The Best Small-Town Bar in Every State
There's a reason folks like John Mellencamp never shut up about the allure of America's small towns: They're treasures hiding amazing experiences and some completely unexpected culinary surprises. And pretty much every one has a great bar. The bars on this list represent the absolute best small-town drinking experiences in their respective states. They include immaculate cocktail parlors, rowdy dives, historic speakeasies, far-flung cowboy hangs, and waterfront oases, all located far from the big cities that usually hide all the spotlight. Pull up a stool: At these places, once you're in, you're a regular.
Pleasure Island Tiki BarAlabama
Though "fruity drinks under tiki huts" might not be the first image one gets when he hears the word "Alabama," when you venture to the southernmost reaches of the state, it feels a lot closer to the DR than Dixie. Case in point: Pleasure Island, a 1,600-square-foot tiki paradise where you can roll up by car or boat and enjoy drinks like the Bahama Who? Mama, Rowdy Rum Runner, Pleasure Island Lemonade, and the infamous Bushwhacker. A solid food menu helps offset the stiff tropical drinks, and also makes it a place people feel perfectly fine bringing their kids for a sunset dinner. Though one should never undersell a place called "Pleasure Island" as a home to great daytime parties.
Red Onion SaloonAlaska
Who doesn't enjoy a nice brothel museum when stopping for a drink during a cruise of the inner passage? Which is why the Red Onion might be the only must-hit bar on any Alaska cruise, a bordello founded in 1898 that's now one of the coolest bars in the state. Tours of the place have brothel appropriate pricing - $15 for 15 minutes – and there are also burlesque and drag shows to entertain tourists during the day. At night it turns into a different animal, when Skagway locals actually belly up to the bar like animals who only come out after dark. If you happen to have an overnight in Skagway, it's an excellent spot to learn what life is like there now, as well as 120 years ago.
In the late 1800s, Jerome was home to a bustling copper trade. Since booms often bust, what was once the third largest city in Arizona became a literal ghost town. But luckily for everyone, Spirit Room stuck around. We recommend sitting down at the bar and soaking in the Old West vibes, starting with the painted wall mural featuring playing cards and scantily clad dancing women. The crowd is a friendly mix of bikers, locals, and tourists dropping in for the day. Live music is a fixture almost every day of the week, and even during the day on weekends. Weary travelers and anyone who's indulged in a hilariously named cocktail can find a place to crash just up a flight of stairs at the Connor Hotel. The 12 rooms have all the expected amenities, including the possible presence of supernatural phenomena. They don't call it a ghost town for nothing.
Chelsea's Corner CafeArkansas
Whatever pops into your head when you think about a small-town bar in Arkansas, throw it away. Eureka Springs is a community of creatives; it's rare to find someone who doesn't produce art or play an instrument. And so perhaps it's not surprising that Chelsea's, which has been open for 25+ years, hosts a ton of music. Bluegrass on Mondays, open mic on Tuesdays, and professional touring bands pack the bar on Fridays and Saturdays. Rock, blues, folk, and even some reggae acts make their way to Eureka Springs. No matter who you watch on the indoor stage, you'll have a view of an enormous American flag, vintage Old Style signage, and a delightful collection of stars affixed to the ceiling. Because music is best enjoyed with a beer in your hand, there's plenty to be had, from $2 PBRs to 15 taps pouring local brews like Ozark and Flyway. Whether you're on one of the two enormous patios or inside watching a band, it's essential to order a slice from the upstairs pizza joint, also run by Chelsea's. And like any good artist-friendly town, you can order one of their Eureka-themed pies -- like the mozz, onions, peppers, mushrooms, olives, and spinach joint -- vegan by request.
Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown PalaceCalifornia
Funny things happen when you put a giant music festival out in the middle of the desert: Sometimes the huge acts playing said music festival also end up in funky old bars down dark windy roads. This is why around Coachella time you can catch bands like Queens of the Stone Age playing Pappy & Harriet's. Even when big acts aren't there, this Pioneertown landmark a few miles from Joshua Tree is a great destination. The tri-tip sandwich is worth the drive alone, and the bands playing here on regular weekends are still a hundred times better than you'd expect. The secret is out about this place, though, and if you want to try some of the famous grilled meats dinner reservations are recommended two weeks in advance. Or you can just hang out in the beer garden and enjoy the warm desert air; the smell of the smoke is almost as glorious.
Situated between Denver and numerous ski resorts lies Silver Plume, which has a distinct small-town mountain vibe. One of the owners of Bread says being there makes you feel like time is slowing down, and we can't disagree. People looking to savor their expertly made cocktails flock to the building that used to house an old bakery -- the gorgeous cabinets that house the booze and the bar are from the former business. No matter where you sit, every angle is so stylized and charming it deserves to be on Insta. The 'tails are curated by the boozehounds at Mile High's popular The Way Back, and a rotating menu of food options pops up depending on the weekend. (It's open year-round from Friday-Sunday.) Hungry crowds have inhaled pies, oysters, fried chicken sandwiches, and Nordic food. And because this is Colorado, there's always beer made in-state, from Denver Beer Co. to Avery to Station 26 to Stem Ciders, for the beer-averse. Despite Colorado's rep as a snowy wonderland, the sun makes appearances most days, and the patio out back is a solid place to soak it up, enjoy a drink or two, and not notice the seconds tick by.
