since for every bar there is a patron and for every patron a bar. In fact, if you live in some of the more watering-hole dense areas, it may seem as if there is quite literally a bar for each and every person old enough to hoist a brew — and that's not even counting some of the truly epic basement bars in people's homes.

Nonetheless, whether you're traveling the country or exploring what your town has to offer, a truly great bar is one way to get a real feel for local culture. The following selection of our picks for the nation's best bars has a little bit of everything. From the diviest of dive bars in Baltimore to Boston's best (intentionally) hidden secret to Vegas' kitschiest tiki lounge and Oakland's neon-pink temple to complicated craft cocktails, we've tried to cover the spectrum of drinking establishments that are destinations unto themselves.

Bryant's Cocktail Lounge - Milwaukee

When you walk into Bryant's, an unassuming little joint on a residential street on Milwaukee's south side, you'll suddenly feel as if you've stepped back in time — about 60 years back. The dimly-lit interior is straight out of mid-century America, although the bar is actually even older than that. According to Bryant's website, they opened in 1938 and are the oldest cocktail lounge in Milwaukee. They are also, as rumor (and Eater) would have it, quite possibly "America's darkest bar."

Bryant's does have a few house specialties. They are the bar that lays claim to having invented the Pink Squirrel, and every winter they open a special room dedicated to Wisconsin's beloved Tom & Jerry. They also do a brisk business in Old Fashioneds done Badger State-style, meaning made with brandy instead of whiskey. For the most part, though, Bryant's customers order off-menu. As Imbibe explains, the bartenders interview each patron about what they're in the mood for, then choose from an extensive Rolodex containing hundreds of different drink recipes collected over the past 9 decades.

Bryant's may once have been one of Milwaukee's best-kept secrets due to its rough and ready neighborhood, which is not the kind of place you'd expect a swanky cocktail bar (evidently, a lot can change in 80+ years). Over the past decade, though, it has received some national attention after playing a starring role in a 2013 TV special called "America's Best Bars" (via OnMilwaukee).

Cafe La Trova - Miami

Miami's Cafe La Trova isn't quite as venerable as some of the cocktail lounges on this list, since it just opened in 2019 (via Miami Eater). Bartender Julio Cabrera, however, is one of the nation's foremost practitioners of the Cuban cantinero cocktail tradition, which dates back to the bad old days of Prohibition. Not that Cuba banned alcohol consumption — far from it! Instead, Havana became a hot-spot for well-heeled American travelers looking to imbibe something not brewed in a bathtub. According to Conde Nast Traveler, this boom wasn't embraced wholeheartedly by Cuban bartenders, who feared their cocktail culture might be obliterated by bars catering to the tourist trade. They established the Club de Cantineros de la República de Cuba (The Cuban Bartenders Club) in 1924, a society whose high standards went a long way from transforming bartending from a profession to something more akin to a fine art.

Cabrera, who is one of only about 100 cantineros in the U.S. (and one of perhaps 1,200 in the world), is dedicated to upholding the club's traditions, so much so that he's established his own bartending school. Cafe la Trova's cocktails, whether mixed by Cabrera or one of his acolytes, are not to be missed. They include traditional Cuban libations such as the daiquiri and mojito, as well as house creations, including a La Trova Old Fashioned, made with coffee-tobacco bitters and a Chivirico containing tequila, mezcal, poblano liqueur, passion fruit, agave, lime, and basil foam.

Frankie's Tiki Room - Las Vegas

Only in Las Vegas are you likely to find a 24-hour tiki bar where you can enjoy psychobilly and surf music and while sipping on a fruity rum drink named for a volcano that once demanded human sacrifices. The Nakalele Knockout, with its hibiscus and lime, is a drink that comes with a warning befitting its ominous eponym: According to Frankie's Tiki Lounge, "Drink one and count your blessings. Drink two and watch your step." The other drinks on the menu, including the rum/strawberry/violet Surf Dragon and tequila/elderflower/papaya Kapui'a, are all given epithets as colorful as the barware in which they are served.

Bon Appetit considers Frankie's to be a de rigueur Vegas destination, as it encapsulates the entire tiki experience in what is probably the kitschiest city on earth. Frankie's drinks are, in the best tiki tradition, on the strong side. Bon Appetit says this attribute may help you forget the unwise decisions without which no Vegas trip is complete, whether it be having a quickie wedding performed by an Elvis impersonator or dropping an entire mortgage payment on the slot machines. If you've still got one more roll of the dice left in you, though, you might want to order a Tiki Bandit. As Frankie's menu predicts, this concoction of rum, blue curacao, passion fruit, and pineapple will "keep you rolling sevens." (If you win, buy a round for the house!)

