The Best Bars in Atlanta Right Now
The bar scene in Atlanta has gone from mostly nightclubs to craft cocktails, Great Gatsby overload, locals-only dives, the cigar aficionado’s scene, and secretive spots where you need knowledge of hidden doors. Nothing's wrong with any of that; it’s just that we’ve had these come in waves of too much at once for too long. But the great news is that Atlanta now has a little bit of everything, and everyone’s stepping it up to make sure they’re justifying those steadily higher-creeping prices. That means you can get out in the city and find liquid satisfaction in all sorts of styles, and we’re here to help you with that, with an update on where you should be boozing right now in Atlanta.
Decatur Square’s world-renowned beer lover’s base camp
If you insist on finding a reason to critique Brick Store Pub, it’s probably because you live somewhere that’s not exactly close (hey westsiders!). But it’s hard to stay away from this gorgeously beer-moody house of ale, and not just because they will always and forever have brews on tap that hardly anybody but The Porter will get. The main reason is because you don’t have to be a “beer person” to fall in love with the more romantic side of brewing, whether you’re into the new wave of American and Southern crafts, or are a committed fan of Belgians, which are always available in plentitude in the upstairs Belgian Bar.
Brick Store Pub also constantly hosts great cheese-paired beer events, from the annual dirndls-and-lederhosen-draped Oktoberfest to Trappist Nights. And if you don’t see something mind-blowing on the constantly changing draft, you'll be impressed by the cellar, with hard-to-find 750mls split into American, Belgian, and International categories, just waiting to take you on a brick-enclosed trip around the sudsy world.
Pitch-perfect cocktails from a master barman
When it was announced that brilliant barman Miles Macquarrie, who’s helped lead Kimball House to five James Beard nominations, would be back behind the bar at least three nights per week at his intown seafood and spirits shop, lots of folks understood that to be a great thing. Not that Watchman’s wasn’t already solid with its liquids, but there’s nothing like when troops see their general leading the charge into battle. Perhaps that’s dramatic, but dramatic is also a great way to describe the difference between beverages prepared by the seasoned cocktail vet and the average booze-slinger. Macquarrie’s all about pushing folks to consider different cocktails than they usually order, and the drinks are always changing and seasonal, so if you miss the Honeycrisp apple daiquiri or the double-rummed eggnog, just ask for whatever’s around in your preferred spirit.
Atlanta’s best/worst in-on-the-joke bar
The Victory Brands guys, who’ve been masterful at cultivating quality menus and unique experiences in pretty much everything they’ve opened, could have totally effed up with this unbelievably kitschy bar. From the exterior it looks like a place where people get murdered. Painted in yellow, on the brown-painted cement wall enclosing the patio, are the statements “Good Food,” “False Advertising,” and “Cold Beer,” in that order.
It’s basically your boozed-up aunt and uncle’s bar, where everything looks like it should have been thrown away years ago but was kept so well-polished that it would have been a shame. It’s a new dive that’s destined to survive. Plus, they’ve got $5 happy hour every weekday from 5-7pm, dinner specials every weeknight except Thursday (snow crab by the pound on Mondays, prime rib on Tuesdays, fried chicken on Wednesdays, and a Friday fish fry), and a cheap backlit bar menu where you can get a “good,” “better,” or “whatever” version of your favorite spirit, prepared “quick” or “fancy.” It’s terrible and beautiful, and it’s where we all belong.
A new BeltLine bar that’s not just for the birds
This former train depot, outfitted with a “continental” old-school vibe that includes plaid carpet, leather chairs, and a wooden horseshoe bar wrapped with crushed velvet, doesn’t make sense for this decade. But the drinks are stellar, whether you’re down with something tiki like the blue Hawaiian, or the huge Rise of the Phoenix, which is similar to a giant mai tai for three very exotic people. They also have a tableside service old fashioned, which comes to you in a case and is poured from a decanter, at $75 for a serving for four. The location, right at the edge of Memorial Drive at the BeltLine, is hard to beat.