The Tap Room at The Griswold InnConnecticut
This timeless shoreline inn opened its stately doors way back in 1776 and by 1801 had transformed an adjoining schoolhouse, dating to 1735, into this well-loved drinking den (the Colonists had their priorities, it seems). These days, the "Gris," as it's known, sits on its laurels as the oldest continuously operating tavern in America, doling out bubbling bowls of hot clam chowder alongside proper pints, stiff martinis, belly-warming whiskey drams, and live music every night. The vibe inside this warm, wood-clad haunt is vintage New England on steroids, featuring dusty maritime art, nautical odds and ends, an old-school popcorn machine, and, inexplicably, a year-round Christmas tree perched atop a potbelly stove. Let's just say you won't find Clark and the rest of the National Lampoon gang running amok inside this famed American institution.
Jeff's Taproom & GrilleDelaware
If you know one thing about the southern part of Delaware, it's the beaches. If you know two things, it's that they produce a helluva lot of scrapple, a regional morning-time delicacy. So it makes sense that Jeff's started in '77 across from a scrapple-filled joint. The pork product still brings in folks from all over, especially during the Apple Scrapple Festival, when Jeff's TV and pool table-filled drinking establishment hosts between seven and eight thousand thirsty folks over a single weekend. Even when it's not scrapple season (that's a phrase we'll admit we just made up), the burgers and the booze bring 'em in. The burger is a massive, three-quarter pound handmade patty from 80/20 ground chuck that has a rep for being one of the best statewide. Order the multi-patty Big Ass Burger and expect not to need sustenance for the next week or so. Among the booze offerings are 23 taps, including local faves like 16 Mile and Fordham & Dominion. Because drinking beer and eating a burger bigger than your own head can only take up so much time, there's plenty to do at Jeff's, from pool leagues on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, trivia on Wednesday, and a DJ on the weekend.
Along Card Sound Road – aka the scenic route from Miami to Key Largo – you'll find a lone outdoor roadhouse set right on a mangrove-lined canal. It's Alabama Jack's, a time warp to Florida before the days of air conditioning and bug spray, where swampy rednecks dance to a live country band and folks on their way to and from the Keys sip beers by the water. The crowd is a perfect cross-section of Florida, with fisherman drinking next to tourists drinking next to people who've lived in the swamp for generations. Though it's only about an hour's drive from Miami it feels decades away, and it probably the most authentically Floridian experience one can have on a vacation to the southern tip of the Sunshine State.
Huc a PoosGeorgia
Tybee Island is a loveable southern beach town of just over 3,000 residents, most of whom are either wealthy or consistently weeded enough to exhibit a devil-may-care attitude toward all things that exist on the other side of the surrounding water. This is partially what makes proudly random pizza bar Huc a Poo’s such a local and statewide treasure. The shack-tastic wood-walled setup is made for weekend beach bums who appreciate a friendly, dingy dive bar and cheap mixed drinks, which are consumed around the loud-yet-laid-back central bar. Aside from the whimsical gang of revolving cargo-shorted characters who drop in and out on annual vacays and seem to all know each other’s families, the place benefits from all sorts of random tchotchkes and memorabilia, plus surprisingly good pies and slices -- note the spinach, basil and garlic-spreaded white pizza dubbed The Honkey. What Mellow Mushroom attempts at linking itself to acid-dropping culture, Huc a Poo’s achieves, providing a hidden hippy rest haven to any visiting friends seeking a shift from Georgia’s red-meated, chest-beating southern bravado. Oh, it also doesn’t hurt that it sits on a barrier island just 30 minutes east of Savannah on Highway 80 that happens to be the only known place in America where a nuclear weapon was (accidentally) dropped. It didn’t detonate, but it’s never been located, so if you needed another reason to get bombed while you’re in town, there’s that.
Lava Lava Beach ClubHawaii
Finding small town bars in Hawaii can be tricky, since locals there aren't always exactly running with open arms to invite you to their favorite watering holes. But the odd place you'll find both locals and tourists drinking happily together is here along Anaeho'omalu Bay on the Big Island. Tourists enjoy lounging in their tables on the sand before heading into the water for snorkeling or strolling a short way down the beach to see sea turtles pulling up on the beach. It's also a perfect spot to watch the sunset, which is why it still draws people who live in the area, even if they're just there for a beer or two. Lava Lava is both relaxing and homey, a place where you might actually learn something about the islands from the person sitting next to you while combining all of the elements that make for a perfect Hawaiian vacation.
The 219 has seen a lot in its 80 years as the small, idyllic ski/lake town's favorite bars. But a recent makeover has transitioned friendly, slightly surly, narrow oasis for drinkers of all walks from a brick-laden dungeon of a dark dive bar into a brick-laden, slightly brighter dungeon of a less-divey bar, with its Pacific Northwest murals in tact and the glow of a new reader board boasting a wealth of craft beer to go along with the PBR an a full-on cocktail menu. There's also a sprawling outdoor patio, where bands and DJs cater to the tourists and the locals, all of whom find solace in Tuesday karaoke, a free jukebox, and the simple pleasures of being transported into an old-school dive that's found new life by embracing its past and bringing it into the present.
