Best cocktails bars in each US state
June 12, 2014 10:36 AM   Subscribe

I want to sit alone for a few hours at the best cocktail bar in your city.

While I know it might be passé by now, I'm a sucker for the modern cocktail movement. I love lush, dark, pretentious speakeasies where the cocktails take 15 minutes to make and cost my first born. As a kid, I dreamed on the day I could be the mysterious woman sitting alone at a fancy bar and here I am as an adult, with the means to fulfill my dreams.

And so, one of my favorite past times is to sit at the bar by myself for a few hours, drink delicious things and chat with the bartenders. At home, in Minneapolis, I do this at places like Marvel Bar, Parlour, Cafe Maude, etc. While doing a little day-dreaming today, I thought it would be fun to know the best bar to have this experience in each city in the US.


As I mentioned, the Minneapolis bars I listed are modern speakeasy-types, with (a dreaded word, I know) mixologists and craft cocktails. I would be looking for places like this as opposed to dive bars.

Cocktails a must. Beer and wine don't do it for me.

Ambience. This can mean a couple of things: dark, textured, quirky, trying-too-hard, you name it. Just not a sports bar or small-town bar (which I also love, but not for the purposes of this question).

There are tons of "best of" lists for places like this, but I'm looking for personal experiences. I want to put together a travel list so I can hit the best bar in every city I go to. In your US town, what bar best fits this criteria? Where can I, mysterious woman, sit alone at a bar in my best dress and drink?
posted by Zosia Blue to Food & Drink (148 answers total) 146 users marked this as a favorite
This book is pretty alright. My friend has it, and it's on point for Chicago, Portland, and Seattle at least.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 10:43 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Chicago, can't go wrong with Violet Hour.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:46 AM on June 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

In Chicago, you want the Violet Hour. It's got your dark, your trying-too-hard/pretentious, some fairly terrible music as it gets later and more crowded (seriously -- at 6 PM it's all Miles Davis and Chet Baker, but by 9 PM it's all plaintive hipster wailing), and some damned fine cocktails.
posted by coppermoss at 10:46 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Nashville, The Patterson House (not my city, but my favorite bar of that type I've been to in any city).
posted by primethyme at 10:46 AM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Chicago: The Violet Hour.

Yes, there's competition (The Library below Gilt Bar, Scofflaw and Drawing Room and all that) but Toby Maloney was behind a lot of the modern cocktail renaissance and VH is pretty iconic.

On preview: jinx.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:46 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Violet Hour is the place for this in Chicago. There are other places with nice cocktails and food (Scofflaw) or places with obscenely expensive cocktails (The Aviary, but that place is obnoxious), but Violet Hour is exactly the ambience you're looking for.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 10:47 AM on June 12, 2014

Austin TX Midnight Cowboy Modeling. Requires an appointment and to buzz the correct fictional character on the apartment style buzzer.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:48 AM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm sure people will have a zillion suggestions but it's hard to beat Dutch Kills and Amor y Amargo in NYC.
posted by mlle valentine at 10:48 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Boston: Drink, or maybe back bar in Somerville.
posted by Diablevert at 10:49 AM on June 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

Oh, and the Pegu Club in NYC was pretty great the one time I went. It's got ambiance for days.
posted by coppermoss at 10:50 AM on June 12, 2014

Seconding Amor y Amargo in NYC, plus PDT (inside Crif Dogs, totally has the secret speakeasy situation covered) and Employees Only. And my cocktail-BFF has nothing but wonderful things to say about Dead Rabbit.
posted by bedhead at 10:50 AM on June 12, 2014

in NYC there is angel's share, where the bar decorum (as i was informed by my friend who guided me through the back, up the stairs, and around the corner) was that of a place where people could go and have a quiet, lovely drink. tables don't really associate with each other, no more than a party of four per group, and it takes a while to get what will possibly be the best cocktail you can imagine because they really take their time to do it well. (i was there years ago so things may have changed since then.)

another place, without all those rules, is weather up. they have a brooklyn and a manhattan location, and the brooklyn location doesn't have a sign, just white tile on the front facade. they have a lovely outdoor seating area.

little branch in the west village just has a door on the corner, and you take the stairs down into a dark speakeasy with exactly the kind of vibe you are looking for. very very $$$!

tooker alley in brooklyn is another bar that actually dislikes yelp, and would rather you straight up tell them what you would like improved about the place. direct feedback, as it were - so they have a little notebook where you can write down your suggestions. i was a big fan of the jalapeno cocktail, which had just enough spice but kind of a creamy cool to make it the perfect combo.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 10:50 AM on June 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co.
Hop Sing Laundromat

The two best in the city, and both are wonderful; FM&IC is more traditional prohibition cocktail bar, Hop Sing is... cocktail bar filtered through obsessive madman in the best possible way.
posted by The Michael The at 10:52 AM on June 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

Seattle: Zig Zag, Canon, Kneehigh Stocking Company.
posted by bensherman at 10:52 AM on June 12, 2014

Oh yes, +1million to the Franklin in Philly. My favorite bar of all time.
posted by mlle valentine at 10:52 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Boston area has a great selection of cocktail bars. Off the top of my head:

-Drink is the go-to standard for high-quality cocktails. No menus, no tables. Sit at the bar, tell the bartender you're feeling fruity (or tart, or aromatic... you get it) and they'll make you something. It is also insanely crowded most nights.

-The same restaurant group owns No. 9 Park in Beacon Hill. I have not been here yet, but friends are big fans.

-Backbar in Somerville is much cozier. Right in Union Square, walk down an alley and through an unmarked door next to a dumpster. The bartenders are great and the ambiance is superb. They have some couches if that's your thing.

- Not somewhere I have been more than once or twice, but I enjoyed Franklin Southie. Not as much of a "vibe" but a solid drinks menu.

-Also in Somerville, Saloon was designed from the get-go to be speakeasy-like, so the atmosphere is definitely through the roof. It's in a basement through an unmarked door. They focus on whiskeys more than anything else. I am not a huge fan of this place, but I add it for completeness.

-Kendall Square in Cambridge has Belly, which is primarily a wine bar but also has some killer bartenders and an excellent cocktail list. Not so much speakeasy stylings, but you will not be out of place dressed up nicely here.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:53 AM on June 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

Acacia in Pittsburgh.
posted by bfranklin at 10:54 AM on June 12, 2014

Top of the Mark is sort of old-school in San Francisco. It's fun to go at sunset and watch the fog roll in.

Miller Union in Atlanta.

The Regent Cocktail Club in Miami.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:55 AM on June 12, 2014

In Indianapolis, Platt 99 or Thunderbird are my choices.
posted by cessair at 10:55 AM on June 12, 2014


(River North)
Three Dots and a Dash if you like tiki and want to get hammered. It's a Paul McGee joint.

Sable, always a classic, excellent booze selection, Mike Ryan at the helm.

Celeste, a newcomer, beautiful interior, ex-Sable employees, decent booze program.

(Wicker Park)
Violet Hour. Started the whole Midwest cocktail scene. Ex-Violet Hour employees are now responsible for programs from Minneapolis to St. Louis. Not the best solo joint.

Revel Room. Decent drink program. Fancy looking.