The exclusive rooftop bar most folks would never find
Folks know about Nine Mile Station and RFD Social, two great options for drinking with a view from The Roof at Ponce City Market. But not everyone has seen the membership-driven private bar upstairs, in the highest publicly accessible space at PCM: 12. You don’t have to be a member to get in, but you will have to make reservations at a $50-per-person fee to access the plush, intimate space that actually looks down on Skyline Park, even as those folks think they’re looking down at the rest of the city. It’s known to host Atlanta United players, movie stars, local influential types, and people who prefer not to drink with everybody else, but what really stands apart is the service and bar program, which includes lots of infused premium booze and specialty cocktails, including an old fashioned they make with brown-butter-washed whiskey.
The secret BeltLine bar everybody wants to be seen in
The ladies at 18.21 Bitters entered the bar business with a boom with the tonics, mixers, and bitters that are far and away favorites of many local watering holes. It only made sense then to open their own place, but with a location that’s hidden in plain sight behind a cafe door in SPX Alley, giving it the sort of appeal you’d normally assign to approachable celebrities instead of a place. And perhaps that’s why you’ll see those types and other sexy Atlantans in the backroom bar, surrounded by gray-painted walls and fitted with lots of leather furnishings in brown, black, and green hues. It’s both high-class and cozy, is frequented by some of the city’s most connected insiders and modern power players (is that you, Takeo Spikes?), and is where you need to be if you’re looking for an innocently sippable low-to-no-ABV cocktail, or a stronger statement-making drink like the “Miss MoneyPenny, If You’re Nasty,” which blends Scotch, mezcal, St. George spiced pear, rosemary, and more.
A self-serve BeltLine spot for beer, wine, and cocktails on tap
There’s something magical about being able to try lots of different drinks on your own without having to wait on service. That’s the theme at Pour, where you get a glass and a QR-coded card attached to a lanyard, which you scan in front of the drink you’re interested in consuming before pouring and sipping by the ounce. You pay when you’re all done, and they’ve got everything organized from IPAs to sours and beyond, plus a section of tapped mixed drinks and even a few wines. And they’ve even partnered with nextdoor neighbor Nina & Rafi to offer those thick Detroit-style pizzas in-house, without making you walk over.
The ATL-based distiller’s second location gives SW BeltLiners a taste
Giving Atlanta its first totally locally made bourbon took years, and to their credit, ASW did a fantastic job creating blends that stood apart long before Fiddler Soloist came to market, and creating an experience in their Buckhead flagship location that didn’t feel like just another barrel room tour. But with the Whiskey Exchange, they’ve setup a way to let curious and thirsty folks try their juice in several options: neat pours, cocktails and even bourbon slushies.
Those cocktails, which come with 0.75-ounce pours of alcohol, include the honey/ginger/lemon Earl of Bourbon (mixed w/ Earl Grey tea), and the Double Gold Fashioned, named for the fact that it’s made with Duality Double Malt, Georgia’s first whiskey to win Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. And being next to all the breweries at Lee + White, it’s a perfect pour when you’re ready to step up from beer without losing your stride -- something very important if you’re considering walking the Southwest BeltLine when you’ve built a bit of a buzz.
A gorgeous, cocktail-forward bar and restaurant
With a bright neon sign outside bearing its name, and another inside that reads “Bless Your Heart,” this beautifully decorated dining and drinking establishment looks like a blue-bathed capsule separating the past and the future. One side is brick walls, the other, beyond the arched ceiling, employs dark, glossy paint to reflect the lighting and feeling from being in a place so obviously created by a guy (Chef Joey Ward, formerly exec chef at Gunshow) smitten with regal ladies, especially his wife and co-owner Emily. You’ll framed images of The Notorious R.B.G. as well as Blondie from Clermont Lounge, colorful flower arrangements at tables, and a gorgeous outdoor patio featuring a plant wall and a pink/blue floral Creature Comforts mural. It’s the cocktail-forward casual side of a two-part experience that also includes a secret bookcase entry to Ward’s just-opened creative southern restaurant Georgia Boy, where four seatings for eight guests are offered every evening, along with a 16-seat, reservation-only chef’s menu tasting.