Frank O'Dowd's Irish Pub & GrillIllinois
Galena is one of those idyllic small towns that only seems to exist in distant memories, a riverside village where cobblestone streets are lined with historic mansions and everybody seems to be in a great mood. Those good vibes elevate at the gorgeous O'Dowd's, a place that takes its Irish cred extremely seriously: In fact, the bar, all mahogany and etched glass, was designed in Ireland, and the feeling you get entering the place is, to say the least, transportive. Located in the chic Irish Cottage Hotel, the place pours proper pints of Fuller's and Smithwick's to the soundtrack of live Irish music, while the scent of Gaelic steak and shepherd's pie is as intoxicating as anything from the full Irish whisky menu. A few hours in the pub and an apres-whiskey stroll down those whimsical streets and you'd think you're somewhere across the pond, not in a small Midwestern hamlet. That's the magic of Galena.
Imagine a group of bikers with an affinity for barbecue decided to open a hunting lodge, and that's basically what you're getting at Thirty-Six Saloon, where, to be sure, a solid proportion of the clientele arrived on a Harley, but there's enough drawing power here to appeal to customers of all stripes. The drinks are cheap enough that you can indulge enough to find you in an eventual staring contest with one of the mounted deer heads and your wallet will be no worse for the wear. The live bands are fun and frequent, especially come warm weather when they open the Hog Pit, a partially covered patio that serves its own distinct menu of smokehouse specialties like Hog Turds, aka soft pretzel-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with brisket and pepper jack that will make you completely forget what they're called.
The Cellar Peanut PubIowa
Were it located in a big city in one of America's best beer towns, Pella's Cellar Peanut Pub would be a formidable presence elevating the beer scene. That's because the place -- with an aesthetic that marries the rustic tin-shed look with an ultra-modern tap system -- takes its beer very, very seriously, to the point that each of the joint's pub tenders boasts a Cicerone certification. There's a steady stream of hard-to-find beers from Iowa's emergent brewery scene on tap (look for pours from Des Moines' Confluence and coveted wares like King Sue from Decorah's Toppling Goliath) and other Midwest destinations in addition to a best-of-the-best from across the country, all served up by beer lovers eager to convert even the most ardent lover of adjunct lagers into disciples of craft, with knitting, bingo, and live-music nights keeping things lively. It's the kind of beer bar you'd expect to come across in a city like Portland, smacked into a small Iowa town.
For a while there, this dusty old saloon -- the exact kind of place you might envision collecting dust in a one-horse town in the middle of Kansas, but also the exact kind of place it's hard to imagine still exists -- looked like a goner. Then, after years of sitting vacant amid the Gypsum Hills, new life arrived and the place was resurrected in 2012. Some things changed: Buster's now boasts some pretty kick-ass BBQ, for one, holding its own with the big city folks far off in KC. But this is still very much the kind of bar it was in its heyday: A place where cowboys, truckers, and curious road trippers flock for fishbowls of beer and the kind of old-school Americana Buster himself cantankerously pedaled in back in the day. Miraculously, places like this still do exist. And they're worth the trip.
Summit City on MainKentucky
With a population number just under 2000, you might not think the quaint Coal Country town of Whitesburg would attract many big names -- but that's where Summit City comes in. The one-room storefront hangout has reinvented itself several times over its 10 years, from a low-key, artsy bar with world-class musical acts and fabulous drag shows to an espresso counter and brunch spot fueled by live tunes and, under the most recent ownership, a rock and roll venue with a bit of a sportier edge (i.e. shot specials, fried pickles, and UK games on the projector). No matter how you slice it, though, this beaut has always been the beating heart of Letcher County, a welcoming refuge open to passing strangers and locals alike that's sure to make you chuck any preconceived, Yankee-fied notions you might have about rural Appalachia straight in the garbage.
If you believe the writing on the wall outside Freds, tiny Mamou is the "Cajun music capital of the world." And for six blessed hours every Saturday morning for the past seven decades, it might as well be the center of the universe. Even in a state with no shortage of quirky drinking establishments, Freds (sic) Lounge is a glorious oddity, a place that has long broadcast its rowdy, boisterous Cajun music concerts via radio every Saturday morning, where it opens its doors to boozy masses for a six-hour morning/day-drinking session that packs enough Hot Damn, dancing, and general merriment in to fill a full night in NoLa. Freds isn't open any other day. It doesn't need to be. It packs in locals and curious visitors from around the world, all coming together under the shared love of cheap cinnamon schnapps, great music, and a singular bar experience they'll never forget, even if they barely remember the specifics of what went down.