(South Side)
Dusek's / Punch House. Newcomer. Again, decent drinks. Lively atmosphere. This building is heralding the change of Pilsen. Same crew behind Longman & Eagle.

Maria's Community Bar. Amazing beer selection. In Bridgeport, kind of out of the way.

(Logan Square)
Analogue. New, Robby Haynes, ex-Violet Hour, part of Letherbee. Great drinks, v. hipster.

The Whistler. Paul McGee's OG home. Once named one of the best bars in the US by GQ. Hip as shit, expect everything to take forever.

Longman & Eagle. Good drinks. Lots of whiskey. Lots of people looking to get laid. Hotel upstairs.

(Lincoln Park)
Barrelhouse Flat. Go upstairs. Industry bar, good stiff drinks, 4 AM, craft bartenders like to hang here. Scenestery.

Delilah's. Rock/Metal bar. Loud as shit. Oh but they happen to have a few hundred whiskeys, the largest in the city.

(Fulton Market)
The Aviary. Grant Achatz's bar. Duh, go here, but it's not at all suitable for a party of 1. However... there is The Office, which is Achatz's private invite-only basement lounge. That is great for a solo. In fact, until the death of Jason Cevallos, that was the greatest cocktail bar in the city, if not one of the best in the world. I don't know the new bartender, but it's bound to still be amazing. Google around how to get into The Office. I'm not sure how hard/easy it is these days...

Lone Wolf. Newbie. Decent drinks, lots of richies hanging out waiting for their reso's at other restaurants. Easy place to get picked up.

Maude's. Good drinks. Good food. Great party of 1 restaurant/bar.

I could go on, but it's lunch time. There's a nice starting place.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 11:00 AM on June 12, 2014 [9 favorites]

(Also, and then I will shut up, IMO basically the two best sets of cocktail bars in NYC are run by Sasha Petraske and Ravi DeRossi. Petraske's bars tend to be a little more speakeasy with very classic recipes (and some invented stuff). Those include Milk & Honey, Little Branch, Middle Branch, and Dutch Kills which I mentioned above. DeRossi's tend to focus on more innovative drinks, and each more or less corresponds to a particular spirit. There's Amor y Amargo, as I said above (amari), Mayahuel (tequila and mezcal), Gin Palace (you know), and Death and Co (more of an even representation, spiritwise). Try any of them and you won't go wrong!)
posted by mlle valentine at 11:01 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

in southern coastal oregon, it's the bunker bar at the bandon dunes golf resort. it's like a super-mancave where women are welcome. it's grandfathered out of the no-smoking restrictions, and you can play pool, watch sports events and eat really tasty chow.
posted by bruce at 11:02 AM on June 12, 2014

In DC, that would be The Passenger and its cocktail bar The Columbia Room.
posted by evoque at 11:02 AM on June 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seattle: Sun Liquor over on Summit Ave. The Sun Liquor Distillery over on Pine is okay but it doesn't have that dark, mellow feel where you can quietly chat with the bartender, like you can at the Summit location.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:02 AM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

For the Cincinnati area, you want any bar run by Molly Wellmann which is currently the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar.
posted by mmascolino at 11:02 AM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I am so, so excited by all of these answers and am dreaming on some travel plans. Thank you for the recommendations so far.
posted by Zosia Blue at 11:04 AM on June 12, 2014

Top of the Mark is sort of old-school in San Francisco.

It is, but it is not at all speakeasyish, and while their drinks are certainly costly, I would not call them craft.

Bourbon and Branch. Make a reservation so you can have a booth, or you can do a walk-in for the library (password: books), which is neat but mostly standing-only, though the room is beautiful.

Maybe Hideout - you don't need a password, but it is teeny and in the back room of another bar, and I have heard very good things about it.
posted by rtha at 11:08 AM on June 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

I add this only because you specifically list "over the top" as a possible descriptor: Cuchi Cuchi in Cambridge does delicious muddled fruit cocktails and old-school shots in a Jazz Age style bar with atmosphere coming out the ass. Backseat pilot's suggestions are classier and probably have higher-quality drinks (I <3 Saloon) but if you're looking for memorable, I'd check out Cuchi Cuchi instead.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 11:09 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also in the Boston area, Craigie on Main in Cambridge has the best cocktails I've had. It's a (great) restaurant but the bar and the bartenders are awesome and in off hours it's pretty quiet.

Get the Ardoise: vodka, sage simple syrup, juniper. Amazing.
posted by lydhre at 11:12 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with most of the Boston rec's, but also want to throw The Hawthorne into the mix.
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:12 AM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

No pun intended.
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:12 AM on June 12, 2014

(also if you come to NYC please make a fancy cocktail meetup!)
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 11:17 AM on June 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

I want a Canadian edition of this question! So, I hope it's okay if I cheat... In Ottawa: El Camino or Union 613. If going at Union 613, ask specifically to be seated in the speakeasy.
posted by Milau at 11:20 AM on June 12, 2014

If you come to Milwaukee, there is nowhere better for this than At Random. It's the most unassuming place ever from the outside, but it's amazing! Cash only, pitch dark, amazing decor, no beer or wine available, just cocktails. Walking in is like falling into a time warp. It's the dictionary definition of old school.

And as long as you're in the neighborhood, you'd do well to swing by Bryant's, too.

If you're looking for something a little less... distinctly Midwestern, head over to Hotel Foster, Boone & Crockett, or The Hamilton.

And yes, if you make it down here for fancy libations, please set up a meetup! Fancy cocktails are the best.
posted by divined by radio at 11:22 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, how did I forget the Hawthorne? Eastern Standard is also excellent and right next door. Both have some great atmosphere (Eastern Standard might have come straight out of 1920s Paris - checkered floor, lots of brass, waiters in aprons).
posted by backseatpilot at 11:22 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

My recommendations for Chicago, NYC, Boston, and SF have been covered here already, so I'll add VTR and Cave du Vin in Cleveland, and Noble Experiment and Craft&Commerce in SD.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:24 AM on June 12, 2014

From what I've heard, Velvet Tango Room in Cleveland is very great, I haven't been there though. I'm partial to Porco Lounge. It's a Tiki Bar big into making historically accurate Tiki drinks. I love La Cav du Vin here, but I've never ordered a cocktail.
posted by coreywilliam at 11:25 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pittsburgh - Acacia's good; I like Tender too.
posted by punchtothehead at 11:26 AM on June 12, 2014

Response by poster: I'll absolutely set up fancy cocktail meet-ups if I put together plans here.
posted by Zosia Blue at 11:29 AM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I haven't been around enough to say it's the best in the state, but the best in Tucson, Arizona is certainly Scott & Co. It is exactly what you've described, except that it won't cost you your firstborn because everything in Tucson is cheap.

