The 21 Best Bar Games, Definitively Ranked

Bars used to simply be places to drink, smoke, and maybe talk. Now that laws have gotten rid of the smoking and Snapchat has gotten rid of the talking, bars are left with a ton of downtime to fill to keep patrons busy. But even as you sit there nursing your beer or cocktail and catching up with friends, it’s important to remember that -- hey, is that frigging Jenga?!?!

Bar games include everything from old-school staples like pool to board games and even skill-based machines that require -- gasp -- some modicum of athleticism. Here are the 21 best games to play in a bar, ranked. Think of how cool they'll look in your next Snapchat video!

Apples to Apples
Flickr/Sandor Weisz

21. Apples to Apples

It may have lost some luster to Cards Against Humanity, but at least you can play this game at a bar with your parents without having to bring casual prostitution up in conversation or explain to them what smegma is.

20. Uno

It's easy to teach, easy to play, and allows for quick games that usually end in someone screaming, "YOU'RE ALL GANGING UP ON ME." That especially sucks for the loser, because they generally have to buy that gang a round of drinks.

19. Ring on a string/"Bimini Ring Game"

Also known as "that one game where you keep swinging a ring on a string from a few feet back while trying to get it onto a hook," Bimini started at beach bars, but is gaining popularity due to its addictive nature/caveman-caliber setup. You can easily play this solo, but once you realize it’s more a game of muscle memory than it is chance the door opens up for a night of stupid, highly competitive betting.

18. Shuffleboard (the tabletop version)

Even though the Boca Raton retirement community-sized version is beginning to catch on in bars, the tabletop version of shuffleboard is still king. No other game requires as much finesse and patience -- and even if you lack finesse and patience, it's fun to play with that weird rubber sand stuff on the board.

Settlers of Catan
Flickr/Eric Robinson

17. Settlers of Catan

There are a few easy ways to test the strength of true friendships at bars like bringing up politics, monopolizing the jukebox, and stealing all of my goddamn grain after I helped you move apartments YOU MONSTER!

16. Heads Up!

In the olden days, you simply wrote a word on a card, stuck it on somebody's forehead, and yelled clues at said person until they guessed what the card said (like reverse charades). Now it's available in app form, which greatly reduces paper waste and increases random bright lights in a dark bar. Somebody got rich from that. Good for that person.

15. Trivial Pursuit (but just the cards)

Spouting random knowledge while drinking is just something people have done since drinking in public became a thing. Trivial Pursuit cards just give you an excuse to do that.

14. Pop-A-Shot

Obvious downsides involve those errant rim-shots that ricochet right back into your friend's full drink and/or face, but even that kind of adds to the excitement.

Flickr/Amy the Nurse

13. Plain ol' dice

You’ve never really lived if you haven’t won a fistful of dollar bills on a hot hand.

12. Connect Four

If you’ve never been made to feel intellectually inferior by a friend after a heated game of bartop Connect Four, then you probably haven’t been to enough bars with good games. And unlike Jenga, nothing is lost in the transition to the giant version of this game.

11. Skee-Ball

With the rise of Skee-Ball in bars, all those years spent at Chuck E. Cheese's pretending to be chaperoning a birthday party have finally paid off. The immediate downside is how quickly you can burn through dollar bills trying to one-up a chirpy friend on a top-corner-hole-mega-point-hot-streak, but then again you came to this bar to win, didn't you?

10. Air hockey

Anything moving faster than an air hockey puck at a bar is probably dangerous, illegal, or both, which is probably why this game is so freaking addictive. Between the thrill of a solid slap shot, the ear-shattering sound of a puck whacking against the walls, the cool air flowing in your face, and the shame felt when you score a goal on yourself, this one runs you through the sensory and emotional gamut.

Cards Against Humanity
Flickr/Bryce Bartlett

9. Cards Against Humanity

Everyone has whipped this game out during an apartment pregame with friends, but it truly shines in a bar setting with large groups, especially if your friends are loud. After all, if you're playing the "sex goblin with a carnival penis” card, it should definitely be in public.