Leary's Landing Irish PubMaine
As the self-proclaimed "Closest Irish Pub to Ireland in the US," this small-town watering hole takes its whiskey very, very seriously. As it should -- when you're dealing with an average wintertime low of 13.6 degrees, you're going to need all the liquid hugs you can get. The list is 50-deep, filling everything from shot glasses to snifters and house barrel-aged cocktails, if you're feeling fancy. Decor-wise, it's classic Irish pub all the way: green walls, dark wood furniture, a bar table fashioned from a Guinness barrel, and knick-knacks harkening back to the Emerald Isle. It's cozy as all get out, of course, with killer fish and chips, lots of old-timey board games to fuel your drinking, and a weekly trivia night that attracts a serious portion of the town's 5,235 residents. Slainte.
The Jetty Dock BarMaryland
The Kent Narrows
You wouldn't necessarily expect a tropical boozy paradise just across the bay from the urban sprawl of Baltimore... and maybe eight-to-nine months out of the year, you'd be right. But when the calendar rolls around to warmer climates in the Mid-Atlantic, the sleepy strip of beaches between the Chester River and Prospect Bay transforms into an. And no spot exemplifies the underrated fun of Maryland in the summer than the Jetty Dock Bar, a legendary dive bar known for cheap drinks, fresh crab legs, and a revolving door of quality live music, all sandwiched on top of Wells Cove in the Kent Island Narrows. It's the kind of place where fresh-faced 21-year-olds and their 75-year-old grandparents will squeeze into those ubiquitous white plastic chairs every beach bar worth its sea salt owns to guzzle down rum buckets and listen to reggae covers -- and take part in the eventual Jimmy Buffet singalong, naturally. If the landlubber charms of the tiki bar don't appease you, you can always dock your boat and party alongside the Jetty (just follow the rules, kids!). And if you think the only things Maryland does right is crab cakes and football, you've clearly been spending too much time in the Old Line State's cities. Try the Jetty on for size this summer. You may never go back to your real life.
If there's one thing to know about this unassuming little Berkshires watering hole, it's that they definitely, absolutely do not serve Coors Light. Their website, NoCoorsLight.com, hints at this, as does the enormous collection of craft beer paraphernalia that surrounds 17 clean-as-a-whistle taps pouring everything from local gems like BLDG 8 and Honest Weight to reliable favorites like Dogfish Head and Founders. There's also a massive whiskey list on hand, because what's a fantastic beer without a trusty bourbon by its side? And don't forget to hit up the carefully curated bottle shop next door to score a couple of souvenirs (face it, no one actually wants maple syrup).
Located deep enough in the northern region of the Upper Peninsula Keweenaw Peninsula -- a gorgeous, Lake Superior-engulfed place buried in snow for much of the year and perched so far north that even the most avid Michigan travelers might get a nosebleed -- the Fitz serves up great BBQ to go along with the requisite whitefish, but despite its designation as a restaurant, it might also be the best place to drink with a view of a Great Lake period. That's thanks to the owner's obsession with Michigan's immaculate craft beer scene, with more than 100 local (and not-so-local) brews on offer, perfect for sipping with a view of the mighty lake. In addition to being one of Michigan's greatest undiscovered beer bars, they also have a deep love of whiskey, with 90+ bottles on offer and a staff loaded with knowledge about each. And yeah, you can snowmobile there in the winter, but the real move here is to book a room at the adjoining Eagle River Inn and bask in the magnificent sunsets on a tiny slice of heaven, beer in hand and surrounded by travelers and locals whose only real worries are which beer to get next.
The Blue MooseMinnesota
East Grand Forks
During its storied Oktoberfest, things get a little nutty in East Grand Forks' best bar, with the requisite stein-holding competitions, dirndls, and unfortunate sauerkraut incidents. But this isn't a once-a-year destination by any means: with 40 rotating taps, it's a formidable beer bar stocking regional favorites like Toppling Goliath's Pseudo Sue and a menu that mixes its German fare with Cajun poutine and walleye fingers, which are about the most midwestern bar food in the best possible way. With an interior that's part hunting lodge, part beer hall, it's a cozy, welcoming outpost that serve as a home away from home for many, but especially members of the Back 40 Beer Club, who score $3.50 craft beers on Sundays and Mondays and get hooked up with other specials and insider knowledge. Oh, and yes, there's a big blue moose statue out front just begging for you to take a selfie with it after you've had a few.
At nearly 16,000 residents, Clarksdale certainly pushes our definition of a small town, but we're willing to bend our rules for a city that's known as perhaps the hub of the Delta blues. The iconic Red's -- a must-visit for any tour of the Blues Trail -- is one of the finest places to listen to the blues, period. Inside a former instrument/record store where Ike Turner and other bluesmen bought instruments, the owner Red set up the juke joint -- basically, a quasi-legal spot to throw a party and experience some live music. A regular (and the owner of Cat Head, a "one-stop shop for everything Mississippi blues") explains that an old bluesman once told him he loved to play Red's because "it feels like you step into a history book, and you feel how the music came to be." Even though those old bluesmen are getting older and passing away as the years go by, you can still catch acts that are "the real deal" most nights a week inside a room lit up only by Christmas lights and beer signs. Red'll be there hosting. Look for the guy wearing sunglasses, no matter how late it gets.