Wilko, next to the University of Arizona campus, has recently stepped up its cocktail game quite a bit, too, but it's not the same atmosphere you describe--more open and sunny.
posted by Aquinas at 11:31 AM on June 12, 2014

Denver: Williams & Graham
posted by shornco at 11:33 AM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not my city, but The Alembic in San Francisco is great.
posted by a fair but frozen maid at 11:35 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and Eastern Standard in Boston is wonderful, but do NOT go on a Sox night. The bar will be five deep in people drinking bad beer and vodka-and-Sprite.
posted by a fair but frozen maid at 11:40 AM on June 12, 2014

For the Montana take on craft cocktails, you can't go wrong with the new(ish) Montgomery Distillery here in Missoula.
posted by ikahime at 11:46 AM on June 12, 2014

St. Louis: Olio, Blood & Sand (you'll need to find a member)
posted by evisceratordeath at 11:46 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Charleston, SC: The Gin Joint

2nd place: The Belmont
posted by sandmanwv at 11:49 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll add Tavern Law to the Seattle list, and second Eastern Standard in Boston. It's definitely a stadium bar, but people drinking Bud from the bottle rub shoulders easily with people drinking cocktails and eating well. (I most remember the Prospect Park, a Manhattan made with Cherry Heering.)

I went to Eastern Standard on a business trip overnight in Boston, and when the barman found out I was from Seattle, he said "How's Murray?" as in Murray Stimson, the nationally recognized bartender who was at Zig Zag and is now at Canon, both mentioned above. Awesome.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:49 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Los Angeles: The Varnish tucked away in the back of Cole's restaurant
posted by lakemarie at 11:50 AM on June 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oakland: Dogwood in uptown. Small, dark, intimate feel, crazy good cocktails, and, as a bonus, really amazing grilled cheese sandwiches (get the bacon whiskey chutney adder!).
posted by Gori Girl at 11:58 AM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Albuquerque: Apothecary in the Hotel Parq Central is probably your best bet. Maybe Art Bar
posted by jeffch at 12:07 PM on June 12, 2014

Came here to recommend Franklin Mortgage and Trust in Philadelphia - one of my favorite bars in the city, and saw that it was already accounted for. So Nthing Franklin - amazingly knowledgeable staff who are super friendly. I took my mom there and she requested a copy of the menu since she loved the names so much. They printed out fresh, laminated copies for her on the spot. I can't think of a single other bar that would do that.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 12:23 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Knoxville: The Peter Kern Library in the Oliver Hotel.
posted by workerant at 12:23 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Durham, NC: Alley Twenty Six
posted by Maecenas at 12:24 PM on June 12, 2014

There are so many bars in New Orleans that are doing excellent cocktails right now but I'll narrow it down to three. There's no coincidence that they're all part of the same business family.

Cure - granddaddy of the high-end cocktail movement here in the city, 2014 James Beard Award nominee in the category of Outstanding Bar Program, Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards nominee for Best American Cocktail Bar.

Bellocq - attached to the side of the Hotel Modern, specializes in pre-Prohibition cocktails, Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards nominee for Best Hotel Bar.

Cane & Table - their own description of "Rum, Rustic Colonial Cuisine, ProtoTiki Cocktails" really sums it up nicely. Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards nominee for Best New American Cocktail Bar.

There are, of course, a dozen other incredible bars here including, but not limited to: French 75, Loa, the bar at Tivoli & Lee, Bar Tonique, the bar at Maurepas Foods, Booty's, SoBou, and I should stop now before I embarrass myself by leaving too many people out. This is the city where you can get cocktails made for you by Chris Hannah, Chris McMillian, Beachbum Berry (soon!), Kirk Estopinal, Kimberly Patton-Bragg, and more.

We are starting to get a bit of a glut of bars that hear that they ought to have a good cocktail program and kind of wing it, but those can be avoided with a little care. If you get a good drink somewhere just ask the bartender that made it, "Okay, so where do you go for your fancy drinks?" You'll probably be referred to one of the bars mentioned above.
posted by komara at 12:29 PM on June 12, 2014

In Washington, D.C., you'd be hard-pressed to beat the Passenger (especially the famed Columbia Room). The Gibson is a very, very close second.
posted by General Malaise at 12:34 PM on June 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

In Tampa, this is Ciro's. For pretentious: they do the whole speak-easy thing with requiring a password at the door and the cocktail menu says directly on it, "Our drink lists are typed in-house on our original Underwood No. 4 typewriter." They make their syrups and things there at the bar. The drinks are okay, but the staff leaves a lot to be desired. We went for a girls' night and the waiter took our drink order and only brought half of them. We didn't correct him, we just left. His loss; when we're served drinks, we tip well.
posted by dearwassily at 12:56 PM on June 12, 2014

Oh, I forgot about Tavern Law and Rob Roy in Seattle.

Tavern Law has an *actual secret stairwell* you have to *pick up a secret phone* to enter. They have 3 VERY small tables, and no menu. You give them an idea, and they make a cocktail. It is an awesome thing to do once. Otherwise, the main bar is awesome.

Rob Roy is just beautiful and has the largest selection of rad spirits around.
posted by bensherman at 1:32 PM on June 12, 2014

116 Crown is the best cocktail bar in New Haven, and almost certainly the best in all of Connecticut. Chic decor, ultra premium spirits, high end mixers and garnishes, and $15 per cocktail prices. Drink Menu

It is not a speakeasy, but I don't think we have any of those in this state.
posted by smackfu at 1:35 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite cocktails in Portland are at Sapphire Hotel.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:46 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

People have largely covered my Boston favorites, except Brick and Mortar. However, if you're going Anywhere and don't see recs here? Just ask about that town on ask metafilter or even google. That's how I found great cocktail bars in Nashville and the Great Sugar House in Detroit. There are awesome cocktail bars Everywhere these days.

Oh, one more - Ranstead Room in Philly wasn't as good as Franklin Mortgage in my book, but it Totally has the slowly crafted drinks and ridiculous Speakeasy/bordello decor you're looking for.
posted by ldthomps at 2:04 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another St. Louis recommendation (though I haven't been): Planter's House, run by Ted Kilgore, one of the top mixologists in town. It looks like exactly what you're envisioning, and the cocktails are indeed deep productions. (Bonus: Check out the rooftop view and the cocktails across the street at Vin de Set.)
posted by limeonaire at 2:07 PM on June 12, 2014

In Dallas, there's The Standard Pour and The Bowen House right by each other in Uptown. Also, The Cedars Social just south of downtown.
posted by erikgrande at 2:13 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seattle: Zig Zag, Canon, Kneehigh Stocking Company.

Yea, i'd add a couple to this but those are solid.

Knee High Stocking Co - I liken this to a description someone wrote in an iphone 5s review a month or so after it's release. "Still the best, but no longer a leader". This is a speakeasy-themed place that you have to text and make a reservation to get let into. There's no sign, and it's just in an apartment building. It's an actual licensed bar, but it makes you feel cool. The cocktails aren't really themed, but rotate seasonally and include home-sourced ingredients like "Mesquite aged under the porch" and other stuff. Their Painkiller is the best i've ever had anywhere, and you can't really go wrong with anything on the season or long term menu. I was recently saddened to notice they made their menu a lot smaller. It used to have a good 50 cocktails on it, now it has maybe 15 or 20. If you can find a copy online though(one was circulating, at one point) they told me they'd still make them though.

Zig Zag - many people have told me this was the first world class cocktail bar in town. Some people say it's still #1. It's a restaurant, and they have very very good food and deserts as well. There's no real theme, it's just classy. It also has an awesome location just off the waterfront near the ferry terminal and that ferris wheel that always shows up in newer photos of seattle. If it's nice out, sit outside. The view rules. The menu, both cocktails and food is fairly "classic". But everything i just executed very very well.

