The 22 Best Whiskey Bars in America
Whether you drink it neat, on the rocks, or through a hilarious straw attached to your hat, whiskey is one of America's most beloved spirits, slightly edging out Sriracha-flavored vodka. And if you know where to go, you can get your hands on some of the rarest, most coveted whiskeys on the planet, as well as delicious cocktails that feature everyone's favorite brown water. We've found the best bars from sea to shining sea in which to drink whiskey -- now it's up to you to get off your ass and visit every one of them. Just maybe leave your whiskey hat at home.
Plenty of bars try to emulate the pre-Prohibition speakeasy vibe, but Saloon nails it: there's a semi-hidden stairwell and 17th century monastery doors you have to pass through to get to the bar, plus warm wood and leather-filled décor when you arrive. The 150+ whiskeys don't disappoint either, including a BenRiach 2001 cask strength you can only find in MA. They're also pouring serious pre-Prohibition cocktails, including the bourbon, Benedictine, lemon, and lime-filled Friso Sour, aka Crabtree's face after Sherman destroyed him.
What you're drinking: The Pass (Breckenridge bourbon, Cynar, vermouth, Teapot Bitters)
St. Clair Shores, MI
A suburban Detroit neighborhood drinkery named after a family tradition of running out to "get butter" (but then using it as an excuse to get a quick one at the bar), it's only a little over a year old, but they already stock the most whiskeys in the entire state of Michigan at over 300. And like many of the stellar bars on this list, they're pouring a hand-selected single-barrel, this one from Kentucky's Angel's Envy.
What you're drinking: Basil Basil (Basil Hayden's bourbon, muddled basil, grapefruit bitters, splash of St. Germain)
Screw the Space Needle, this is the only place worth visiting in Seattle. Canon offers 1) the largest selection of American whiskey in the world, 2) a 94-page spirits menu, with nine pages worth of rare whiskeys, 3) space-age devices like centrifuges to make cocktails with, and 4) a bar where every piece of wood is stained with Angostura bitters.
What you're drinking: Skull & Blackberries (Canon select Double Double Rye, dark rum, Rossbacher, blackberry, blueberry smoke)
Warm, barrel-shaped light fixtures above the bar help accentuate the 100+ whiskey bottles behind it, a collection that encompasses the best of America's bourbons and ryes. Even a former Maker's Mark distiller stopped by recently and was impressed they were stocking Maker's Black Wax, a bottle made specifically for the Japanese market. For the cocktail drinker, four different barrel-aged 'tails are aged in-house for two weeks in Kings County Distillery barrels.
What you're drinking: A barrel-aged Old Fashioned
Sure, they've got the requisite 150+ whiskeys from all over the world (including rarer Pappys and Jefferson selects) and master distillers dropping by for tastings, but what separates them from your average KY bourbon palace is the ambience: live music four nights a week, Doctor Who pinball, a stacked vintage jukebox, and a Centipede arcade -- gross, they made a video game out of that movie?!
What you're drinking: Kentucky Corpse Reviver (Old Ezra 7-year, Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, Lillet, absinthe, bitters, lemon juice, powdered sugar)
New York, NY
A brick-walled West Village spot that loves its Scotch (Highland Park 18-year, Scapa 16-year), Highlands stocks 250+ bottles that include liquor from America as well, like single-barrel goodies from Balcones and Spring 44. The food menu's highlighted by elevated pub food like whiskey barrel-smoked pork chops, a dish best paired with a barrel-aged Old Fashioned.
What you're drinking: The Catholic Guilt (Black Grouse blended Scotch, fig + orange bitters, ginger syrup, lemon, Fernet-Branca float)
Watching the Nets try to play basketball will drive anyone to drink, so it's no surprise that one of NYC's finest whiskey bars has 400+ bottles of brown water, like the ultra-rare Jefferson's Presidential Select 30-year. Just make sure you're prepared to fork over about $75 a pour. It'll be worth it. Despite the high-end booze, the bar manages to keep things casual, with an inviting back-lit bar, and a food menu made up solely of seven delicious grilled cheeses.