O'Malley's has a deep history, a given considering it's the oldest bar in Missouri and it's located 55 feet underneath the ground. That literal sense of deepness alone would make O'Malley's a must visit: entering takes you down a succession of ramps as you descend into a series of cavernous limestone cellars that date to before the Civil War as part of the Weston Brewing Company. These days, WBC is back brewing its own beers, but O'Malley's remains such a singular and unique place it transcends its affiliation, with three tiers underneath its arched ceiling, live music echoing off the stone, and massive steins of WBC beer and Irish imports fueling one of the best drinking experiences in the Midwest.
The Pony BarMontana
Population: ~ 100
The Pony is the quintessential Montana bar experience: Located in an unincorporated town of about 100, it's housed in an old meeting hall, a function it still serves for anyone who wanders in, be them ranchers looking for company or curious drinkers who travel from areas like Bozeman to drink in one of the most legendary dive saloons in Montana. Here you'll find walls hung with faded photos from the town's mining days, mounted deer heads, and cowpokes who seem to have never left the lottery machine. The owner, boots still caked with dirt, treats newcomers with initial skepticism, but don't be fooled: Once you've had a few rounds, you're family here, and that family includes Butch, the cook who cantankerously whips up one of the best burgers you've ever had, provided he shows up. Sometimes there's live music, or one of the signature Cabin Fever parties, when locals flock in for a little much-needed company. Pony may be a one-horse town, but its bar is the kind of place that draws people from far and wide, a pure distillate of Montana bar life that demands a pilgrimage from any drinker worth the dirt on their boots.
Technically, this bar actually sits in a town with a population of zero, in the ghost town of Sacramento about 5 miles outside Holdredge. But it's the greatest hidden gem in the state, primarily known as a steakhouse but also boasting a craft cocktail lounge worthy of Chicago or Minneapolis. Manhattans and negronis are barrel-aged for two months before being served in the dimly lit bar, and though the bartenders here would never dare refer to themselves as "mixologists" they can craft up pretty much anything if you tell them what you're into. Locating itself in a long-gone city also means Speakeasy's customers won't wait 20 minutes for their craft creations. It's one of those places one stumbles upon while traveling and tells stories about for years, a little slice of big-city culture literally in the middle of nowhere.
Genoa Bar and SaloonNevada
This spot is everything you'd expect from the oldest bar in Nevada. The Old West "gentlemen's saloon" sits in an 1853 brick building with oil lamps hanging from the ceiling, a diamond-dusted mirror behind the bar, and photos of everything from Old West icons to modern-day movie stars lining the wall. Beads hang on mounted antlers, next to the bar's lone hanging bra, which legend says belonged to Raquel Welch. It's also home to a bra safe, where visitors have left "donations" for decades, and a 14-ingredient Bloody Mary that'll put any drink in Vegas to shame. It's probably the state's most famous bar outside the big cities, where movies like Misery and Honky Tonk Man were filmed. So while unknown it's not, it's a must-see if anywhere near Reno or Lake Tahoe.
Penuche's Ale HouseNew Hampshire
One wouldn't immediately think of New Hampshire as a place with one of the great small college bars in America, but the oldest bar in Keene is the sort of nostalgia-filled boozer that keeps Keene State College alums coming back for generations. The walls here are over-filled with school and city history, a venerable museum where you can learn everything about the area whilst enjoying cheap beer and free popcorn. You'll also get a heavy dose of anthropology here, with modern "cave etchings" on the wall of people who've inhabited the bar in decades past. It's all best experienced on Tuesdays, when the traditional Beat the Clock special has draft beers for 75 cents beginning at 8pm and going up a quarter every half hour.
Murphy's TavernNew Jersey
You won't find graffiti on the walls of Murphy's Tavern, or denizens doing/taking illicit things in the bathroom while their buddy named Blitz watches the door. But you will find one of the most under-the-radar (and not in a BS, fake "speakeasy" way) bars in the entire country. Murphy's is a cozy room stuffed to the wood paneling with friendly faces in a no-frills basement of some dude's house in a residential neighborhood in Jersey -- more known for country clubs and one-percenters than quality watering holes. The bar itself is a relic of Prohibition, where rum runners would wet their considerable beaks when they weren't smuggling booze. And nowadays, Murphy's still flies so low that some people that actually grew up in Rumson will go their entire lives without knowing it exists. There are fried apps that riff on Jersey classics (pork roll fries!). There are local beers (Carton Brewery!). There's a bustling shuffleboard table and a jukebox with more classic rock standards than your dad's iPod Shuffle. If the small-town bar is meant to exemplify a total lack of pretension and pomp in the name of old-fashioned, booze-swilling fun, Murphy's is the prototype. And hey -- you might run into Geraldo Rivera (he lives in walking distance). But hopefully you won't.