Canon - This place is sort of 1930s themed, i guess? It's beautiful inside though. They have several vintage, and even a 19th century cocktail book and they'll make anything from them. Their contemporary menu is also pretty nice, and does a decent job of setting itself apart from everything else in town(and the area, it's right off the "holy fuck that's a ton of bars" area of capitol hill, which according to some is the highest concentration of bars per square foot in america). The other two places i've listed before have tasty drinks, but this place has smooth drinks. It's as if the instant you take a sip this starts playing, and suddenly you're one of those too cool for real life people in a commercial sipping a drink on their sailboat off the coast of france. They have several velvet-and-kittens-on-your-insides drinks that are so good in this specific way i've never experienced anywhere else. Also worth going to for the rebuilt console radio in the bathroom that plays randomized ~100 year old radio plays, and the crowd... which consists of the most eclectic mix of people. early 20s super fashionable trust fund girls and their friends right next to dos-equis-guy looking smirking classy old guys who drive E-type jaguars, which are parked directly out front.

Vessel - Ugly bare concrete walled, generic boring looking bar in an awkward location. Really really good drinks. Kneehigh borrowed a couple drinks from the menu here at one point. Everything is very "modern". Many things are carbonated. Many are interesting. Irritatingly cacophonous and echoey inside, in addition to being ugly. I felt like i was drinking in a soviet bloc apartment, but i was impressed with the drink. Gets a lot of perpetual hype, so other people agree. Worth checking out for at least a couple drinks.(rotating menu)

Witness - This it the new bar of one of the original Kneehigh founders! It's "southern" themed, and the inside is somewhere between camp and cheese, but kind of cool. Their brunch is amazing. Their drinks are Amazing, and only vaguely southern themed, mostly in name. If i only had a day in town and could only hit a couple bars, i'd probably do this one and canon.

The Hazelwood - This is in the ballard neighborhood, which compared to all the other locations i've listed is somewhat far from downtown so if you're just flying in to town and starting out from downtown. It's absolutely worth the trek though, and is IMO one of the under rated "secrets" of seattle. The cocktails are creative, adventurous, and awesome. One of them has squid ink in it! The owners describe it as "A place where Lee Hazlewood and Vincent Price would drink Chartreuse and play cribbage". My partner will not shut up about this place. It's the only one on this list i haven't been, but i know quite a few people who would place it above any of the other establishments i've listed.

There's several other really good places i'm forgetting that i've never been, and several others that are no longer around. This is a solid list that is, in my opinion, at the level that nothing else in town would exceed.
posted by emptythought at 2:21 PM on June 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

Los Angeles: Agree that the bar in the back of Cole's is excellent; I would also recommend the Library Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel (not to be confused with the Library Bar near the library downtown). The bar is heaped with fresh ingredients - herbs, fruit, etc - and there's no menu. You just describe what kind of drink you want, and the bartenders make it. For example, I've said something like "I love whisky, fresh herbs especially basic, citrus fruit, and dislike sweet drinks."
posted by insectosaurus at 2:28 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was recently at Peché, a bar in Austin, TX, that, I believe, fits your bill to a T. They make a killer Negroni.
posted by Dr. Wu at 2:45 PM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm originally from Minneapolis and love Marvel Bar. Its Baltimore equivalent is WC Harlan. No signs, just "enter" scribbled in chalk on the door of a nondescript building across from an abandoned lot. Interior is like walking into your grandma's basement, if your grandma had an amazing alcohol collection. Dried flowers, old clunky piano, lace doilies and old school mixologists who make a mean drink.
posted by JannaK at 2:57 PM on June 12, 2014

Atlanta - Prohibition

Miami Beach - The Broken Shaker
posted by nobejen at 4:06 PM on June 12, 2014

Nthing The Passenger in DC. Rye in Baltimore.
posted by marguerite at 4:56 PM on June 12, 2014

Seconding Noble Experiment in San Diego.

The Cruise Room in Denver is top-notch and has a storied history to boot.
posted by hootenatty at 5:24 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

+1 to 116 Crown which smackfu already mentioned.
posted by reptile at 6:10 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

For Honolulu:

Lewers Lounge at the Halekulani Hotel. Very nice atmosphere, great live music, and it's located at one of the best hotels on Oahu.

Pint + Jigger on S. King Street. Great cocktails, but you don't have to put on your "best dress" if you don't want to; the vibe here is very casual. That said, they have excellent mixologists and some great craft cocktails on the menu.
posted by KillaSeal at 6:11 PM on June 12, 2014

Also in Austin, TX is The Blackheart. The interior is like a 1913 bordello that was hastily evacuated and then buzzed down to rough wood by cartoon termites. And the drinks were Oh! Sooo! Good!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 6:15 PM on June 12, 2014

Seattle's Vessel has closed, unfortunately.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:22 PM on June 12, 2014

If you're in southeast Virginia (nee Tidewater nee Hampton Roads), park your car in downtown Norfolk and take the ferry to Portsmouth, where Still is a 10 minute walk from the riverfront. They actively cultivate the vibe you're talking about - being located in a basement with exposed original brick walls helps - and while they're not necessarily on the level of the world's best cocktail bars outlined above, the low-key atmosphere, semi-dim lighting, and friendly bartenders make up for it.
posted by squorch at 6:24 PM on June 12, 2014

Also in DC, Church and State, and I hear good things about Harold Black. Across the river in Alexandria, VA, PX.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:23 PM on June 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

Seal Beach, CA: 320 Main

Long Beach, CA: James Republic
posted by notyou at 7:34 PM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Philadelphia: Ranstead Room! Amazing drinks but super friendly, unsnobby bartenders, super dark lighting, plush red walls, porny '70s paintings everywhere, something vaguely like the set design of Suspiria. Honestly, of all the truly speakeasy-style places I've been, this has been my favorite because it wasn't pretentious (a few drunk-off-their-tails fratboys stumbled in at like 1am and slurred about how they'd heard it was "choice" and hey, did they have Jager drinks or what, and the bartender was 100% nice and polite with them, while still letting me know--I was seated next to them, when he gave me my receipt there was a sweet little note on it--he was happy to have patrons who loved nerding out about cocktails and spirits), but you got all of the beautiful little details of everything just so anyway. It had a sense of humor about itself, which, while I liked the Violet Hour and places like it well enough, I don't see enough in these kinds of spots.

Seattle: Canon (but I didn't have time to try Vessel or Zig Zag or any of the others, granted...but if you like whiskey hoo boy Canon's your spot).

Portland: Sapphire Hotel! Hands down. Secret Society was fun in a low key way too.

NOLA: too many to count naturally (of the obvious ones I'll throw my hat in the ring for Sazerac and even though the drinks aren't anything to write home about how can you not drink on a carousel at Carousel at least once) but I'll give some love to some underappreciated gems: Loa at the International Hotel (so good), Maurepas (ever-changing week to week, and the tea and food are also great), Twelve Mile Limit (where the barbecue happens to also be delicious and your bartender might wanna chat you up about things like GoT's R+L=J), Tonique. That bar next to Coop's Place that seems to change its name and vague theme while not actually changing at all inside is a little odd, but makes lovely drinks, many eggy, too.