What you're drinking: Scottish Mule (Monkey Shoulder Scotch, lemon juice, bitters, ginger beer)
Certainly the only drinking establishment on this list located in the same building as a small-batch distillery (that would be Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey), Rackhouse is operated independently from Stranahan's, but offers one of the only places in the state to get a pour of Snowflake, a rare whiskey aged in wine barrels that Coloradans have been known to camp out for in freezing temps. They also offer a varied list of single-malt Scotches like Lagavulin 16-year and Balvenie DoubleWood 12-year.
What you're drinking: Snowflake (they run out within a few days of getting a bottle, so be lucky)
Los Angeles, CA
Decked out in warm woods and deer heads, the "Japanese-inspired whiskey sipping lounge" gives Downtown LA access to fine bottles from all over the world, like a Yamazaki 18-year and a Bushmills 1608 Anniversary Edition. And just last year they opened Bar Jackalope, an exclusive 18-seat bar-within-a-bar with 120+ bottles and cocktails that seek to emulate what you'd be served in Japan.
What you're drinking: Japanese Highball (Japanese whiskey, filtered soda water on draft)
There is no better place in the world to enjoy Kentucky whiskey (or bourbons/ryes), especially because that's the only kind of whiskey you'll find behind the bar. If you momentarily forget you're in Kentucky while sipping on an Elijah Craig 12-year, the honky tonk records playing on vinyl behind the bar will remind you.
What you're drinking: Four Roses Single Barrel
Most of the bars noted here are dimly lit, underground lairs that look like they're owned by a supervillain, but this Austin spot bucks the trend with a solid patio, and over 90+ whiskeys you won't find in many other places in TX: a Pow-wow Botanical Rye and the Four Roses 125th Anniversary.
What you're drinking: Old Potrero 18th Century served neat
Despite the way the bar spells "whisky" in the name, they're not just pouring brown water from Scotland (though you shouldn't miss the peaty-as-hell Bruichladdich Octomore 5-year that tastes like “falling facedown into a bonfire”). There's also 300+ bottles from all over the world, including Washington-based distilleries like Westland and Woodinville. Pair the booze with haggis and other English pub food, and enjoy the experience of being in a library setting that happens to contain whiskey instead of books.
What you're drinking: Manhattan (their cherries are steeped in bourbon and sugar)
Music City's favorite speakeasy is decked out with not just one, but two chandeliers on either side of the bar, because that's the sort of class you'd expect from a Southern pre-Prohibition cocktail bar. All the Pappy Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace rarities (Antique Collection, E.H. Taylor, Jr.) are stocked, as well as Nashville's own Belle Meade bourbon.
What you're drinking: Golden Suit (Belle Meade bourbon, apricot liqueur, lemon juice, Falernum, nutmeg)
Portland's whiskey culture took a turn for the insane with the launch of MLS, which is less a bar than a church of mash set up to look like the 1920s' finest gentlemen's lounge (minus the cigar smoke and hookers). With 1,500+ whiskeys stacked along a huge brick wall and accessed by ladder, things can get a little overwhelming, but thankfully there are roaming bartenders who serve up whiskeys dim sum-style on carts and have an extensive knowledge of the pours (and also of mustache wax). It's the most fun you'll have drinking in a library since college.
What you're drinking: Something you've never heard of. Pick a price point, then let the bartenders do the rest.
A bar built from the ruins of an 1800s-era building that "smells like a good place to drink whiskey," The Bar is Chef Sean Brock's temple to Southern ingredients -- which explains the 40+ bourbons (and 100+ total). Whiskey-based cocktails and punches abound, including one punch recipe dug up by the local preservation society that dates to the pre-Civil War era.
