Because there's no better place to celebrate a promotion, wedding, or acquittal for accidentally inciting a riot at a Third Eye Blind concert than a bar, we spent the year drinking our way across the country to find the newest watering holes par excellence. And now that the quest is over -- and our tolerance for Creole bitters and fancified tiki drinks is at its peak -- here are the greatest, booziest bars that opened in the US in 2013. (And in case you somehow missed it because you were drinking in bars, here's our list of the country's 33 Best New Restaurants.)
Mixologist Miles Macquarrie, formerly of Holeman & Finch and Leon’s Full Service, is not just an awesome thing to say because it's an alliteration. He’s also the person behind the drinks at Kimball House, a Decatur cocktail/oyster bar in the throwback elegant style of the days when everyone loved discussing the Fordney-McCumber Tariff and winking at women with bobbed hair. And that person -- with his meticulously fresh cocktails impeccably made using his own tinctures, and bitters, and other magic potions -- is the reason you need to hit this increasingly popular spot, and order up a Blood Water featuring Death’s Door gin, toasted almond orgeat, lime, ginger, and Bitter Truth Creole Bitters.
CRAFT PRIDE,Austin, TX What you're getting: A Jester King seasonal
Craft Pride is Austin's latest and greatest beacon for lovers of Texas beer. Built largely with longleaf and curly pine reclaimed from the bar's past life as a residence, CP's bread and butter spew from over 50 taps lined to kegs of all-local beer from up-and-coming breweries like Jester King and Adelbert's. And for dessert, Detroit pie-slingers Via 313 are serving some of the best pizza in the nation from a trailer out back.
WHISLER'S,Austin, TX What you're getting: The Dealer's Choice
On Austin's East 6th Street, old Tejano haunts have been flipping into trendy bars faster than you can say "Fernet". But while many white-wash the buildings' histories, Rabbit's has been revamped into Whisler's with the blessing of the former owner (who recently celebrated his 80th birthday there). It maintains a massive Cesar Chavez mural, stripping the interior down to its original 1917 stonework and adding bizarre details like chairs draped with old postal bags. The cocktail list leans heavily on bold flavors like mezcal and house-made seasonal syrups, but the best move is to just let the experienced bartenders size you up and pour to your personality.
BEAT HÔTEL,Cambridge, MA What you're getting: A VFW Old Fashioned
The Tannery in Cambridge used to be the place I went in high school to find prohibitively expensive North Face jackets that at least 85% of the other kids at my school were also wearing, but now it’s the Beat Hotel -- a funky sister bar to the much-beloved Beehive in Boston’s South End. The vibe is eclectic (they have funkily painted support poles and psychedelic murals throughout, plus a giant goat just kind of hanging there), but -- like their sibling -- they manage just the right mix of legit eats (um, pulled lamb nachos?), eclectic clever cocktails (we recommend anything from the “Dad’s Liquor Cabinet” section), and well-curated live music nightly.
THE RAREBIT,Charleston, SC What you're getting: Moscow Mule with homemade Sweatman’s ginger beer
Do you remember the volatile years of the 1960s, when everyone was doing free love and getting involved in debates about Canada’s National Flag? We don’t either. But we do dig the '60s diner/cocktail vibe from the folks at Rarebit, with their track burgers and grilled cheese, and Brent Sweatman’s classic cocktails, especially anything using his delicious, delicious house-made ginger beer.
Named for a Prohibition-promoting evangelist (jokes on you, buddy!), Billy Sunday's really spiking the football on the whole "end of Prohibition" thing, even if the ambiance harkens back to that era. The owner's a protegé of the late Charlie Trotter, so unsurprisingly, the attention to detail is exceptional (house-made bitters, tonics, hand-carved ice, etc). They're constantly exploring kegged and bottled cocktails -- try their take on a Fernet & Cola, made with both Fernet Branca & Fernet Angelico and a house-made (obviously) cola mixture that's carbonated and kegged before being bottled. The bitterness of the Fernet gets tempered just enough. Throw one back with an order of crispy pig ears and you have yourself a little slice of the heaven that Billy Sunday's pretty sure you aren't going to.