A group of local superfriends puts a new twist on an old favorite
When Twist closed a few years ago, it changed the dynamic of Phipps Plaza as a drinking scene. Now, as Agency, the space has three main partners -- media executive Ryan Glover, restaurateur Giovanni Di Palma, and tech entrepreneur Paul Judge -- and a new atmosphere and vibe intended to attract the new ATL elite. It’s undergone a new interior design, which is part-ultralounge, and part-gallery, thanks to works from visual artist DL Warfield and others. With low-gravity cocktails like the Poinsetta (Cava, triple sec, and cranberry juice), and standard Manhattans, old fashioneds, and more, it’s for the crown that leans into luxury, and is a great option for those looking to get into the Buckhead scene.
A small bar for those who like sophistication with their sauce
The building is on Peters Street, but the entry faces Fair Street, which means if you’re not already looking for it you might pass Parlour on your way to one of the other bars lining Castleberry’s main bar strip. But that’s not to say you should be missing the opportunity, especially if you’re looking for a more classic approach to cocktailing, curated specifically to prioritize the comfort of POC. It’s elegant, intimate (800-ish square feet), and impressive with its libations menu, whose drinks are not rushed and arrive in very swanky crystal stemware. The crushed blue velvet couches and bright pink gradient paint on walls decked with strikingly beautiful profile portraits, provide a perfect ambiance for drinks like the Parlor Penicillin (Courvoisier VSOP, spiced pear liqueur, turmeric ginger juice, honey syrup, and lemon), so make sure you’re dressed to portray a little reverence for pre-Prohibition-era black excellence.
ATL’s favorite bar to commiserate over politics
The crowd at this recently renovated, famously Democratic, 60-year-old political watering hole may have been on the sadder side of drinking as the Election Night 2016 results came in, but that doesn’t mean Manuel’s won’t survive many local, state, and federal political movements for years to come -- they'll always be ready with a standard, un-fancy cocktail and plenty of Poncey-Highland tradition.
A beautifully bluesy bar for fun, dirty drinking
In a boxy space that looks almost literally like a hole in the wall, Northside Tavern stands in bluesy, smoky, dirty opposition to every newly developed property along Howell Mill and throughout the greater westside area. The amazingly strong drinks don’t get fancier than two or three ingredients, but that’s only because the booze is basically an accomplice to the live blues and dirty dancing you’ll either participate in, or view from the back corner pool tables.
Edgewood’s all-welcoming Italian food and drink staple
There’s dancing, drag, and good drinking to get involved with at the Italian restaurant that some folks don’t even know plates delicious food. That’s only because the beer selection is super-solid, the cocktails were crafty and delicious long before Edgewood and Boulevard became a thing, and when you’re drinking, it’s totally cool to think about your grandmother, since that’s who the owner named the place after.
The rooftop bar in Ponce Street Market that comes with a carnival
With the panoramic views from the rooftop of PCM, 9 Mile Station sets an already high atmospheric bar (pun intended), but takes the actual bar part even higher by giving you a beer garden where you can pick your pour from 12 often-rotating craft draft taps, choose from their full assortment of liquors and classically prepared cocktails, or try one of several champagnes and sparkling wines from the “sparkling bar.”
Amazing mai tais and other masterfully made libations in PCM
We think pretty highly of Sean Gleason who, in an establishment marketed to sell the air-dried, charcuterie-ish, South African version of beef jerky, has created a truly outstanding bar program. Even if you don’t really drink much, you can’t go wrong with cocktails with names like “Absinthe Father” and “Bizarre Love Triangle,”or those with names that are easier to attach to autumn, such as the bourbon/pumpkin/pecan punt e mes “Harvest Moon” which is finished with a dash of fall spices.
Bartending overlords tirelessly improving your drinking palate
The two bartending all-stars (Greg Best and Paul Calvert) made TC an instant classic, and part of the reason is because at just over a year in age they’re still kicking ass with season-appropriate drinks like the “Dream Lover,” which includes aged rum, moscatel sherry, Gran Classico, and orange and Angostura bitters. Also try the geniusly balanced “Pencil Shifting,” made with Banyuls fortified dessert wine, espresso liqueur, lime, salt, and Pineau des Charentes French aperitif.