Albuquerque: Couldn't make it but have heard interesting things about Apothecary Lounge.

Austin: Peche (met the nicest, most easy-to-talk-to-yet-he's-making-gorgeous-cocktails, zero-pretension-but-dressed-to-the-nines-in-silver-and-blue-suit-vest bartender in the universe), and while much more down-to-earth youngster-y (kinda like Twelve Mile Limit in NOLA), Rio Rita's fun too for more thoughtful summer refreshment. Midnight Cowboy was fun too, a little theatrical in a way that, combined with its location in the tourist strip, you might find endearing, cheesy, or both. If I could only choose one of the three in terms of fondest memories, Peche for sure.

Sounds like a lot of the biggies--Drink, PDT, Hungry Mother, Milk and Honey, Death and Co., Violet Hour, No. 9 Park, Hop Sing Laundromat, Franklin, Patterson House, Pegu Club--have been covered.

Also, semi-aside, have you ever found weirdly sometimes the best cocktail of your life was at a restaurant bar you'd never have thought of as a source for such? That happens all the time now (thanks, cocktail revival!). Ma'ono Fried Chicken and Whiskey and Chai Pani in Asheville come to mind, but yeah, all the time. It's neat.
posted by ifjuly at 8:17 PM on June 12, 2014

In San Jose, I believe you want singlebarrel.
posted by sigmagalator at 10:42 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Justine's in Providence fits the bill. It's a speakeasy type where you have to walk through a lingerie shop to get in. There are fancy cocktails that take them forever to make. You'd like it!
posted by JDHarper at 4:54 AM on June 13, 2014

Nthing The Passenger in DC. They were the folks that got me into cocktails. God love 'em.

I'm not a huge fan of Rye in Baltimore (for whiskey, hit up Birds of a Feather), but WC Harlan is what's up. I also love me a good cocktail bar and WC Harlan is one of my favorites anywhere.
posted by youcancallmeal at 6:36 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

ifjuly: "NOLA [...] That bar next to Coop's Place that seems to change its name and vague theme while not actually changing at all inside is a little odd, but makes lovely drinks, many eggy, too."

That's Cane & Table which I mentioned above.

For years it was Pravda, a vaguely Russian-themed vodka and absinthe bar, beloved by residents of the French Quarter and people who hang out on lower Decatur. Then the people who owned Pravda decided to sell, and the management team for Cure said, "We'll buy."

Even though Cure didn't muscle their way in - they just responded to an offer - all the locals were upset and angry and swore never to return because "that fancy cocktail place ruined their dive bar" or whatever. Someone even stole the sign from outside out of spite.

They reopened with very few changes as 'Perestroika at Pravda' as they began their plans to re-launch as a rum-themed bar. Eventually they got it all together, shut down for a very short while to re-do the interior, and reopened as Cane & Table.

So yeah, if you've been visiting in the past two years I can see how it has been a confusing time. Should be C&T from here on out though.
posted by komara at 7:02 AM on June 13, 2014

In Richmond, Va., The Rogue Gentlemen and The Roosevelt.
posted by emelenjr at 11:19 AM on June 13, 2014

nthing Violet Hour, Dutch Kills, Amor y Amargo, Little Branch, Death and Co, and Weather Up. Adding Bar Lola in Portland, ME and Rum Club and Secret Society in Portland, OR. Clyde Common also has amazing cocktails, but doesn't quite have the atmosphere you're looking for. The now-defunct Central would have been perfect, except that it is now, sadly, defunct. And on the off chance you ever you find yourself in Ithaca, NY, you want Mercato.
posted by dizziest at 12:10 PM on June 13, 2014

Response by poster: So wonderful. I'm in the middle of compiling all of this data into a very simple spreadsheet. I'll post the link when I finish, then offer it up to any data nerds who would like to do something nice with it (I'm a data organization n00b).
posted by Zosia Blue at 12:33 PM on June 13, 2014

Response by poster: OK, here's a slopped-together spreadsheet. I organized by state, and then added the number of votes each bar received. If you'd like to play around with this or add to it, just drop me a MeMail and I'll give you access.
posted by Zosia Blue at 1:07 PM on June 13, 2014 [28 favorites]

Don't forget The Office under The Aviary! For real, one of the best bars in the world. If you ever want to get in, memail me and I'll send you the number.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 1:23 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hah! Looking at that aces spreadsheet, one thing comes to mind...WTF, Illinois?
posted by notyou at 5:48 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's a great spreadsheet. Not to be a pedant (but actually totally being a pedant), the Columbia Room is actually inside the Passenger, so same place.
posted by General Malaise at 6:22 PM on June 13, 2014

Response by poster: Fixed. Thanks for catching that.
posted by Zosia Blue at 10:06 PM on June 13, 2014

in portland: multnomah whiskey library (some of the best cocktails i've had in town), and pepe le moko (this place has a suuuper speakeasy vibe)
posted by colorproof at 3:28 AM on June 14, 2014

forgot to give a hearty seconding to Denver's Cruise Room, which in terms of decor is fantastic.

(and sorry to be unclear before in my musing aside--ma'ono fried chicken and whiskey is in seattle, not asheville. thank you so much for that wonderful spreadsheet!)
posted by ifjuly at 12:34 PM on June 14, 2014

Not to be a pedant (but actually totally being a pedant), Cane & Table should have two votes since ifjuly and I both mentioned it. ifjuly just didn't remember the name.
posted by komara at 1:34 PM on June 14, 2014

No Vermont in this thread. Okay.

Burlington area:

Church and Main - Good creative bartenders, nice atmosphere.
The Farmhouse - go to the downstairs bar area.
Guild and Company - Owned by the Farmhouse group. A good mix of historical cocktails and inventions from their drink guy. (Cocktail Menu)
The Whiskey Room - I'd throw this in as a runner-up, as it shares space (and ownership) with next door Ri Ra Irish Pub, so lacks some of the ambience depending on time of day. But a pretty solid set of whiskeys and cocktails.


Prohibition Pig - Good cocktails, good beer list too.

Anyway, VT definitely has more of a craft beer scene than a mixology scene, but there are some gems.
posted by papayaninja at 2:51 PM on June 14, 2014

Response by poster: Vermont added and corrections made. Thanks, everyone! Feel free to send me MeMails if you see other minor corrections.
posted by Zosia Blue at 10:59 AM on June 15, 2014

Late to the party, but Bar Lola in Portland, ME has closed. For those who remember it, Hilltop Coffee moved into the space.
posted by that's candlepin at 11:08 AM on June 16, 2014

I agree with the Recommendations for The Sugar House in Detroit and all Molly Wellman in Cincinnati!
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:16 AM on June 16, 2014

For Raleigh, NC, I'd give the crown to Fox Liquor Bar. It's in a basement, you need to buy a $1 membership to get in (and they give you a metal keychain tag when you do), lots of leather couches, and delicious, creative, carefully crafted drinks. It gets pretty crowded on the weekends, but it's a laid-back scene during the week.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:26 AM on June 16, 2014

Not sure if we're still keeping score, but I'd second recommendations for PX in Virginia (Alexandria, DC area), Hop Sing Laundromat in Pennsylvania (Philly, Chinatown), and Amor y Amargo in New York (NYC, LES).

