The Best Whiskey Bars in Atlanta
Atlanta has myriad options when you’re looking for something niche or particular. For instance, if you like animals, you go to Zoo Atlanta. If you like puppets, you can either go to the Center for Puppetry Arts near Spring and 17th, or you can attend a Cobb County commission meeting when the Braves’ new stadium is on the agenda. But if it’s whiskey you’re after, look no further than this highly detailed, scrupulously chosen, incontrovertible list of the best places in ATL to drink it.
With a name that sounds more like a whiskey brand than a bar, and a “Book of Whiskey” detailing its treasury of more than 150 bottles of Irish, American, Canadian, and Japanese whisk(e)y, and premium Scotch, Mac is a heavy hitter. Some, like Stranahan's Colorado, Powers Irish, High West Campfire Rye, and Virgil Kaine ginger-infused bourbon, are used in cocktails; others you can taste in flights. It also holds tasting events like single malt Scotch-paired dinners every fourth Wednesday.
It’s less about the neat pour and more about the finished cocktail when it comes to MU’s muddy-water abilities. The three house concoctions proving this are the Smoking Jacket (rye, chicory, sweet vermouth, smoked tea), the bourbon/peach/lemon Raphael Moses Sour, and the Southern Sun, with 12-year bourbon, house vanilla bitters, and a maple shrub.
It’s rare that a brand-new place makes a “best of” anything list in Atlanta, but we trust RPB since it’s basically Buckhead’s old Prohibition secret-entry cigar lounge with the London phone booth front door. Those whiskey-colored backlit ceilings are back, and the decor is similarly speakeasy: brick floors, fireplace, a honey onyx bar, custom Italian leather couches, a guy in suspenders, probably. It's even added a private “mob-style” kitchen with pool and poker tables.
Art Smith, of Southern Art, knows that most artists drink A LOT of whiskey… or knows you do, because he put a bourbon bar across from his restaurant and proceeded to call it Bourbon Bar, as Art Smith gives zero fucks. And we’re glad he did it. You’ll find more than 70 bourbons at the bar, and there are six featured pours on the menu that they recommend you sip while nibbling fruit, nuts, or chocolate, ranging from $10 Rebel Yell Reserve to $21 Blanton’s single-barrel.
The feeling of drinking in a brick-columned basement underneath one of ATL’s fancier historic hotels will be nice enough to pull you in. The strength of the whiskey cocktails will be enough to keep you there. Whether you go barrel-aged or opt for hand-crafted drinks like the Firm Handshake with Redemption Rye and fernet; The Truth, which uses its private label Edgar’s Truth bourbon and pineapple-citrus sour; or the Southern 75, which substitutes Four Roses bourbon and SweetWater IPA for the French 75’s gin and Champagne, it’s impossible to choose wrong.
Little Alley is unbeatable in terms of sheer quantity. When you walk in and see chalkboards scribbled with more than 200 whiskeys, Scotches, and bourbons, you’ll remember why you’re drinking in the North Fulton County area. The top-shelf stuff includes Johnny Walker Blue, 21-year Macallan, 23-year Pappy Van Winkle (side note: not cheap), and cask-strength 138-proof George T. Stagg bourbon. All delicious options, but in more ways than one, you might need another drink after you’ve paid for your first.
The walls, chandeliers, and 360-degree bar are all crafted of white-oak wood, which has the effect of making you feel like you’re drinking whiskey inside a giant whiskey barrel. Plus you have almost 80 choices in the brown spirits department. There are lots of big-time bourbons including Old Blowhard Orphan Barrel 26-year, 14 whiskeys, 24 ryes, and lots of Scotch, including -- but not limited to -- a fine 25-year Glenlivet.
You’ll find an impossibly long and respectably unique list of highly rated browns here, categorized from ultra-premium Japanese whisky (like Yamazaki 18-year, which is noted for spiced flavors of toffee, walnut, chocolate, and dried apricot), to “Wheat, Corn & Clear” (Woodford Reserve Straight Malt). You’ll also notice straight ryes like Jefferson’s 21-year, an amazing load of Kentucky-made bourbons, and even a few from GA, including Savannah 88, made with grains supplied by local farmers.
Though it's more traditionally known for absinthe service (great) and a recent tilt towards rum drinks (also great), the former train depot known as KH can use those tinctures and droplets of strangely wonderful bitters and tonics to make a super-mean Sazerac, whiskey smash with lemon vinegar, and the Room Key, which is a mixture of rye, strawberry quina (it’s an aperitif), vermouth, semillon verjus, and bitter orange liqueur.
Obviously a place with a $90 rye on the menu takes its whiskey seriously. That specific brand is the 100-proof Rittenhouse 25-year Single Barrel, and has long, smooth notes of coffee, cherries, and chocolate -- $90-long. Too rich for your blood/budget? Try the $16 Japanese Nikka Coffey Grain, any of the Canadian, Irish, or American whiskeys, or one of four-dozen bourbons including Russell’s Reserve 1998, of which only 2,000 bottles were made. Look, good whiskey costs money, but don’t worry. Whiskey Wednesdays are there for you, when half-priced whiskey cocktails at the bar are around $5 apiece.
This no-frills, literary-ish lounge is down-to-earth and plenty affordable. Regulars remark about it being one of those “dark, woody spaces with character,” and although we’ve seen plenty of this with movies like Natural Born Killers, in real life, TBP is much more approachable. Not only is there a wide selection, but all pretense is dropped along with prices. Here, $25 will get you Johnny Walker Blue, Macallan 18-year, and Yamazaki 18-year.
The food here is delicious, and if you’re drinking glasses of whiskey, you should eat. But first, enjoy the natural lighting let in by the floor-to-ceiling windows and check out the spirits menu, which has 22 bourbons (Basil Hayden, Woodford Reserve, Jefferson’s Ocean, etc.), 11 ryes including Whistle Pig 15-year, eight blends like Parker’s Heritage Wheat, and a great group of single malts including France’s banana/crème brûlée/burnt caramel-tinged Brenne.
If you’re into drinking alone, but feeling somehow not alone, you should probably find a friend to make sure you’re not going off the deep end. Then take them to Steinbeck’s. The smaller setting is ideal for the strong stuff, and its two-page menu of brown spirits goes from everyman tastes (“Poor Man’s Pappy” house blend), to Willett XCF (Exploratory Cask Finish) rye, which was aged in curacao casks (kind of like Grand Marnier, apparently) and has notes of sugar molasses, much like you used to pass to your middle-school crush before the world crushed you and you started drinking expensive whiskey in bars, alone.
Bar manager Taylor Blackgrave put together a stellar program of earth-hued spirits, separating Japanese, Irish, Scotch, and other malts into “Blended” (Compass Box Hedonism from Scotland), “Soft & Elegant” (Highland Park 15), and “Rich & Robust” (you, until you spent all your money on whiskey). The American selection starts at George Dickel and goes (thankfully) up into Hillrock's Solera blend bourbon from New York, and High West's A Midwinter’s Night Dram, which boasts an aroma reminiscent of red wine.
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