Monumental cocktails that raised the bar in Midtown
Hugh Acheson is cool, but as far as reasons for visiting ESS, bar manager Kellie Thorn’s beverages are just as important. Pretty much all the cocktails have an ingredient you either have to Google or you're not sure how it works with other ingredients, but then you try it and say words like, “Hot damn,” although with great class, flair, and sophistication. It’s a particularly good spot to enjoy inventive rum drinks, such as the herbal and bubbly Exile on Martinique, which also has green chartreuse and sparkling wine mixed in, or the sweet and spicy Rum the Jewels, with pineapple rum, ancho, elderflower, and sherry.
The bar that made Buckhead actually bearable
You always want to try every drink on the menu at the not-too-bourgeois Buckhead bar -- and not just because you’ve heard how well they pair with cheeseburgers. It’s intimately sized and welcoming to all, whether you’re wearing a sport coat or an Adidas track suit. They take their time making drinks, whether you order a classic boulevardier or something creative like the Beatrix Kiddo, made with mezcal, pineapple, lime, and yellow chartreuse. And don’t forget to grab a free pen on your way out.
Everybody’s favorite Blade Runner-inspired drink spot
Just like the name itself, this place is hard to stay out of. The iconic neon “LT” sign has a life of its own on social media, and you might be surprised by how great the small plates of shishitos, Asian buns, spicy wings, and meats on sticks are. But the drinks are where it gets special, and the music is fantastic. It’s hard to trust the availability of their online menu at any given time, but just ask for a Paper Plane or The Biggest Bird, or whatever they’re doing with bourbon at the moment. Become a regular and they might just pour you a shot of sake when you check in at the bar.
New Orleans and Vietnam had drinks together and then made a bar baby
You’ve gotta love Bon Ton just for the silliness of its website, but even if you don’t have their outstanding Vietnamese-Creole food, you’d be crazy not to try one of partner -- and long-respected ATL bartender -- Eric Simpkins’ drinks. He’s put together offerings like tapped Sazeracs, drinks that sound crazy but taste/feel great like the Hanoi Hurrah (rum, brandy, orange, cinnamon, and Vietnamese coffee), a frozen Pimm’s Cup, “Beer and a Shorty” combos like Tokyo Black Porter and Fernet Branca Menta, and a ton of tapped, canned, and bottled beers, including a few 750 milliliters. They also have an amazing red neon sign against one of the gray concrete walls that simply says “Fancy Service.” It’s a great place to have good times without rolling to Louisiana.
Tiki drinks and natural wines across from Ponce City Market
Inside the restaurant 8ARM, you’ll find a minimalist, white-walled and wood-tabled den with delicious food by the plate. Outside, next to a covered patio, you’ll find fruity, boozy tropical drinks under tiny umbrellas, coming from a bar built into a renovated shipping container, which is covered with weird murals and funky lighting. And although INK, the 20-seat cocktail bar a few steps up from the main dining room, is now closed, they’ve replaced it with a natural wine bar, where you can get biodynamic and organic vinos, flights of wine, sherry or vermouth, and magnums, which are on special on Saturdays.
Consistent center-town cocktail creativity
This Juniper Street bar, has maintained a reputation as one of Midtown’s most reliable institutions for ingesting top-quality alcoholic drinks. Everything’s pretty adventurous, with unexpected flavor mixes highlighted in stuff like “Impressions Of A Body,” which is Bols Genever, Hayman's Royal Dock Gin, Grand Brulot, raw sugar, lemon, cardamom, and a little oatmeal stout. They make other neat stuff like the Lady Lawrence (lavender mint tea vodka, ginger, cassis, lime), which is contrasted with the stronger, possibly crazier but still delicious “The 'Mad' Madame,” which is a mixture of Glasgow Scotch, Plantation pineapple rum, Fernet Vallet, lime, and tiki bitters.
The BeltLine’s best place to stop in for sipping
When you think of BeltLine drinking, you should automatically include Ladybird, which kinda kicked off the entire idea of stopping along the trail for a respectable beverage. They’re big on local, whether it’s beer from Scofflaw, Arches, Reformation, Wild Heaven, SweetWater, and the other usual suspects (at press time they have Creature Comforts’ Koko Buni milk porter, which is a mythical yeti of beers). And there’s always a seasonal punch for outdoor group sipping properly priced at $100 for 16 servings, or eight drinks for $55. They also tiki, with the bayou-spiced rum and peach liqueur “Broken Compass.” Don’t worry, you’re still on the BeltLine -- it just feels breezier with booze like this.