Owl Bar & CafeNew Mexico
If you haven't yet had the pleasure of sinking your teeth into one of New Mexico's green chile cheeseburgers, you'd better hightail to San Antonio -- no, not that San Antonio -- and track down this 72-year-old roadside stop-off, credited as inventing the house-ground legend to satiate scientists working on the then-covert Manhattan Project. But while the burgers might steal the show, the bar itself is not to be overlooked. We're talking a 25-foot mahogany beaut salvaged from a fire-torn general store owned by the Hilton family (of Hilton hotels/Nicky Hilton fame), set against an untreated wood-paneled backdrop, crowned by vintage Budweiser lamps and littered with enough dirt cheap beer to quench any chili-induced thirst. Saddle up, cowboy, you're in for a wild ride.
Once in a great while every faithful drinker stumbles upon a bar that's at once legitimately awesome at making drinks and incredibly weird in every way and this, friends, is one of those bars. Stashed away in a sunny courtyard garden behind a 1940s-era gas station-turned-antique shop in Hudson, this literal hole-in-the-wall offers not only ingeniously original cocktails like the boozy Where There's Smoke, There's Fire slushy (mezcal, Thai chili-infused Aperol, lime, smoked agave, sumac) but also delicious Southeast Asian small plates from a James Beard Award-winning team. And it's all wrapped up in one pretty little indoor-outdoor package, complete with a handsome vintage dark wood bar, plenty of communal tables, and a slew of colorful tiki-inspired bric-a-brac strewn about for good measure.
The Backstreet PubNorth Carolina
Located a stone's throw from the water along North Carolina's picturesque Inner Banks, this modest hideaway packs a whole lot of history, music, and booze into its two charmingly weathered stories. The century-old converted bakery is famous for its weekend shindigs, when bands banging out tunes from bluegrass to hard rock flood the brick-walled courtyard, a wave of local beach bums, curious tourists, and leather-necked fishermen towed in their wake. Whether or not the stage is rocking, this spot's a hangout in the best sense of the word, a place where anyone off the street can come in, grab a beer, and make themselves right at home among the nautical tchotchkes, exposed wood beams, dusty books and board games, and reliably stellar company.
A Frame Bar & GrillNorth Dakota
When the uninitiated think of North Dakota, it's likely they're imagining vast plains more than charming lake towns, but the latter is exactly what you get in Bottineau, and there is no better place to enjoy it than the humble A Frame. Located right on Lake Metigoshe, the triangular oasis serves as a warm and comforting place to enjoy walleye and the requisite shot-skis in the winter in its cabin-like ambiance, while the summer takes full advantage of the property's sprawling deck, where BBQ and live music complement the laid-back vibe. Grab a Jell-O shot or a beer, order a burger, and bask in the sunlight under the high ceilings: This is North Dakota lake life at its finest, and might just change naysayers' minds of what the state has to offer.
While we briefly considered the wild, utter insanity of Put-In Bay's many, many boat-up bars, there's just something about The Feve that we couldn't ignore: Well, a bunch of somethings, considering the sprawling cocktail list that helps this upscale restaurants upstairs bar rank among the best cocktail spots in Ohio (try the Princess Leia with bourbon barrel-aged gin and elderflower liqueur) and a rotating tap list featuring a carefully curated selection of Ohio's best beers. The food menu, too, is outstanding, a collision of high end taste and lowbrow bar food that includes an arsenal of specialty burgers, wings, and tots covered in custom dry seasonings like tikka and the herb-covered Megan, all of which come with custom dipping sauces (opt for the white Cheddar & gouda sauce, and save some for the stellar wings). This is a place that makes bar food into its own liberal art.
Mooney's Sunset Bar and GrillOklahoma
Oklahoma lake bars range from holes in the wall to rowdy college-style fiascos, but there are few more simple pleasures in the Sooner state than sitting with an ice cold beer and watching the sunset. Such is the draw at Mooney's, which for three decades has proven a favorite among locals and curious tourists who stroll in or boat up for the simple pleasures of a stiff mixed drink, a big fat burger, and that immaculate island sunset, best experienced on slightly rowdier nights when rock and country acts take the stage. The patio here is massive, perfect for perching and watching the Grand Lake o' the Cherokees turn amber. And if those drinks leave you craving something wilder, you can always wander out into the wilds of the marinas. But who would want to do that when there's a cozy hotel room on site waiting at Mooney's?
Hank Williams played the Goble on a one-night stopover in the '40s. Willie Nelson's mom tended bar there in the '60s. The workers at a nearby nuclear reservation used to make everyone nervous by drinking there on their lunch break -- and the bar held a raucous Implosion Party when the plant's steam stack came down. If you visit the old honky-tonk now, just 35 miles west of Portland, you might sit next to a member of the Ventures telling tall tales about surf rock in Japan. But these days the Goble Tavern, located at Oregon Highway 30 mile marker 41, has a simple motto: "Where the Hell Is Goble?" The 92-year-old "Nashville of the West" is a tavern without a town, a rambling red-sided booze barn with cheap beer, cheaper food, and regulars from everywhere: families with eight kids who came for the music, patched bikers on the road, or local tractor cowboys. The sprawling backyard lawn hosts picnic tables, a maddening hook-and-ring game popular with both hustlers and hecklers, a well-used country music stage, and the most beautiful backyard view in Oregon, looking out on the rolling hills of Columbia River country. Hang out long enough, someone will invite you to their house for a barbecue. Or just wait till the Goble Warming music festival every summer: The music twangs, the meat's smoked on hickory, and if you overindulge you can camp in the backyard.
