You shouldn’t judge a bar by its snack game; a bar’s quality rests primarily on its drinks. But without some decent finger food, happy hour can quickly turn to hangry hour. Sure, all that sodium in most bar snacks is designed to make you thirsty and rack up your tab, but you won’t hear us complaining through a mouthful of grub, especially if it’s free. Here, the best bar snacks to shovel into your face between drinks, from meh to best.
Have you ever heard someone exclaim, “Wow, those are great bar nuts?” Nor have we. No one is actually nuts for nuts, and yet we still reach for handful after handful of salt-slicked crunchies—even if we know that the bowl has probably been sitting on the bar since the place opened … in 1983.
Olives are the closest you’ll get to a vegetable when it comes to bar snacks, but they leave you with slimy, briny fingers and a gross pit. If you can master the art of looking cool spitting out an olive pit, we want tips.
Lays, Ruffles, Sunchips—they’re all fine. But if you find a bar serving Cool Ranch Doritos or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, set up a cot behind the bar in your new home.
Chips and Salsa
It may have become customary to charge for chips and salsa at some high end Mexican restaurants, but in much of the country—and in our hearts—chips and salsa arrive on the bar automatically as you await your freshly churned Margarita. Guac may be extra, but we appreciate a free pico de gallo any day.
We’re pretty sure the CDC lists popcorn among the world’s most infectious diseases because the smell wafting through the bar can trigger symptoms of ravenous, zombified munchies. When the sound of your belly rivals the noise of the popcorn popper, it’s time to give in to your basest popcorn desires.
There is no situation in which french fries are bad—even horrible fries have a certain masochistic charm. But good fries can utterly change your day, your mood—heck, your life. Get ‘em extra thin and crispy, or fatter than your head. Just get ‘em.
If you weren’t aware, there are indeed bars that serve hot dogs (often free) to hungry drinkers. Granted, these hot dogs tend to emerge from one of those 7-Eleven style heat lamp prisons and land in a brittle, cracked bun, but they’re just as tasty as the dirty water dogs from the guy on every New York street corner. Plus, a good sluice of ketchup and/or mustard makes pretty much any meat product palatable.
Everything is better deep fried. Pickled eggs may be the dive bar standard, but the Brits got their bar eggs right when they decided to coat them in sausage and fry them.
Let us reiterate: Everything is better deep fried. The best moz sticks release a gooey waterfall when broken, but the cheese inside is also elastic enough to stretch across the bar without breaking. They’re a scientific wonder, and darn good eats.
Oysters are a classy play at a nice restaurant, where they come on tiers of ice with plenty of accoutrements. Dollar oysters are a different sort of joy. Go to a bar you trust, order a dozen for yourself, and try not to be too precious about it—that means go heavy on the hot sauce.
Wings are not only the best bar snack, they’re also the most varied. You can wing it (sorry) any which way, with barbecue, honey bourbon, salt and vinegar, teriyaki, lemon pepper, parmesan, spicy, Old Bay seasoned, jerk, miso-glazed, kimchi-fied, and our all time favorite, Buffalo. Wings are an ultimately egalitarian food, the great equalizer of munchies. No one looks attractive chowing down on some saucy wings or thinks they’re making a good dietary decision, and that’s the beauty of them. Chicken wings are unabashed indulgence.