And now, we crown the best place in America to get a drink.
1. New York vs. 16. Denver
Denver’s beer scene played strong but it wasn’t enough to fight off the diversity that New York has to bring when it comes to everything alcohol. For every brewery Denver has to offer (around 60 by one count), New York has five tight-knit neighborhoods (around 300 distinct neighborhoods, according to the city) filled with bars, breweries, wineries and even a soju distillery. New York has so much more to offer, giving it the edge over Denver. The Mile High City has plenty to do and lots to drink, but it’s undersized and short handed compared to the Big Apple.
Winner: New York
8. Minneapolis vs. 9. Miami
Minneapolis has been on the come-up for years now, and we’ve heard amazing things about the Midwestern city’s cocktail scene. But when it comes to Minneapolis versus Miami, The Magic City takes the cake. Not only do you have award-winning cocktail bars like The Broken Shaker and Sweet Liberty changing the way South Floridians think about craft cocktails, but legendary dives like Mac’s Club Deuce are still holding strong. People go to South Beach for poolside Miami Vices by day and massive fist-pumping clubs by night. Most bars are open until 5 a.m. and some even serve alcohol all night. It’s impossible not to go a little crazy in Miami—that gorgeous weather just makes us thirsty.
4. San Francisco vs. 13. San Diego
While we love the laid-back beach vibes of San Diego’s sun and surf culture, we wouldn’t go out of our way to experience the cocktail scene—and that’s OK because it’s a great city nonetheless. But San Francisco, on the other hand, practically started the whole damn culinary revolution in this country. There you have legendary bars like Aub Zam Zam—which serves one of the best Martinis in the country—as well as trendy cocktail haunts like Trick Dog and Bourbon & Branch. And don’t forget about Smuggler’s Cove, one of the bars responsible for bringing the modern tiki movement into the spotlight. We could namedrop all day, and it still wouldn’t even touch on the number of incredible places that anyone would be lucky to call their neighborhood bar. If you have a bad drink in San Francisco, it’s your own fault.
Winner: San Francisco
5. Chicago vs. 12. Boston
If you’re an avid beer drinker or a fan of sports bars and Irish pubs, you’re going to be sour with the outcome of this match. Because Boston’s got those in spades. Chicago, on the other hand, has a wealth of forward-thinking cocktail bars and restaurants. Seminal bars like The Aviary, Three Dots and a Dash and Scofflaw make Chicago a destination.
2. New Orleans vs. 15. Louisville
Louisville is a mecca for bourbon lovers. The Southern city boasts bourbon in craft cocktails, by the shot and by the bottle. It is pure heaven if that sweet brown spirit is what you crave—and you can drink it almost around the clock since booze can be served from 6 a.m. to 4 a.m. But Louisville simply hasn’t quite caught up yet with its southwestern neighbor. New Orleans just has more to offer, from straight whiskey to local beer to innovative cocktails, which you can legally drink on the street. New Orleans satisfies your every need, not just your need for bourbon. So, New Orleans takes this round.
Winner: New Orleans
7. Seattle vs. 10. Austin
Seattle and Austin are kindred souls. In the ‘90s they were both havens of alternative culture—Seattle had grunge and Austin had, well, pretty much all of the weird—and they have both seen an influx of new startups and tech in recent years. Along with this new money came modern cocktail destinations in both cities, but while Seattle has lost a bit of its rebellious streak in the transformation, Austin has managed to juggle both aspects of culture. Take a walk around Austin (in the eternal sunshine, mind you) and you’ll find that Austin is still plenty weird, but it also has plenty to offer the modern drinker seeking more crafted beverages.
3. Los Angeles vs. 13. Las Vegas
Drinking in Las Vegas is more than free, watered down Vodka Sodas by the slot machine and bachelorette parties. Everything, including their drinking scene is huge. The Aureole at Mandalay Bay has a wine locker that’s four stories tall and serviced by “wine angels.” Throngs of partiers wander the strip, drinks in hand thanks to lax public drinking laws and even the city’s meh hotels feature bars decked out in gold, mirrors and plush leather seats. But none of that can overcome the depth and breadth of the LA scene. That scene stretches from high end cocktail spots downtown to old Hollywood dive bars. There are also tons of upstart breweries and distilleries—the downtown Arts District alone has four operating in the space of about five blocks. It also serves as the home base for 213 Hospitality of The Varnish, Seven Grand and Bar Clacson fame (amongst about a dozen other SoCal bars). And because Uber and Lyft rides are cheap compared to places like New York and San Francisco, and the much-maligned train system finally goes to places people want to be, there is no reason you can’t take in everything the city has to offer.
Winner: Los Angeles
6. Portland vs. 11. Washington D.C.
If you’ve ever been to Portland, Oregon, it is easy to understand why the city wins this match. The City of Roses is home to a bevy of luminary bars and restaurants—like Clyde Common, Le Pigeon (which put offal and esoteric French wine regions on the map), the Teardrop Lounge (the city’s O.G. mixology bar) and Hale Pele (the city’s O.G. tiki bar). Although Washington D.C. has recently been getting more press, and accolades, for its cutting edge dining and bar scene (the Columbia Room is one of the must visit bars in the country), it doesn’t compare to Portland’s fully saturated, long-established history of being a destination for cocktailians and food lovers alike.
