It’s hard damn work crafting the perfect whiskey bar. One might argue that they’re not, in fact, made but rather that they evolve over time. From the dive-iest dive bars to one-stop bar & bottle shops to upscale, pre-Prohibition-inspired gastropubs, these are the 10 best whiskey bars in the U.S.
It’s impossible to put together a roundup of the best whiskey bars in the U.S. without mentioning Jack Rose Dining Saloon. This D.C.-based institution earns a spot based purely on its absurd selection. Their ethos appears to be based off the ol’ Mark Twain chestnut, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” As of June 2019, their homepage proudly boasts 2,687 bottles of whiskey on offer. The mind boggles at how they keep track of enough bottles to fill a swimming pool. Add to that a beautiful, wood-heavy dining room complete with pressed-tin ceilings and a dedicated cigar menu, and this is one destination-worthy tasting bar.
Why Go? Because you probably can’t name a whiskey that they don’t stock.
Canon isn’t the largest, swankiest, or most over-the-top cocktail bar on this list, and it isn’t trying to be. This purist mainstay of the Seattle cocktail scene does a few things better than almost any other bar in the country. First, they take their cocktails very seriously, and their 94-page spirit menu with more than 4,000 labels is a testament to that. Second, they claim the most extensive American whiskey selection on the continent, and we’re inclined to believe them. Lastly, it’s impossible not to love the vibe. It’s upscale, but not snooty; the decor is dark and industrial like a good dive bar should be, and every piece of wood throughout has been hand stained with
Why Go? Because nine — nine! — full pages of their spirits menu are dedicated entirely to rare whiskeys.
New York City, New York
From the outside, the understated sophistication of Highlands belies one of New York’s greatest whiskey — er — whisky bars. Even within the city’s iconic West Village, this is a bar that stands out. Most notable is its 250-plus-bottle Scotch inventory. Here, it’s not merely about quantity, but quality. The staff appreciates a good dram — a fact reflected in the meticulously curated menu that includes some of the best brown to ever pour out of Scotland.
Why Go? The breadth of pub fare here — including everything from confit duck leg to haggis — is punched up enough to make it a destination-worthy restaurant in its own right.
Situated in the 21c Museum Hotel in downtown Louisville, there is almost no better place for a pour of bourbon than Proof on Main. Not only is the bar-restaurant down the street from Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery, Old Forester, Kentucky Peerless, and more, but the bar itself contains over 120 different bourbons. The number is great, but the selection of those bourbons is even better. Some of the barrel selections and special bottles on Proof’s shelves are only available at Proof. Once you get through a dram or two of the good stuff, you’ll then want to move on to the seasonal cocktails, which are as creative as they are delicious. (Then, when you’ve got a few in you, wander around in the 21c and take in the artwork.)
Why Go? It’s Louisville, Kentucky. Why wouldn’t you want to visit a whiskey bar in the heart of bourbon country? Do you really need any other reasons?
That it’s called a “library” should provide some indication of just how seriously the folks at Portland’s Multnomah Whiskey Library take their whiskey. By the numbers, it boasts an impressive cellar of roughly 1,800 spirits, but most importantly is that 1,200 of those are whiskey. Be warned that this is no ordinary Friday night, pregaming watering hole. You’ll almost certainly need reservations or know someone on the inside. It’s the sort of spot for impressing a first date or sealing the deal on your next round of venture capital.
Why Go? Tufted leather couches, vintage chandeliers, rich wood and exposed brick throughout — the picture-perfect, library-meets-cigar-lounge atmosphere make this one of the swankiest whiskey bars in the country.
St. Louis, Missouri
Where many whiskey bars lean too heavy on the size of their bottle cellar, Gamlin Whiskey House strikes a balance between incredible whiskey bar and incredible chophouse. Their selection of brown is backed by a solid 300-ish bottles, including basics like Knob Creek and sought-after icons like Pappy. What’s more, you can pair every pour with a choice cut of some the finest Midwestern beef.
Why Go? If you’re new to whiskey, the onsite sommelier can help you find something to your liking and hone your tasting skills in the process.
Los Angeles, California
Bar Jackalope plays off the one-time, retro-cool speakeasy vibe complete with a “secret” entrance and a password required for admission. That might seem a bit played out, especially in downtown Los Angeles. But this “sipping library” inside the city’s popular Seven Grand bar firmly sets itself apart. In designing the space and the experience, Owner Cedd Moses pulled heavy inspiration from Japan’s upscale whisky bars. The result is a space that’s dark, cozy, and exclusive. The interior seats just 12 with room for an additional dozen on the patio and members get first dibs.
Why Go? For $250, members can secure a bottle and space in the charm glass booze cabinet behind the bar to stow their private stash.
Delilah’s is a Windy City institution that’s just as popular with locals as anyone “from away.” It’s the dive-iest dive bar on this list, and we say that with affection. Most patrons are content to show up for a beer, a few rounds of pool, and to break it down to whatever live local DJ showed up to spin that night. Others know that this a destination-worthy whiskey bar with a deep, well-curated selection of more than 800 bottles from over a dozen countries. The Scotch menu, in particular, represents 70 distilleries, including every style and region available from the Motherland.
Why Go? Locals roll in for Delilah’s much-anticipated private barrel releases of Scotch, rye, and bourbon available only at the bar.
In our experience, most “pre-Prohibition-inspired” bars seem designed by some focus group’s idea of what a pre-Prohibition-era bar should look like. Saloon is a rare exception that feels like the real deal in every respect. The Somerville, Massachusetts watering hole nails every aspect of its period atmosphere. Stepping through the dramatic entryway with its 17th-century cathedral doors reveals a refined space of exposed brick walls and hidden stairwells, plus leather seating and rich wood throughout. The whiskey selection is relatively abbreviated at “only” 120 bottles, but with a sincere focus on quality over quantity.
Why Go? The hearty, elevated pub fare makes this a solid choice for not only a decent dram but also a decent meal.
Like Saloon, Village Whiskey takes its food just as seriously as its whiskey selection. The Philadelphia favorite boasts a whiskey menu (PDF) that runs more than 200 bottles deep, including popular mainstays alongside small batch and reserve favorites. Their all-day menu is just as impressive with heavy and hearty favorites like Buffalo Cheese Curds, Short Rib Duck Fat Fries, and Kentucky Hot Brown sammies (which, incidentally, is the best sandwich ever).
Why Go? Everything on the menu is out-of-this-world good. But, patrons wait in line for hours for their Burger of the Month. (Take note: No reservations after 3 p.m. It’s all first-come-first-served.)
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