What you're drinking: Fire in the Orchard (Rye whiskey, smoked apple juice, Cointreau, brandy, bitters, pickled jalapeño, and a sugar cube over ice)
With one of the biggest collections of bourbon in the US, BT is a must-visit whenever you’re rolling through Lexington on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, or just visiting your uncle John Calipari. Post up at the long, long bar, or snag a spot at one of their big-barrel tables, and order up one of 230 bourbons, especially something vintage you likely won’t be able to get anywhere else but a very old boozehound’s basement, and you can easily forget that you’re all alone in this big world, and don’t actually know anyone in Lexington.
What you're drinking: Whatever the good gentlemen behind the bar recommend (though they also do a fine Manhattan)
James Beard-winning restaurateur Jose Garces puts his spin on the whiskey bar by plating modern pub eats (duck fat fries, lobster mac and cheese) with 100+ whiskeys, like the small-batch A.H. Hirsch 16-year Reserve bourbon you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. A focused cocktail menu with a mix of Prohibition and modern 'tails is best enjoyed at the bar, where you can stare longingly at their impressive stash.
What you're drinking: The Atomizer (Rye whiskey, dry vermouth, ginger syrup, lemon, orange bitters)
San Francisco, CA
Most San Franciscans, unless they play soccer or have a very weird reason to visit the Cow Palace, never make it South to the Crocker-Amazon-Excelsior part of the city. Which is fine with the rest of the people who’ve discovered one of the best, most underrated bars pretty much anywhere. A perfect mix of dive/serious whiskey bar, BR is the place to get some of the finest whiskeys in the city, but for basically half the price you’d pay downtown. Bonus: the food is hella good too.
What you're drinking: Belgian Owl Single Malt
Michelin-starred gastropubs typically aren't also world-class whiskey bars (then again, tire companies typically aren't also trusted restaurant critics), but L&E isn't your average restaurant: it's also an inn, with six highly coveted rooms that are extremely difficult to book. Even if you can't get a room, you can still enjoy one of 140+ whiskeys, especially in their newly opened Off Site Bar in the back of the space, which features bar snacks and an enviable Scotch list.
What you're drinking: L&E Flight (three single-barrel selections: Bernheim Wheat Whiskey, Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve 9-year, and a Willett 21-year)
San Francisco, CA
The Embarcadero, for a long time, was mainly a tourist trap. A place where you’d see Cal frat bros falling over the railing at Sinbad’s and tourists wandering through the Ferry Building killing time 'til they made the trek out to Alcatraz. But now, thanks to places like Coqueta and Hard Water, all that has changed. HW is the darling child of famed Slanted Door owner Charles Phan, and it feels nothing like a normal whiskey bar -- it’s sleek, modern, and airy. But then you drink one of the six Pappy Van Winkles they offer as a tasting flight or some of their extremely rare, allocated, and out-of-production brown booze, and you realize looks can be deceiving.
What you're drinking: Old Potrero Straight Rye with a water back
St. Louis, MO
Since opening in October 2013, Gamlin has acquired a serious collection of 270+ whiskeys, including a single-barrel Knob Creek, all five Pappys, and a '74 A.R. Hirsch that's $300 for a 2.5oz pour. The whiskey sommelier on duty can help you select one. Despite the "sommelier," things are kept quite casual, with servers often dressed in T-shirts. Each dish on the steak-heavy menu also has a pre-selected whiskey pairing to help the food go down.
What you're drinking: Kentucky Mule (Old Grand-Dad bourbon, house-made ginger beer infused with lime -- served as a slush)
Stepping into Jack Rose is like taking a trip to whiskey heaven: 1,800ish bottles crowd the shelves (it's the largest collection in the Western Hemisphere), there's brown water on four taps, affordable prices for pours from rare bottles, and multiple well-appointed bars at which to drink whiskey 'tails.
What you're drinking: Surgeon General's Warning (Old Bardstown bourbon, tobacco syrup, Cherry Heering, orange, and lemon)
Lee Breslouer writes about food and drink for Thrillist, and misses the Wendy's SuperBar. Follow him @LeeBreslouer, because you can't make up a name that good.