8. Bocce

There was a time not very long ago when throwing something heavy across a bar could've gotten you arrested. And even though it still takes a very brave bar owner to decide to combine alcoholic beverages with large, heavy flying objects, bocce's laid-back pace makes it a perfect game that can be played with a drink in hand. Any bar that's lucky enough to have the outdoor space and a sand pit to make this game really fly is clearly leading this pack, but there's still credit due to all of those tiny spots that manage to find space in a corner to let this happen inside.


7. Cornhole

It has the thrill of basketball and the strategy of bocce, all without the danger of a concussion or massive bruise! For that alone, its migration from tailgates to barrooms is a welcome one.

6. Photo Hunt (including Erotic Photo Hunt)

There was a time not too long ago where any decent bar worth its weight in PBR had a bartop Photo Hunt game. Patrons would spend hours trying to spot the differences between the two side-by-side images of a busty model reaching for a book on the top shelf, or polishing a telescope, or teaching a math class or… you get the point. But for whatever reason, it's getting harder to find these relics in the wild. If you find one, cherish your time with it. And with the naked people.

5. Big Buck Hunter

Outside of being a breeding ground for some of bar gaming's fiercest competition, Big Buck Hunter provides all the thrill of a hunt without actually harming any animals or, you know, having to do that whole "going outside in Alaska" thing. It's also probably the most in-depth education on the Yukon Territory's geography that most people ever get.

4. Regular ol' card games

Before we judged people based on things like their Instagram feeds, there used to be a saying that you could tell a lot about someone by what they could do with an hour of time and a deck of cards. The bar is probably the best place to test that theory today, given the number of possibilities in a deck.

Most of the games people bring up in bars trend toward Kings, Asshole, Bullshit, and all those games with curse-word names you learned in college, but there's also nothing wrong with busting out an old-fashioned game of Spit, bridge, spades, gin, or euchre (if you have time to teach people how to play). Of course, you have to either travel with your own deck (which isn’t too crazy to suggest) or find a bar with decks that aren't missing cards, mashed together in a giant pile, or soaked in spilled beer. So… yeah, maybe just roll with your own.  


3. Darts

If we can all agree that the idea of a sharp, pointed object flying through the air in a crowded room is a slightly terrifying prospect, we can all also agree that darts are the coolest. Even if you know someone who is objectively *good* at the game, there;s a good chance that you've had an on day where the stars aligned and you were able to beat the best person in the room. It's an easy game to make into a group endeavor, and even when you're reaching the hour mark trying to hit that last bullseye it remains a centuries-old way for passing time with a beer in your hand.

2. Jenga

This is the adrenaline popsicle of bar games, where suspense builds more between and during each turn than any other. It can be a real pain to set up, and friends may disagree on exactly what's allowed (what kind of evil people think it's OK to have to play the first block you touch?!), but the screams that this game can elicit from a group of players alone is proof enough that it belongs high on this list. There are also bars out there where patrons have taken it upon themselves to turn each block into a "dare" by writing things on pieces like "Call 555-1234 and order a lobster!" or "Tell the bartender he has a cute butt," which certainly adds... somethin'. But let's be clear here: We're not talking about giant Jenga. That shit's dangerous, especially when played by a dart board.

1. Pool

The very existence of a pool table at a bar can elevate it to an entirely different level. Pool is the one game that most people fantasize about being good at, and having one or two trick shots in your repertoire is enough to grab attention from strangers. For city dwellers, pool is an example of a game that usually can only be enjoyed in a drinking establishment, mainly because having a pool table in a New York apartment takes up about 99% of the living space. Whether it's a well-kept vintage table at a gastropub or a cigarette burn-pocked hand-me-down at a windowless dive, if you have a pool table, your bar will almost always have at least one person playing.

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Zach Mack is Thrillist's contributing beer writer, the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in NYC, a newly minted Certified Cicerone, and nothing else. Follow him @zmack.