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge - Chicago

While Chicago is a thoroughly modern city, it is also steeped in history, and one name that keeps coming up, over and over, is that of Al Capone. While the crime boss may not have been a source of much civic pride while he was alive, these days it's quite the sign of prestige for any watering hole to lay claim to being among his old stomping grounds. While the Green Mill was a known haunt of Chicago's favorite gangster, its history goes back a ways before that. According to the Chicago Bar Project, it started life as a roadhouse back in 1907 and added live jazz music a few years later at a time when that music form itself was in its infancy. Today, the Green Mill is the nation's oldest jazz club still in operation.

Whether or not you're a jazz fan or a history buff, be assured the Green Mill — whose name, by the way, was inspired by that of Paris' famed Moulin Rouge — can still whip up a mean cocktail. They don't have a menu, but Secret Chicago says they're well versed in all the classics, while the Chicago Bar Project recommends a martini, Manhattan, or Amaretto stone sour. Not familiar with this last drink? says it's a '70s throwback made from amaretto (of course), sour mix (ditto) and orange juice.

The Happy Dog - Cleveland

Cleveland's Happy Dog is known for 3 things: its funky neighborhood not-quite-a-dive vibe, its eclectic line-up of live music, and its insane array of hot dogs that, according to the menu, come with your choice of 50(!) different toppings. These include such non-standard condiments as kimchi, Spaghetti-Os, Froot Loops, and yes, even ketchup (Cleveland isn't Chicago, after all).

As for the drinks, Happy Dog is not really a cocktail place, but more of a beer bar, since what else but beer could possibly go with Froot Loop-topped hot dogs? Happy Dog doesn't publish an online drinks menu, but according to Untappd users, their microbrew selection is as wide-ranging as their tube steak toppers. Recent offerings have included the seasonal Sleigh All Day IPA with Spruce Tips by Masthead Brewing Company, the Barbarian Haze by 3 Floyds Brewing, and the Blueberry Wild Tea (with a hint of lavender!) by Wild Ohio Brewing.

Katana Kitten - New York City

Katana Kitten is a fairly new addition to the overcrowded NYC cocktail scene, and yet by all accounts this bar is worth seeking out. As the name implies, Katana Kitten is Japanese-themed as well as whimsical, but not in a kitschy, kawaii kind of way. As the photos on the website show, every snack that comes out of the kitchen is a mini work of art, and every drink is garnished to within an inch of its life, while the décor features lots of neon and Japanese movie posters.

As for the drinks, they're what this place is all about. Mixologist and bar owner Masahiro Urushido, author of "The Japanese Art of the Cocktail," creates drinks that combine the best of Japanese and American cocktail culture and manage to be both elegant and fun. One of his complicated creations is the panda fizz (lack of caps his) made with Haku rice vodka and the Japanese citrus soda Calpico and flavored with lemon juice, pandan, and lava salt. Another is a hot green tea tonic that manages to combine a G&T with green tea and throw in some lemongrass and bergamot for good measure. As Inside Hook tells it, Urushido fondly imagines Katana Kitten to be a dive bar, so he's also even put his own spin on the classic boilermaker. His version, called the ichi-mas, is made with Sapporo beer and Toki japanese whisky. Other versions combine sake with an IPA and hard cider with Chivas Regal.

Kona's Street Market - San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the U.S., and thus, in the entire world. No wonder, then, that San Francisco's top bar would be one with an international focus, Kona's Street Market, run by the same crew who brought us the acclaimed Pacific Cocktail Haven, and takes its theme from the famed Asian night markets. As the name implies, they do serve nibbles to go along with their drinks, these being supplied at present by a Filipino pop-up called Pinoy Heritage. The drinks, however, are the real draw.

Owner Andrew Chun describes Kona's Street Market cocktails as "complicated," and they've got the names to match. The menu (via Eater San Francisco) is divided into 2 different regions: Africa & Middle East and Asia & Pacific. Among the Middle Eastern-inspired drinks is something called Iran So Far Away (hark! is that a flock of seagulls we hear?) which is an intriguing mixture of calvados, gin, quince, celery salt, melon seeds, pear, basil, and bitters. An Asian-influenced drink that pairs nicely with the bar snacks is the Boracay Old Fashioned, a blend of gin with pandan, bay leaf, coconut water, and calamansi.