1. New York vs. 9. Miami
Anyone with good taste and a reasonable distaste for cold weather would take a winter trip from New York to Miami. That’s not enough to make it a better drinking city, though. Miami’s cocktail culture is still young, and its up-and-coming serious bar scene is no match for one of the first U.S. cities to fully re-embrace cocktails and all their glory. Plus, the clubs can only take you so far, no matter how many Mojitos you have.
Winner: New York
4. San Francisco vs. 5. Chicago
Chicago had a good run. The Windy City covered all its bases with classic cocktail bars like The Violet Hour, tiki icons like Lost Lake, beer halls galore like Revolution Brewing, and a fair share of historical drinking dens like Al Capone’s fave Green Mill Lounge. But San Fran has all of that and more. Its tiki temples have become more relevant than ever and its craft cocktails keep up with the best in the world—Trick Dog has made the list of 50 Best Bars in the world more than once. Plus, it's flooded with wine from nearby Napa, acts as the gateway for pisco and mezcal to the U.S., created the bartender's handshake, and was a key player in the national cocktail revival in the ‘90s, showing the world how to realize boozy nirvana with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Winner: San Francisco
3. Los Angeles vs. 6. Portland
Poor Portland. The city has been eclipsed in recent years by the idea of the city, thanks in no small part to Portlandia and other cultural representations. That is not to say it’s without serious drink cred—it’s home to people like Jeffrey Morgenthaler and places like the Multnomah Whiskey Library. But going out drinking in Portland just gives one a feeling that you have to try hard, even if you’re drinking a can of Coors Banquet—perhaps especially if you’re drinking a Coors Banquet. That might seem like a weird thing to say in comparison to a city like LA, where its entire raison d’etre is to look cool to other people. And if you want to dress up and wait in line for an $18 cocktail, there are plenty of places to do that (what’s up Tao LA?) but you can just as easily pick a drink out of an ancient binder at an authentically kitschy spot like North Hollywood’s Tonga Hut or find a high quality cocktail at what is essentially a neighborhood bar like Accomplice in Mar Vista. If you look for your drinking niche in LA, you’ll find it. And when it comes to a short list of best bars, Los Angeles can compete with any city in the world thanks to people like Eric Alperin and The Walker Inn.
Winner: Los Angeles
2. New Orleans Beats 10. Austin
Austin is fun. There is no denying the Texas city’s energy. Just take a stroll down Sixth Street at any time at night and you’ll see people streaming in and out of cocktail bars and dives. It is always a party. And don’t forget the honky tonks where you can drink and two-step the night away. Plus, Austin has breakfast tacos, which are grade A hangover cures. But, while Austin has Sixth Street, New Orleans has the entire French Quarter. That single neighborhood has a better selection of bars than all of Austin put together. And that’s just one of NOLA’s great drinking hoods. Plus, New Orleans beats out breakfast tacos with po’boys—those are real hangover helpers, especially paired with a Bloody Mary, which, once again, you can legally drink on the street.
Winner: New Orleans
1. New York vs. 4. San Francisco
Sorry San Fran. There wasn’t a chance that you would win in this match up. While the Fog City is home to much lauded bars (and restaurants with lauded bar programs) it still doesn’t come close to topping its East Coast competitor. New York is still one of the most cutting edge, ahead of the curve cocktail destinations in the world. San Francisco bartenders come to New York to taste what’s happening in their city five years from now.
Winner: New York
2. New Orleans vs. 3. Los Angeles
The never-dimmed lights of the French Quarter are stronger than the flashes from Hollywood. Like we said, the introduction of Uber and Lyft to LA made it easier for drinkers to get around in a driving city notorious for traffic, allowing bars to rise to the next level. The bars in New Orleans were already there, though, and have been for hundreds of years. New Orleans literally never sleeps—bars stay open 24 hours—and, again, you can take your drink to the streets. Not to mention all of the history in NOLA. No matter how many stars and how much fame L.A. has, it’s hard to beat the home of some of our favorite drinks.
Winner: New Orleans
1. New York vs. 2. New Orleans
New York is the center of many world industries and arts. The city has countless sights and sounds competing for attention, not just on Broadway or in Times Square, but in so many small pockets of undiscovered culture all throughout the five boroughs. New York is so many things to so many people—which is exactly why it can’t win. NYC is just spread too thin. New Orleans is a city with a dedication to drinking. The city is home to some of the greatest cocktails ever invented, including the Sazerac, Vieux Carré, Ramos Gin Fizz, Milk Punch, La Louisiane, Brandy Crusta, Absinthe Frappé and Hurricane. If you thought New York was the city that never sleeps, try visiting New Orleans, where the bars stay open 24/7. The nation flocks to NOLA during Mardi Gras to drink in the streets, and Bourbon Street keeps the party going 365 days a year. Go to New York for a drink and a show. Go to New Orleans for a drink and another drink.
CHAMPION: New Orleans