If hotel bars qualify, there are a number of options at the better hotels in the District, often very clubby (in the British sense, not the unz-unz-unz sense). E.g. Off The Record at the Hay-Adams probably was a speakeasy in the 30s. And the Willard has the Round Robin. I don't think that their cocktails are necessarily on par with what you'd get at some of the better restaurant bars, but they have authenticity, if that's a concern. They both lean towards traditional cocktails rather than nouveau stuff though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:33 AM on June 16, 2014

Saw this on the sidebar. Your Dallas scene is probably Cedars Social as mentioned above. There are probably 20 different options here in Dallas that fit your tab. But getting to what I think the heart of what you are looking for, I think it is probably Cedars. The last time I was there, they had like a 20 page cocktails menu with a different page for different decades or something like that. Lots of things with bitters or raw eggs or seltzer or infusions.

I was just in Austin last week, and a friend took me to a place called Swift's Attic. Definitely had a speakeasy over-the-top mixologist vibe. They had a selection of something called "Ice Ball Cocktails" which I had not seen before. Basically, they took classic cocktails and freeze the "side" ingredients in a single several-inch-wide ice ball and then top it with the associated liquor. So, for instance, I had a Manhattan, and it came just as Knob Creek with a big ice cube. But frozen inside the ice cube was the vermouth, bitters, orange, lemon peel, etc. As the drink melted, it became more like a Manhattan. It was a very strange way to have a drink, and I'm not sure I liked it. It definitely fits the the "trying too hard" thing.
posted by dios at 11:47 AM on June 16, 2014

The Laundry Room in Las Vegas definitely fits the bill.
posted by activitystory at 11:57 AM on June 16, 2014

Response by poster: Updated the sheet with these additions. Thanks!
posted by Zosia Blue at 12:21 PM on June 16, 2014

The following is all about San Francisco.

There's an outfit called Future Bars (maybe the name has since changed? I forget?) which operates a number of bars in the city which probably match what you're looking for pretty well: Bourbon & Branch was already brought up but I don't think anyone's mentioned The Wilson, a tiny bar within Bourbon & Branch. Across the street from those two is Tradition, which while somewhat larger & louder than the previous two is pretty great as well. And you should probably also visit Local Edition as well as Rickhouse while you're out here. They also have a liquor store called Cask which is heavenly but that's not part of the question so let's move on.

Maven has a great menu, both food and drink. Their thing is pairing: the menu is three columns, the first of which is cocktails, the second food, and the third beer and wine and by selecting a food and moving either left or right you're presented with the recommended pairing in either category.

Trick Dog is considered by many to be the best bar in the city right now, and for good reason - the bartenders are so talented, the menu so creative (it's in its third iteration right now, check out versions one and two) and the food so great that it's definitely a must-visit when you're in town. If you go on a weekend it'll be pretty busy, if you want to chat with the bartenders maybe go during the week.

Also 100% worth checking out is the Burritt Room - the drinks are great with a wonderful atmosphere (plus I love that the glasses the drinks are served in are displayed on the menu).

15 Romolo is a hidden gem in a back alley in North Beach, and though I wouldn't describe it as a speakeasy (louder for one) I think you'd definitely enjoy it. If you go there, might as well make a day of it and hit up the revamped Tosca as well as Comstock Saloon (Soup of the day: Whiskey!), all within about a two-block radius.

Lush and dark but not a speakeasy (though the drinks do take a while to make and aren't cheap) is Smuggler's Cove, home of somewhere between 350-400 rums at any given point. Go for the best Tiki drinks you've ever had, stay for the insane variety of rum.

And while I haven't been yet (it literally opened yesterday), The Interval should fit too. Granted, I am a sucker for Long Now Foundation stuff but those pictures look amazing.

Also note that the above is just a start and hardly comprehensive.
posted by cybertaur1 at 1:25 PM on June 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

I love Noble Experiment too, but Polite Provisions is my favorite fancy bar in San Diego! No passwords or secret text-message reservations required, and it looks like a fancy Victorian drugstore (or something).
posted by exceptinsects at 2:31 PM on June 16, 2014

In DC probably the Gibson. A couple of years ago I would have said the Passenger, but it's seriously gone downhill and the bartenders are now bizarrely annoyed when you order a complicated cocktail. I think the amazing bartenders must have moved on to new things. The Columbia Room is still great though. Highly recommend. You will need reservations.
posted by whoaali at 7:24 PM on June 16, 2014

Asheville: Nightbell (great drinks, interesting food, slightly trying too hard atmosphere, questionable music), Top of the Monk (cool space, nice views, excellent cocktails, fancy snacks in old postboxes, don't be alarmed by the beer bar downstairs), I also rather like The King James, which is dark and quiet and intimate with excellent cocktails, but is, strictly speaking, a pub.

Chapel Hill/Carrboro: Peccadillo (though the cocktails could be fancier), Crunkleton (though the atmosphere could be more intimate)
posted by thivaia at 8:15 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

For tiki drinks, Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco is fantastic, if a bit crowded and noisy. Hale Pele in Portland is even better... quieter, more mellow, more relaxing, tremendous drinks, and a great bar staff.
posted by Old Man McKay at 11:14 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes Yes yes, Smuggler's Cove and Hale Pele!

Dios mentioned a place that has bitters/other ingredients frozen into the ice cubes. THAT IS A TERRIBLE IDEA. The whole point of serving classic cocktails up is that, once you achieve a desired dilution ratio, you strain out the ice to prevent further dilution. At this point you have a drink which is stable from an ingredients perspective, it is merely unstable from a temperature perspective (so drink up).

The only class of drinks which are meant to skirt this rule are Tiki drinks and their lovely array of ices. From shaved, crushed, blended, and cubed, Tiki drinks are all designed to change with changing dilutions, while maintaining a constant temperature. A Queen's Park Swizzle is gonna change, duh, but it will continue to work.

Do that shit with a Manhattan? That's not a Manhattan, and that's just fucked up.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 11:26 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well since we seem to be doing this on a voting basis I will definitely second the Gibson in DC. The speakeasy format is a little cheesy but when I went there my friends and I started getting sillier and sillier with our orders (ordering things like "the essence of Canada" and "the equivalent of Nutella in a glass") and our bartender delivered. Best drinking experience ever.
posted by capricorn at 7:58 AM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think anyone's yet mentioned Wink & Nod in south-ish Boston. A couple of months ago I had an incredible cocktail there that involved egg whites and was like a perfect, boozy Orange Julius (but not as unpleasantly sweet as that might imply). The food there is interesting and tasty, the atmosphere is nice -- it's in a basement, full of cozy tables and stuffed chairs.
posted by chowflap at 9:40 AM on June 17, 2014

The Owl Bar in Baltimore, MD is pretty great. Awesome speakeasy atmosphere, and a number of craft house cocktails. It's also, historically, a speakeasy.
posted by codacorolla at 10:14 AM on June 17, 2014

DC: Can I vote in negative for The Gibson? It's all image and no delivery. A complete waste of time if you want something inventive and, well, good. The Gin Joint in Woodley Park is a gin-focused speakeasyesque bar. 65 different gins! Dram & Grain, in the basement of Jack Rose, does whole involved-process-to-get-in thing, you have to get a card from Jack Rose with a special number to text a reservation (I see a phone number on their FB page so they may not do this anymore?).