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop - New Orleans

While there's no denying that Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop is likely to be crowded with tourists at any time of year (and this goes quadruple for Mardi Gras), this Bourbon Street bar is a must-visit destination. While there are a handful of pirate-themed bars around the country (via Findery), where else can you drink in a building once owned by a pirate? The notorious Jean Lafitte's name was never on the deed, but the owners were privateers said to have sailed with his fleet, and it's rumored that Lafitte once used the building as a base for his smuggling operation. Food & Wine says that some claim the Blacksmith Shop — which dates to 1722 — is the nation's oldest bar, but the website only asserts that it's the oldest structure still put to that use.

At the Blacksmith Shop, you'll come for the candlelit ambiance, but you may stay hoping for a ghostly encounter — either with Lafitte himself or possibly just some long-dead server. According to paranormal investigator Bloody Mary Mystic (via Offbeat Travel), the bar is quite the paranormal hotspot, so it's the place to be if you want boos along with your booze. Speaking of the latter, Punch says the specialty of the house is the bright purple Frozen VooDoo Daiquiri. There's also a cocktail called the Obituary, consisting of gin, vermouth, and Pernod, as well as hurricanes that come highly recommended by Trip Advisor users.

Library Bar - Los Angeles

When you were in college, assuming you were of legal drinking age at the time, did you ever tell your mom/advisor/more studious friend that you were off to pull an all-nighter in the library when what you really intended was to spend some quality time at a bar? Well, the Library Bar in downtown Los Angeles is probably nothing like your old college hangout, although it may have something in common with that library you claimed to frequent.

The Library Bar's décor leans heavily on book-lined shelves, although they run to comfy couches as opposed to cramped study carrels. As one Google reviewer put it, "This place has everything a modern hipster is looking for. Booky ambiance with diverse music." Not to mention charcuterie boards and other hipster-approved nibbles like "sandos" and "parm fries" as well as a menu of craft cocktails with cute names to match the library theme. Among our favorites are the Adventures of Blackberry Finn with its blackberry-infused vodka, blackberry liqueur, blackberry preserves, and lemon; the Tequila Mockingbird with serrano-infused tequila, blackberry shrub, lime, and tajin; and The Lion, the Whiskey, and the Wardrobe with its whiskey, lemon, maple syrup, and allspice liqueur.

Mount Royal Tavern - Baltimore

If there was ever a competition for America's Diviest Dive Bar, Baltimore's Mount Royal Tavern, aka the Dirt Church, would be a strong contender despite the fact that it's practically an extension of the Maryland Institute College of Art campus. You for sure won't see Charles Bukowski sitting on a bar stool since, as per Poetry Foundation, he a) didn't live in Charm City and b) passed away nearly 30 years ago, but you may well find yourself elbow-to-elbow with Baltimore's answer to Banksy. Plus, where else are you going to find a bar where the ceiling is painted like the Sistine Chapel?

The Washington Post, describing the Mount Royal Tavern as "the quintessential Baltimore dive bar," notes that it covers all the basics: the drinks are strong and cheap and the patrons are a mixed bag. (This last attribute may owe something to the fact the train station is just a few steps away.) Needless to say, craft cocktails are not on the menu. The drink of choice at the Mount Royal, as per Thrillist, is a Natty Boh (the official beer of Bawlmer, Hon!) and a shot of Rittenhouse Rye, a combo that costs less than $10. Oh, and as Yelp notes, the bar opens its doors at 10 a.m. every morning, and they'll be happy to serve you a liquid breakfast. In fact, that's the only kind you'll be getting there, since the Mount Royal doesn't do food.

Service Bar - Washington, D.C.

Service Bar is a real bartender's bar — according to Hungry Lobbyist, its owners have worked in some of the premier watering holes in the nation's capital. When they opened this bar, however, they wanted to do something new. As their website puts it, D.C.'s cocktail scene for years tended towards the "quiet, formal, and expensive," and they wanted to go in the opposite direction and create a space where everyone in the neighborhood would feel welcome. With that in mind, the neighborhood they chose was the U Street Corridor, a fitting location for this Black-owned business (via Feed the Malik) as Visit DC explains that U Street could be considered D.C.'s answer to Renaissance-era Harlem.