THREE DOTS AND A DASH,Chicago, IL What you're getting: Poipu Beach Boogie Board; a Treasure Chest (if you're a baller and/or shot-caller)
Hidden away beneath bustling upscale BBQ joint Bub City and named for a classic Don the Beachcomber tiki cocktail, Three Dots represents an evolutionary step in the tiki paradigm from Paul McGee, formerly of Chi's beloved cocktail den The Whistler. It's got all the classic tiki trappings, from hula girl paintings to over-the-top drinking vessels you are sternly warned not to steal (though they're all available for purchase), and the menu divides cleanly between well-executed tiki classics and McGee's own creations. A skull denotes some serious strength, so naturally that's gonna be narrowing down your choices. On the new side of the ledger, the rye- and 151-proof rum-based Poipu Beach Boogie Board is balanced out with grenadine, maraschino, and pineapple. If your group is big and well-funded, go for the $385 Treasure Chest, serving up to eight people and packing a bottle of Dom Perignon (and plenty more tiki goodness) enveloped in a dry-ice haze.
PUNCH HOUSE,Chicago, IL What you're getting: Dusek Punch
A glorious dive of a basement bar in the same building as Best New Restaurant Dusek's, Punch House is a destination in its own right. As you might expect, punch is the thing here, served either old-school-style in a communal bowl (or a carafe) if you have a group -- but for the sake of trying more of them/possibly being lonely, you can also opt to go single-serving as all eight varieties they serve are kegged and tapped. The list's split evenly between classic centuries-old recipes and their own creations. Try the Dusek Punch (bourbon, lemon, raw sugar, dark ale, nutmeg), one of their creations (clearly) that has achieved such balanced drinkability, you'll briefly ponder tackling an entire bowl solo. Stare at the mesmerizing fish tank at the center of the bar and enjoy.
You know what’s nice? A kick-ass backyard. You know what’s even nicer? A kick-ass backyard, set up to be a beer garden, where you can hear live music, sometimes even by the co-owner/Texas Legend Pat Green, while you’re drinking a Texas beer from one of the most impressive lists of locals around, or sipping on the aforementioned Hidalgo, with Waterloo gin, Pecos cantaloupe syrup, muddled poblano, lemon juice, and orange bitters.
Useless fun fact: I was born in Houston, so its recent emergence as a place to be reckoned with on the national food/drink scene pleases me in a strange nostalgic way, as does Bad News Bar. The downtown spot is from Justin Burrow (of local craft cocktailery Anvil fame) and partners, and it’s the straight dope: not overly pretentious, not overly judgy, not overly adorned with captains or foxes (though there are a few) -- just a great classic cocktail bar that brings me back to a time I really wish I could remember.
VELVETEEN RABBIT,Las Vegas, NV What you're getting: The Crucifix in a Deathhand; the Burning Bush
This Victorian-era-ish cocktail bar, opened by sisters Pamela and Christine Dylag, seems like exactly the type of place where an author could get just boozed up enough to pen a tale of a stuffed bunny desperately trying to be real. Between all the crushed velvet, the bronze hand draft handles pouring brews like German Chocolate Cake Milk Stout, and the complete and utter lack of TVs, you get an atmosphere that pretty much encourages intriguing conversations regarding Nursery Fairies and the like, especially when you see the Dylags light a lemon peel on fire for your, um, Burning Bush.
NO VACANCY,Los Angeles, CA What you're getting: A delicious gin cocktail
The Houston brothers are known in the cocktail bar scene of LA for both their crazy-secret entrances and inventive cocktails, but No Vacancy is likely their opus. Taking over the 112yr-old Victorian Janes House, it looks like a creepy Clue mansion bed-and-breakfast, but once you get beyond the secret entrance (we’re not party poopers here -- figure it out yourself!), you’ll get cocktails from a Murderer’s Row of the US’s best bartenders (from the likes of Pour Vous, PDT, Roger Room, etc.), which change often, though -- like us, after writing for too long -- they tend to skew towards gin.