A classic cigar bar with the novelty secret door, naturally
There’s a reason most of the 1920s-themed speakeasies that kept opening a few years ago have mostly failed: They were more concept than quality. Compare them to Red Phone Booth, which originated as Prohibition in Buckhead, then moved Downtown with a new name but all the same benefits. They still make some of the best cocktails in the city, have a highly respectable menu, and double as a cigar bar where you can sip some of the most exclusive bourbons and whiskeys in town. Just ask them to show you their Pappy.
A former train station serving up A+ cocktails and oysters
As one of the only places in Georgia to be nominated for a Beard Award this past year, Kimball House is the former train depot where brilliant barkeep Miles Macquarrie has built an unrivaled absinthe program and some of the most inimitable cocktails you can find in the area. Even simple classics like the French 75 are upgraded via carbonated muscadet, and they sell a bottled old fashioned made with cola bitters and a mix of bourbon and rye. The absinthe service goes through the entire process right in front of you, with the bottle dripping into sugar-cubed spoons for the smoothest sip possible. And of course there’s the fact that KH still has the city’s best (and best-priced) oysters, which you should already know and should be chasing with whatever your preferred beverage is.
A standing-only bar you’ll be back to time and time again
Don’t let your spirits sink just because AMER closed. In its place is a simpler sanctuary of beverages, with comfort and basic joy being the premise on which it was founded. It’s a bar-only setup where you’ll find murals of great musicians (Tupac Shakur, Biggie, Bowie, Prince) dressed as patron saints adorning the walls. You can also order up crazy drinks like the ODB (aged rum, vanilla, tobacco bitters, and a spritz of mezcal), and the super-boozed “Chasing the Dragon,” which includes gin, amaro, absinthe, and other things that will have you spitting that hot fire.
THE beer destination for true connoisseurs
You know The Porter is one of the world’s highest-rated beer bars. You know they have every beer imaginable, which includes beers you haven’t yet imagined. And you even know they have amazing snacks, from the vinegar/salt popcorn to the fries (which might be the city’s best). But did you know they also have one of Atlanta’s most solid Bloody Marys? Their house-infused, four-pepper vodka makes all the difference (and the pickled okra doesn’t hurt). That said, you’ll still want to thumb through page after page of their beer list, which includes hundreds of suds. And keep up with happenings through their blog which will tell you when they’re hosting amazing events like Zwanze Day (September 17), a Flemish celebration at which there will be 50 first-come-first-served tickets sold to anybody that wants to taste one-of-a-kind lambics.
It went from almost-demolished to a boozy, gilded glamour
Of course you can still go way downstairs if you want cold PBR and toplessness (seriously), but for a fancier trip back in time, hit the Lobby Bar and Rooftop at Hotel Clermont, where the former makes a fashionable impression that pays homage to the hotel’s seedy roots but with a proper dash of modern class that doesn’t wash away the funk. Upstairs and outside you’ll find turf on the floor and beachy cocktails that will make you realize just how primed this building always was for a respectable renovation. You’ll also find unrivaled drinks, particularly if you like herbal things. Definitely try the Grey Lady (gin, lemon, lavender bitters, egg white, Earl Grey tea, and Gewürztraminer wine).
The music-driven drinkhouse that relaunched a neighborhood
You may or may not have been around when The Sound Table arrived on Boulevard and Edgewood, but there’s no denying that this is the bar that made the Old Fourth Ward intersection what it is today. Some of Atlanta’s best bar talent has worked here, from Navarro Carr to Keyatta Mincey to Paul Calvert, and on and on. And it’s still got some of the best DJs spinning from Wednesday to Sunday, because you can’t help but dance after you down strong stuff like the fruity rum-based Boulevard Zombie, or the unmistakably southern “The Little Law,” which mixes Hendrick’s gin, lemon, absinthe, Suze, and a sweet tea reduction.
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