John & Peter's PlacePennsylvania
Anyone who grew up in Eastern PA knows that New Hope -- a seemingly sleepy small town nestled on the Jersey border -- is one of the most overlooked and underrated destinations in the entire state. With its distinctly old-world charm, iconic LGBTQ scene, glut of vintage and boutique shops, and ever-bustling arts community, New Hope draws its fair share of visitors both far and wide despite its diminutive size. Exemplifying the free-wheeling and vibrant spirit of the town -- and coupling that spirit with copious amounts of booze -- is John & Peter's Place. A New Hope institution since 1972, John & Peter's opened its doors designed as a low-key breakfast joint that occasionally had live bands. Over the past four-plus decades, it has evolved into a true music mecca off the Delaware River, playing host to artists as varied as Norah Jones, George Thorogood, and jazz virtuoso Stanley Jordan. Simply put: you just aren't supposed to attract talent this big in a town this small. And when there isn't world-class talent burning up the stage, you can always kick back and enjoy some cheap-as-hell beers in the darkened, delightfully worn-in tavern, and snack on some of the most average pub food in the world. The second you step foot inside John & Peter's, you feel like a true local. And in a small town as eternally cool as New Hope, that's not a bad feeling to have.
Look, Rhode Island's tough here, considering the Ocean State is basically the state equivalent of a small town. And while there are nice little pubs dotted around the state, we're going the unexpected route and throwing in Ballard's, one of the best damn beach bars in America. One of America's premier (and more low-key) party islands, Block Island puts forth a welcome lack of pretension relative to certain other New England destinations (stares daggers at Martha's Vineyard). Don't get us wrong, you're still definitely paying a premium when you hit Ballard's, the island's premier option for beachside imbibing, but once you wrap your hands around a Rum Runner-filled pineapple and survey the sea of umbrellas while pondering whether or not to go full Maverick out on the volleyball courts, you won't be worried about such trivialities as money. Yes, we know this story is dropping in the throes of winter. So consider this aspirational drinking for June.
Harold's Country ClubSouth Carolina
This garage-turned-roadhouse isn't much of a club, but it sure as hell is country. Head a few miles off Highway 17, past the vintage gas pumps and through the green-trimmed door. You'll find a loyal, exceptionally welcoming crowd -- just about every review ever written assures newcomers not to be deterred by the kindly ruffians smoking out front -- and a heaping dose of Lowcountry nostalgia where the bands are loud, the beer is cold, the cooking is downhome, and if you're in the market for bait and tackle, you're in luck. If you happen to stop by on a Saturday (AKA Steak Night), be sure to reserve your perfectly charred cut in advance. You won't be sorry.
The American Whiskey Bar at Saloon #10South Dakota
Yes, Saloon #10 is touristy: It's a place that doubles as something of a living Wild West museum, complete with cowboys at the poker table where Wild Bill was shot. But guess what? If you're visiting South Dakota, that's the kind of stuff you want, nay, need to see. It helps that the place is also the best damn whiskey bar in eternally thirsty South Dakota, serving 150+ bottles of the brown stuff from around the world, which you can drink while playing cards with a dude dressed as Bill Hickok himself. There are hundreds of cool saloons dotting South Dakota. But Saloon #10, well, it's an experience you can't really get anywhere else.
Hogg's Upstairs TaverneTennessee
Sure, Gatlinburg is a tourist town thanks to its proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort, but it's also arguably one of the best small towns in Tennessee, and here the moonshine-loving locals flock to Hogg's. With a sprawling balcony overlooking the main drag, Hogg's is a rowdy sports bar with live music (this is Tennessee, after all) lined in neon, its wraparound bar the centerpiece and meeting place for the locals who stick around long after the tourists leave. It's smoky, the pool table is precious real estate, and, unlike many bars in Gatlinburg, it's kids-free. That's probably a good thing. After a few stiff drinks, its unlikely your kid's gonna want to watch you do an impromptu sing-along with a groggy regular.
One of the most unique and mind-blowing bar experiences you can have in Texas, La Kiva recently opened under new management after closing in the wake of the death of beloved former owner Glenn Felts, and it remains as jaw-dropping as ever. This is an underground bar in a literal sense, one dug into a creek bank in Terlingua, a Texas outpost "conveniently located just a few exits past the end of the world." Which is to say, getting to La Kiva involves driving through the middle of BFE, then descending into the rocky earth via two beat-up cellar doors that, if this was a horror movie, would be keeping a possessed relative at bay. Once inside you'll be greeted by a rock-covered saloon decorated with old animal skeletons, a place that kind of looks like a Cro-Magnon with particularly good taste in alcohol opened up his own man cave. Descend. Grab a drink and a steak. This is one of the best bars in the country, one filled with some of the most interesting characters you'll ever drink a Shiner underground with.