HONEYCUT,Los Angeles, CA What you're getting: Any drink on their extensive list; the Toucan Sam if they've got it
Combining disco dancing and great cocktails in a way that won't get any premium booze all over your very nice and hopefully not-shiny shirt, Honeycut is an LA-based 3000sqft underground hall dedicated to moving and shaking (the drink variety). Featuring a list of 50 distinct 'tails and a light-up dance floor in their Disco room, the latest venture from the dudes behind Las Perlas also boasts a former Death & Co. bartender and a beverage brain from The Varnish -- a pedigree that'll become apparent as you sip any of their awesome drinks, or rock a draft 'tail with sous-vide'd syrups & infusions while grooving to some killer live tuneage... or, you know, just play some pool.
EL CAMINO,Louisville, KY What you're getting: Whatever sweet tiki drink Susie Hoyt wants to make you
The Silver Dollar is a sweet-ass honky-tonk bar in Louisville, and you should definitely go there for choice drinks. Silver Dollar’s beverage director Susie Hoyt -- who did time at Chicago cocktail bar extradordinare Violet Hour -- is responsible for said choice drinks. And now the owners of the Silver Dollar have opened up El Camino, a monument to SoCal sitting right in Kentucky, and Hoyt's created the menu of “artisanal tiki drinks” there as well. You might be able to see a trend emerging.
DROGERIE,Miami, FL What you're getting: The Pain Killer
Make a right when you enter South Beach's Albion Hotel and you’ll think you ended up in the lab of a really, really tasteful mad scientist, where colorful beakers and glass bottles line the brick-arch windows and are filled with boozy herbal essences that mixologists in lab coats claim will actually make you feel healthy and energized after a night of drinking. Their line of “Pain Killers” -- the Aztec medicine w/ muddled pineapple & cilantro, habanero bitters & Santa Teresa rum, etc. -- are apparently so good, people fly all the way from Kentucky just to bring suitcases of them back home. Oh, AND they make their own absinthe in front of you, meaning they take French-imported herbs drenched in fermented sugar cane juice then light them on fire and serve it to your group of four or more. So, yeah, you should probably check this place out.
Okay -- first we have to admit something: B&C opened a few months before our normal cutoff date for this story. But we love it, and Milwaukee needs a place in any discussion of drinking, and look: (self-inflicted) rules are made to be broken. From the team behind the also popular Hotel Foster, B&C looks like the bar my grandfather Ray Tuller kept in his basement, if he was much wealthier, and hunted things, and found more plaid couches. The drink to get here is the Trinidad Sour, mostly because it’s one of the only ones we’ve seen that has bitters as a base booze, and also manages to be intoxicatingly delicious. So go here, and tell them Ray Tuller sent you. It won’t mean anything to them, but I’d really kind of appreciate it.
THE TORPEDO ROOM,Minneapolis, MN What you're getting: The sno-cones or the Corn Tiki
Minnesota is one of the last places you'd think of when you hear "tropical paradise", but the guys at already popular Eat Street Social are making it a reality (at least for one roomful of people) with their newly appointed Torpedo Room. It's a Polynesian-style tiki bar smack dab in the middle of their restaurant, complete with a thatched roof, tropical bar snacks like house-made SPAM sliders and sausage-and-papaya salad, and boozy sno-cones that're served alongside carefully curated cocktails featuring Oceanic ingredients (Tahitian bitters, White Lion Arrack) with a good ol'-fashioned Midwestern twist (think candied bacon and sweet corn cream).
PINEWOOD SOCIAL,Nashville, TN What you're getting: The Honesty of Constant Human Error
We happen to be blessed with food writer friends in Nashville. And they happen to be blessed by the seemingly millions of cool things going on in the food/drink scene there now, including the opening of brand new Pinewood Social. Less of a bar than a collection of things (a coffee shop, a bowling alley, a karaoke space, a dining room, and oh… also a bar), Pinewood is like your rich friend with a cool job’s extremely sweet house. But the bar lies in the center, and that focus is likely intentional, seeing as the project comes from the Goldberg Brothers of Patterson House fame, and the man in charge of that bar, Matt Tocco, also did the drinks at Rolf and Daughters, and has our vote for the best cocktail names ever. After all, where else can you sit down and enjoy The Honesty of Constant Human Error?