Buffalo: Mike A's Lounge at the Lafayette Hotel, a really lovely period-appropriate setting.
posted by troika at 11:12 AM on June 17, 2014

I saw this in the sidebar, and came here to mention Dram & Grain. Only thing I'd add is that it only seats 22; 6 seats (I think?) at the bar.
posted by inigo2 at 11:58 AM on June 17, 2014

I'll also chime in for the Library Bar at the Roosevelt in Los Angeles, though I happened to be there during the AFI Festival so it was a little more hectic than usual.

Other good L.A. bars with good mixology and cozy speakeasy vibe: the Roger Room in Beverly Hills, The Copper Still in Koreatown (esp. if you're a fan of slow drinkmaking). Harvard & Stone in Thai Town is great, especially their experimental R&D back bar (Although pick your night wisely if you like it quiet, peak nights have bands or burlesque shows). Also heard great things about Tiki Ti in Echo Park, the Varnish in Downtown, and Pour Vous in Hollywood, but haven't been yet.

If you like secluded entrances/hidden doors: The Blind Barber, Lock and Key, La Descarga, Roger Room, The Varnish, Good Times at Davey Wayne's, The Sayers Club, the Edison.
posted by JauntyFedora at 1:22 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

two more for Massachusetts:

- Tunnel Bar, Northampton MA. An old train tunnel converted into a bar.
- Still&Stir, Worcester MA. Used to be the town jail - it's all old old brick and steel beams, light bulbs in the little cages, etc. Great cocktails, friendly bartenders.
posted by xbonesgt at 2:02 PM on June 17, 2014

In Kansas City, Missouri:

Manifesto It was recently named 'One of the Top 10 Places to Get a Drink Underground' by USA Today. Don't let the hype scare you, though. It is small, dark, intimate, cozy and seriously crafty when it comes to their drink offerings. Go on a weeknight or you may have trouble getting in. Seating is limited, for obvious reasons.
posted by chara at 2:19 PM on June 17, 2014

For Vermont I'd add Half Lounge in Burlington. The basement has fantastic ambiance, and the cocktails are the best I've had in town.
posted by nixxon at 2:20 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just noticed Arkansas isn't on your spreadsheet. Little Rock isn't really a cocktail bar town, but these are probably the closest places to what you have in mind:

Capital Bar & Grill
Ciao Baci
posted by box at 3:12 PM on June 17, 2014

Response by poster: Great additions. Added in. To avoid cluttering the thread with my asides, I'll check this thread likely daily to add any new ones to the sheet that come in (so you can assume they're added). And again, if anyone wants to do something fancier with the sheet, drop me a line and I'll give you access.
posted by Zosia Blue at 3:20 PM on June 17, 2014

There's a great, under-appreciated bar in Phoenix called Merc Bar. It's dark, luxurious and classic.
posted by paulp at 5:15 PM on June 17, 2014

Added cities & websites to the spreadsheet. For now it only has websites that were linked in this thread, I'll add the other ones in later.
posted by troika at 5:39 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hanson's Shoe Repair in Orlando. It's hidden above another bar, so you have to know it's there, and you have to call day of to get a password for entry.
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:07 AM on June 18, 2014

For Madison, Wisconsin:

* Forequarter - this is also a fantastic restaurant, in addition to having a great bar and custom cocktails. Weekends it will be busy pretty much from dinner on, but during the week you can enjoy the dark, cozy bar without much of a crowd.

* Maduro - also a cigar bar, so yes, it can be smokey. Has a fireplace, big couches to relax on.

* Merchant makes great drinks, but fails on the other criteria here, mainly about it being dark and cozy.
posted by rsanheim at 12:55 PM on June 18, 2014

Also, I'm surprised no one mentioned Whiskey in Durham. It predates Alley Twenty Six by at least a couple years and is far better. Dark, beautiful bar, and live jazz on Thursday nights.
posted by rsanheim at 12:59 PM on June 18, 2014

Heyo. For Washington state / Seattle I would add Liberty, which is one any of the bartenders at any of the other bars there would recommend as well, and almost certainly frequent. Especially for whiskies and scotches.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:01 PM on June 18, 2014

I would +1 the vote for At Random in Milwaukee, though they really do incredibly sweet, huge, over the top drinks more than the "custom shrub / local spirit" thing that many of the places here mentioned do.
posted by rsanheim at 1:04 PM on June 18, 2014

Voting for Ward Eight in Evanston, IL (just north of Chicago).
posted by hyperizer at 7:33 PM on June 18, 2014

For Tulsa, OK:

Valkyrie - Focused on fancy cocktails and they definitely deliver. They make their own bitters, ginger beer, etc. The menu changes regularly as they're always experimenting with new stuff. Atmosphere is dim, brick and dark woods, etc.

Chimera - A combo bar/coffeeshop staffed and owned by hipsters. The atmosphere might not be exactly what you described but they make amazing drinks and the space is really beautiful too, often hosting rotating art exhibits.

Mixed Company (aka Mixco) - In a basement with a true speakeasy feel. Interesting cocktail menu and a well-curated beer list too.

All of these bars are in downtown Tulsa.
posted by hilaritas at 8:53 AM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Atlanta, the true "speakeasy" experience is provided by Prohibition in Buckhead. I've been there a couple of times, and the bartenders quite good.

If you're content to just drink excellent artisanal cocktails:

The Pinewood (Decatur) is great. Bartenders are really excellent and creative, and they offer classes. Food is excellent as well.

Kimball House (Decatur) is big on fresh ingredients and make your own (bitters, tinctures, etc). They make very good cocktails with the bonus of having very good oysters. Down side is that it's painfully hipsterish, *very* loud and service is slow.

4th and Swift (Old 4th Ward) is pretty cool and makes some really killer gin based cocktails.

Iberian Pig (Decatur) has great bartenders and killer cocktails (the Manhattan is wonderful and I'm not usually a fan). Bonus: the food is spectacular.

The Lawrence (Midtown) comes highly recommended by some cocktail snob friends of mine, but sadly I've only made it there for lunch.

The Glenwood (East Atlanta Village) is a great, divvy kind of place. Good cocktails, but not the sort of wild concoctions other places are exploring.

Highland Tap (Virginia Highlands) is known for martinis and beef, and they're great at both.

There's a lot more I'm leaving out; we have an embarrassment of riches in this area.
posted by kjs3 at 9:42 AM on June 19, 2014

Los Angeles / Hollywood: Sassafras Saloon. "New Orleans / Savannah Townhouse in the heart Hollywood featuring ginger beer, barrel aged cocktails, and southern home root inspired libations." There is literally a real facade of old house installed inside the bar full of Spanish Moss, a fireplace, and an indoor porch creating a dark and cozy atmosphere. They have a spinning rack above the bar of their barrel aged cocktails, and jazz and brass band events weekly.
posted by Lizc at 10:45 AM on June 19, 2014

In San Juan Puerto Rico: Hijos De Borinquen
posted by Psychnic at 5:21 AM on June 20, 2014

Response by poster: MeFi user Troika is now also helping with some updates - thanks, Troika!
posted by Zosia Blue at 10:12 AM on June 20, 2014

It's a totally selfish endeavor, because adding websites means I get to look at all the cocktail menus. How else would I know I have on hand everything I need to make the Roger Room's Flim Flam? I'm very excited about having one tonight.
posted by troika at 10:24 AM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Says something about how expansive the Seattle scene is now that no one mentioned Bathtub Gin.
posted by dw at 3:14 PM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and Murray Stenson's latest employer is Elysian Bar. I haven't been, so no idea of quality.