Shooting Star SaloonUtah
Some bars are made to look like they've been around for a long time. You know, to give the place character. Some bars are the Shooting Star. It's been around since 1879, and it looks like it, what with the wood paneling on the walls and the ancient booths. The tavern claims to be the oldest continuously operating bar in the state. Yeah, even during Prohibition, those rascals! Nowadays, it's a can't-miss après-ski destination for anyone looking to indulge after multiple runs at Snowbasin or Powder Mountain. Or anyone who enjoys drinking under the watchful eye of a Saint Bernard who's been mounted to the wall. He's passed on since the '50s, but lives on at the Shooting Star. When you're there, it's a necessity you order one of their burgers, as long as you don't make any substitutions. Remember, it's a tavern, not a restaurant, as many signs will remind you. And you'll need a cheap beer to wash it down. Bring an extra dollar so you can write your name on it and tape it to the ceiling. You'll be joining the thousands of others from around the world who also slapped a buck up there.
Tucked away down a nondescript staircase somewhere between the Stowe Mountain Lodge and the nearby chairlifts, you'll find a door that looks like it leads into a meaningless maintenance closet. But those in the know are aware it's actually the entrance to the lodge's secret speakeasy, open to the public and one of the great hidden bars you'll ever see at a ski resort. Inside you'll discover an ever-changing menu of craft cocktails, old record players, board games, and comfy couches perfect for relaxing away from the crowds after a long day on the slopes. It's a piece of big city cool in small-town Vermont, a place you won't want to tell anyone about but still feel like bragging that you discovered.
The Wooden PickleVirginia
A tiny brick building in the center of the small town that gave the world Mountain Dew (it was invented here!), the Pickle is lit by repurposed wine bottles transformed into lights and shells out a steady stream of upscale pub fare (think bourbon-glazed pork chops, famous pickle fries, massive seafood platters, and immaculate calzones) amid the backdrop of one of Virginia's best small towns. It's a friendly, close-quarters affair that splits the difference between high and low boozy comforts, a place that's as down to serve you a cup of coffee spiked with Fireball as a craft beer, a nice glass of wine, or a fancy cocktail as a roster of local musicians hold court by the front window. It's one of those bars that immediately feels like home, especially if you're the kind of person who begins the day with cinnamon-spiced boozy coffee.
Located on the northwestern tip of Washington's breathtaking Olympic Peninsula, Port Townsend's a picture of coastal Pacific Northwestern life, and there's perhaps no better place to toss back a few pints of hoppy Washington beer than Pourhouse. There are over 200 bottles to choose from in addition to 12 carefully curated taps served up in a small, brightly lit bar that you absolutely won't want to hang out in, mainly because there's a stunning view of the water from the sprawling patio, with bocce, pétanque, and ping-pong available to play. Dogs are welcome, too, an added bonus that makes this quintessential Pacific Northwest experience all the more satisfying.
The Tractor BarWest Virginia
A must-visit destination for folks who seek out the oddball bars of the nation, The Tractor Bar is located in an old farm equipment dealership, which the owner painstakingly converted into one of the coolest bars in Appalachia. The stools are fabricated out of old pipes and tractor seats that were laying around, an old 1919 Fordson tractor sits at the center, and the entire place has a DIY quality, from its shiny bar to the random farm bric a brac that dots the wall. Now, all that elbow grease has paid off: The place is thronged with visitors and locals alike, who flock to the rebirthed building to take in a steady roster of music and gaze upon what can happen when a man with a dream and some creative ideas of how to repurpose a bunch of disused farm equipment decides to open the bar of his dreams.
Wisconsin's Door County draws visitors from all walks of life: families, boaters, hippies, college kids, Bon Ivers, you name it. And Fish Creek welcomes them all under the shared banner of booze and fellowship. With a Leinenkugel's-branded canoe -- the most Wisconsin thing perhaps ever -- perched above the centerpiece bar, liquor is displayed under stained-glass arches like some sort of sacrament. The scent of legendary fish fries and the sound of live music fills the air (the bar, it's worth noting, is owned by a family whose son played in '80s band Timbuk 3, of "The Future's So Bright" fame), though this is also very much a hangout spot for travelers and locals who call it home. It is perhaps the ultimate Door Country bar, one where everybody comes together to bullshit, eat perch and pizza, and make new friends amid the laid-back ambiance of a legendary drinker's paradise.
Located in the last actual town before entering east Yellowstone, Cassie's bills itself as a steakhouse, and true to Wyoming form, you can get a great cut of meat, as promised by the neon cowboy holding a steak while riding a bucking bronco on the sign out front of the sprawling, 20,000-square-foot, wood-covered saloon. But it's also the best no-bullshit bar in the entire state -- and has been since 1922. Scratch that. It's three of the best bars, spread out over three levels. Close your eyes and think of a Wyoming bar: you'll likely envision mounted cattle horns, faded Native American murals, a big-ass whiskey-soaked dance floor populated by cowboy hats as country bands play, antique pianos, oil lamps, taxidermy, and charmingly surly bartenders armed with side-eyes and smiles. Cassie's is all of that and so, so much more: It's the ultimate western bar experience, almost a theme park of Wyoming quirk packed under one gigantic roof.
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