CANE & TABLE,New Orleans, LA What you're getting: The Last Island
When this place opened -- thanks to the pedigree of owners Neal Bodenheimer from legendary cocktail joint Cure, alongside rum savant Nick Detrich -- the hype was Bourbon Street-at-9pm-on-a-Saturday loud. And there's a reason: the drinks in this Havana-inflected, “proto-tiki” joint are the real deal, and not only because they’re authentically excellent cocktails that often come, as one NOLA restaurant friend described, “in pineapples, or coconuts, or lit on fire, OR poured in a lime and THEN lit on fire..."
TØRST,New York, NY What you're getting: A beer you've never heard of before that's probably been barrel-aged
Perhaps the premier beer bar in all of NYC, this paradise of brew geekery was opened by the brewer of Evil Twin, looks like the inside of a super-modern viking ship complete with a tap system called the Flux Capacitor, which ensures that all 21 rare, unusual, or one-off beers are served with the optimal pressure and temperature, and also that you can get the Sports Almanac back from Biff.
DEAD RABBIT,New York, NY What you're getting: Morning Reviver
Tales of the Cocktail winner for World's Best New Cocktail Bar, World's Best Cocktail Menu, and International Bartender of the Year, this bi-level tavern housed in a historic financial district building throws out an encyclopedic menu of cocktails you will be happy just to know exist (Bishops, Possets, Invalid Drinks). Big communal punch bowls can be had at the parlor upstairs, while a slightly less refined tap room downstairs hosts an actual grocery slinging house made bitters, HP sauce, and mushy peas. Do you know any other bars in the US selling you mushy peas? No, no you do not.
The traditional image of a great whiskey bar is a small, gentlemanly den probably lined with shelves of books and a really expensive globe, but this Midtown complex is a sprawling multi level affair loaded with buffalo heads, "board rooms", and private liquor lockers. It also has an absurdly top notch collection of brown stuff, cocktails on draft, a perfectly rowdy game-day vibe, and pub grub like fried crab claws and duck duck goose sliders, y’know, for the kids.
Take a sweet biergarten, and put it right on the waterfront on the “Oakland Riviera”, and make sure it is stocked with a selection of 17 hard-to-find German beers (three types of Schonramer!), choice local CA brews, and even some Belgians. Then give it a delectable selection of sausages, pork shanks, and even freakin’ smoked peanuts smoked with bacon fat & garlic, then tossed with pimentón, chipotle & ancho chili from chef Lev Delany. And then you’ll finally start to understand why Krista and Tony Granieri’s bar is worth including on this list.
As anyone who ever skis can attest, the best part of the day is when you’re actually done and warm inside drinking and talking about how awesome it is that you’ve stopped skiing. So the Scandinavian après-ski spot from Andrew and Briana Volk does the honorable thing, and cuts right to the booze -- serving up crafted cocktails (Volk has been a bartender at choice spots across the country) -- selected out of a large leather bound list that seems to have cherry picked Volk’s favorites from across the country (shout out to Tommy’s Margarita in SF!), alongside Nordic small plates served on wood planks. If you want to be uber-hip, they’ve also got a $2500 membership that gets you access to a special room in the back (plus $2500 in food/drink credits), so you can discuss your secret distaste for skiing in private over an Industry Sour (Fernet, Chartreuse, lime).
Drinking in libraries is an activity usually reserved for bums. But bums can't have all the fun (unless they're played by Joe Pesci), so for the rest of us there's Multnomah Whiskey Library, a gorgeous emporium of mash that features 1500+ varieties stacked up on a gigantic, ladder-accessed wall and pushed around on carts, dim-sum style, by vested bartenders. The place feels like you've been transported back to a gentleman's lounge from the '20s, with leather couches underneath vintage portraiture hanging from old-school brick and wood-laden walls. Though it’s already notorious for its 3+ hour waiting list, it has the distinction -- in a town where that kind of wait is typical for brunch -- of actually being worth your time.
Take a team already known as one of the best, most innovative in SD -- thanks to having opened places like Noble Experiment, UnderBelly, and Craft & Commerce -- then add in Erick Castro of Bourbon & Branch in SF to design a crazy ambitious drink program, then add a crazy ambitious 46 tap system, so you can pour spirits, craft sodas, and even some cocktails right from said tap, then know they’re also doing sweet beertails, and even homemade egg cream sodas, and you get quite possibly the bar of the decade in San Diego. Plus a decently epic run-on sentence.