In keeping with their mission of bringing cocktail culture to the people, Service Bar is committed to keeping their drink prices low, offering $7 cocktails (although those are currently on hold due to COVID-related reasons). For those who can afford to splash out a bit more, though, Service Bar's menu features craft cocktails including a brandy-based hot almond toddy, a sherry cobbler called Figgy Smalls, a gin and tonic that somehow incorporates baked apples and pears, and even a cranberry-citrus cocktail made with the zero-proof spirit Seedlip. Service Bar also serves up food ranging from bar snacks to complete meals, with the house specialties being fried chicken (done traditional or Nashville Hot-style) and crawfish mac and cheese.

Viridian - San Francisco

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and the vibe is corner-bar, third-Bud-Light-of-the-night friendly ... and at those times, Viridian is definitely not your place. For one thing, its neon-pink ambiance makes it seem like you're drinking inside a video game. For another, this is a bar where there is nothing — literally nothing, not the food, the drinks, or the ambiance -– that you could come anywhere close to replicating at home. The Asian-inspired food offerings are something the San Francisco Chronicle describes as "magic," but the drinks are like nothing else on earth.

Viridian has no online drinks list — instead, they invite patrons to drop by to see what's on the ever-updating menu. They have, however, published a short booklet called "Viridian: Behind the Cocktail." It's full of nearly impossible-to-follow recipes calling for ingredients you've probably never heard of (buzz button tincture? yellow beet syrup? rectified mandarin juice?) and would likely have to create in your own kitchen (or chemistry lab) should you be possessed of the insane amount of determination it would take to recreate a single one of Viridian's signature libations. The cookbook authors, Viridian general manager Alison Tsui and bar director William Tsui, admit that these drinks won't be easy to make, but they imply that attempting to do so (or, more likely, abandoning the idea in short order) will deepen your appreciation of the alchemical wonders their bartenders achieve on a daily basis.

Yvonne's - Boston

Yvonne's may not be the oldest bar in Boston – Time Out says that honor goes to the 18th century Warren's Tavern — but it nevertheless has a link to this city's storied past. According to Boston Magazine, it occupies the space that once belonged to Locke-Ober, a restaurant that achieved iconic status in over a century of serving the Downtown Crossing area. Locke Ober sadly succumbed to the economic pressures of the 21st century, but to date, Yvonne's has proven itself to be a worthy successor.

The fun starts when you gain entry to this modern-day speakeasy via a false-front hair salon. Inside, the bar's interior is downright rococo, with patrons lounging in cozy nooks while dining by chandelier light. Conde Nast Traveler praises the eclectic small plates menu that ranges from Japanese sweet potato cakes to Brazilian shrimp in pumpkin sauce, but Yvonne's drinks don't disappoint either. House creations include a passionfruit mule and the gin-based Orion, which is flavored with honey, lavender, lemon, and star anise. They also offer shareable cocktails, including the tea-based Silk Road made with lapsang souchong and bourbon, as well as the giant-sized Heartbreaker that blends tequila, mezcal, pomegranate, orgeat, bitters, and lime.

49er Lounge - Gallup, New Mexico

Gallup, New Mexico may not be on everyone's travel bucket list — unless, of course, you're doing the fabled Route 66 tour. In that case, you'll have to pass right through this city, and you absolutely won't want to miss a stop at the El Rancho 49er Bar. Back in the day, Gallup played host to a number of movie crews filming westerns in the surrounding area, and the El Rancho Motel was where all the stars stayed. The motel's website provides an extensive list of these luminaries, among whom were John Wayne, Jane Fonda, Ronald Reagan (in his pre-presidential days) and Errol Flynn. This last star, as the El Rancho remembers it, once rode his horse right into the bar.

Even though the 49er Bar's glory days may be behind it (as are its days of cleaning up equine byproduct, one hopes), The Best Hits on Route 66 says it's still one of the finest bars in the land, as well as a must-see for any fan of The Mother Road and/or old movie buff. The 49er's drinks run to cold beer and margaritas made with fresh-squeezed limes, but the menu (courtesy of a Yelp reviewer) also features an array of cocktails named for famous former patrons. Among the more exotic offerings are the Gene Autry, made with gin, amaretto, pineapple juice, cranberry juice, and grenadine and the Hedy Lamarr, featuring cucumber vodka, lemon juice, and agave nectar.