You'll feel downright dastardly after spending enough time at Frauds and Swindlers in San Diego, mostly because the cocktails are so good it’s… waitforit… criminal (sorry). LA transplants Aidan Demarest and David Whitton (Neat, Villains Tavern) opened this crooked honky-tonk as a temple of innovative drinkage, and're offering swigs such as rye whiskey/champagne punch, the tequila/jalapeño/cucumber Inigo Montoya, and even fresh-pressed fruit juice, the most dastardly thing of all. It certainly doesn’t hurt that you can take it all in while hanging in their ironic church-pew seating, listening to the old-timey piano and eating (sort of old-timey?) house-made pizza.
TRICK DOG,San Francisco, CA What you're getting: Eye of the Tiger
Undoubtedly one of the biggest openings of the year anywhere, Trick Dog is the three-year-in-the-making cocktail bar from Josh Harris and Scott Baird, aka The Bon Vivants -- a cocktail consulting partnership with serious national pedigree. And despite the deafening hype, the spot itself has lived up to all of it and more, with its clever drink menus (first made to look like a Pantone, then made on the labels of real records stored in old albums) and its cleverer drinks. Go early during the week, if you want a seat, and stay late, because you’re likely going to want to try every one of those damn albums, er, drinks.
MIKKELLER BAR,San Francisco, CA What you're getting: A crazy sour beer you’ve never heard of
Though normally we don’t advocate copying the Danes, in Mikkeller’s case, we’ll give it a pass. MB is the first US iteration of the world-famous Copenhagen bar, and is both aesthetically handsome as hell (yes, those are street lights imported from Denmark) and pleasing to any beer geek's palate, thanks to 42 beers on tap, and a semi-secret basement “Sour Room” dedicated to that deliciously tart sudsy iteration.
Opened by the team behind some of Seattle's sweetest eat/drink spots (Spur Gastropub, Tavern Law), TOS is a casual take on an old-school drinking club (right down to the shelves stocked with second-hand books, and the ironic portrait of a teetotaling city father) where chefs McCracken & Tough are pairing hugely attractive smoked meat/seafood dishes with a huge range of smoky, Scotch-based cocktails like an Amontillado sherry/lemon/Demerara combo that's called what Will Smith and Tom Cruise could really use about now: a Summer Smash.
VON TRAPP'S,Seattle, WA What you're getting: A German Beer
If you like beer, or beer-based cocktails, or lawn games, or artisanal housemade sausages, then Von Trapp's -- a massive 420-seat suds hall from the guys behind Poquitos (and Bastille, and Stoneburner, and Macleod's), fitted with two bars, five indoor bocce courts, two elevated mezzanine-style sitting areas, and a "bier den" tricked out like a grandiose Bavarian hunting lodge -- will be like The Sound Of Music to your ears.
Tired of drinking in bars that just kind of look like bars? Well then, welcome to 2B/1S, which sits below popular DC resto Doi Moi behind an unmarked door and -- from the outside -- pretty much looks exactly like an apartment, save for the little lamp with the bird on it. But, on the inside, the guys behind Estadio and Proof have created a sleek space to showcase their cocktails, which you can order after perusing their hand-drawn, comic-book-style menu. Though, if you’re smart, you’re just getting the punch of the day, then heading to one of the little alcoves to try and tongue kiss Tipper Gore. Or, like, a hot chick or whomever.
BLUEJACKET,Washington, DC What you're getting: James & the Giant; the Stroppy pale ale
A former munitions manufacturing warehouse that's now turning out a completely different type of rounds, Bluejacket is a 7000sqft DC Navy Yard brewery/bar/restaurant from the same folks behind the wildly successful ChurchKey and Birch & Barley. They brew many of their beers on-site, such as the 9% ABV James & the Giant, a Belgian strong blond made with Pennsylvania peaches, and're preparing to churn out even more varieties (than their 20 current offerings), like sour beers aged in wine barrels. Also expect to have some seriously awesome bar snacks, like five-spice pork rinds and fries topped with "General Satan's Sauce", which we can only assume was created by General Tso's more diabolical comrade-in-arms.
Kevin Alexanderis Thrillist's National Food/Drink Executive Editor, and enjoys drinking gin, because it smells like Christmas and secrets. Follow him to freedom/Twitter at KAlexander03.