Tavern Law has an *actual secret stairwell* you have to *pick up a secret phone* to enter. They have 3 VERY small tables, and no menu. You give them an idea, and they make a cocktail. It is an awesome thing to do once. Otherwise, the main bar is awesome.

Well, not exactly...

It's called Needle And Thread and is essentially a separate speakeasy within Tavern Law. You could pick up the phone and ask for a table, but there's little chance you'll get one.

Instead, you have to call a number (that you'll have to dig out via Google) in advance, leave your contact details, then they'll call you back and set up the reservation. You have to actually talk to the reservation taker to get on the books.

And then, when it's time, you go to a safe door in Tavern Law with an old phone mounted next to it, pick up the phone, state your name, and they'll unlock the door.

They have one spot that seats 7, but beyond that there's small tables and bar seating. The drinks are damn good. Of course, Tavern Law's aren't bad, either, and if you can get into Canon down the street, all the better.
posted by dw at 3:26 PM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Late to the party, but in Indy, Libertine or Thunderbird.
posted by po822000 at 11:11 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also late, but I have to throw in another vote (and a link) for Canon in Seattle, recent winner (just under a year ago) of the "World's Best Drink Selection" accolade.

I once had a whiskey flight there, and along with the three whiskies came a small glass of local pilsner to refresh the palette, a golf pencil, and a sheet of paper with wonderfully detailed tasting tips. It was cleverly laid out in such a way as to allow you to make your own tasting notes in the blind on each whiskey and then compare them to the 'official' tasting notes. Of course, you could just throw it all out and drink some whiskey, but I thought the whole thing was presented very well and really complimented the experience.

I'm sure Canon is not the first or only place to do this, but they were the first (and classiest) that I came across.
posted by kilozerocharliealphawhiskey at 3:59 PM on June 24, 2014

The 38 Essential Cocktail Bars Across America (which, unsurprisingly, includes many of the suggestions above). See also.
posted by spock at 1:30 PM on June 26, 2014

I love this thread so damn much; without it I doubt I'd have known to visit Olio on our short trip to St. Louis this week and it's now on my shortlist of very favorite spots (along with my previous votes for Peche, Ranstead Room, Sapphire Hotel, Loa, and Cruise Room). If someone's still keeping tallies, consider this a hearty seconding for it. It's fantastic on every level (barware/decor down to little details like each drink being served on its own little antique tray, all of them different--at one point the server said "this tray's my favorite!" about one with a painted bird on it--lovely old cut glass coupes and moroccan tea glasses, etc., super enthusiastic mixologists who are thrilled to chat you up about stuff and make special drinks on the fly--they made one for my non-drinker husband with fresh fruit, orgeat, ginger beer, and basil and it tasted even better than my cocktail!--and unbelievable offerings all around including vintage punches and a beer that tasted like corn flakes and smoke in the most delicious way possible). And it's in an old oil filling station!
posted by ifjuly at 6:36 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rendevous, Colorado Springs, Colorado; smoking is allowed and favors cigars, fwiw.
posted by buzzman at 6:42 AM on June 29, 2014

FYI you have, on the Massachusetts list, Back Bar and Saloon, both listed as being in Boston. They're both in Somerville. You should add Spoke to your list, also in Somerville.
posted by atbash at 8:33 PM on June 30, 2014

Response by poster: I'm still watching this thread, and will update tomorrow. Thanks for keeping this rolling.
posted by Zosia Blue at 12:21 AM on July 7, 2014

Portland Bars!

(true cocktail bars are hard since you have to have a food menu featuring warm entrees, so the tiny speak easy places are difficult to do here):

Clyde Common - In the Ace Hotel, part of the obligatory Portland Tourist Experience (Ace Hotel + Stumptown + Kenny & Zukes + Clyde + Clyde's bartenders new not yet opened underground speak specializing in a great cocktail program paired with cured hams)
Hale Pele - Tiki, right mix of kitch and rum snobbery. Owner is such a tiki fanatic he started working there when it was called Thatch, left to make his own business selling authentic Tiki mixers, and then bought out Thatch to turn it into his idealized True™ Tiki Bar.
Secret Society - Small bar next to a jazz venue, great absinth drinks
Sapphire Hotel - former flophouse / sailors bar / brothel now turned into lush red lit interiors, very common date night, but you can sit at their bar and get a great drink or two.
Rum Club - Good modern mixology, created by the founder of the now closed Beaker and Flask.
Multnomah Whisky Library - A whisky snobs paradise. No bar to sit at here, and it is a long wait. If you happen upon an invite to join someones reserved party there take it.

New additions:
Vintage - out of the way, small bar, guys are obsessive about booze, underrated and possibly one of my goto spots for out of towners who want to know more about our booze scene (also really near my house and I've become a regular there, fwiw*). Worth a cab or bus ride out of downtown.
Branch - in Alberta neighborhood, not exactly a speakeasy but going for the obsessive whisky list thing
The Rookery (above Raven and Rose) - not entirely dark, but downtown and great cocktails.
Kask - great cocktails, great food (attached to a great restaurant).

*Actually reviewing this list, I think I know at least one bartender at most of these places.

Also, if you find yourself in Portland in October, we host a cocktail week which can get out of hand. In case you've noticed, Portland's obsessive foodie-ism, combined with the love for microbrews and craft beer, means you can't not make a restaurant without a good cocktail program.
posted by mrzarquon at 8:17 PM on July 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

late to the thread, but my input:

for Boston, nthing backbar, hawthorne, hungry mother, no.9 park and craigie street. Of these, backbar is the closest to a speakeasy with the whole understated exterior thing going on.

neutral to minor negative on drink (too crowded, most of the old talent has moved, victim of its own success, but it's got a good system in place if it's less inspired than it used to be), brick and mortar (nice space, and good talent, but crazy loud most nights due to brick acoustics), saloon (visually nice space, but not particularly chill, relaxed or personal in their service)

for NYC, nthing Amor y Amargo and Little Branch. adding Pouring Ribbons

big negative on Angel's Share. It was good, and it totally has the speakeasy thing going with the hidden doorway, but it's been around for nearly 20+ years now (I was drinking there in ... 1998?) and the secret's been out for a while, and it's way overcrowded. On any given night, you're likely to be overhearing a dozen awkward OkC first dates in progress, and it's kind of terrible. The original bartenders of Angel's Share have moved on to B-Flat in Tribeca, which is nice but not quite the same. The ambiance is more like magically transplanted Tokyo jazz bar than speakeasy. Whiskey selection is still fantastic though, but I wouldn't go there for super fancy cocktails with artisanal bitters or obscure Italian amaros or anything like that.

if anyone recommends Bathtub Gin (in NYC) to you, they mean you harm. Yes, it has all of the outward trappings of a speakeasy, but it's really a fully operational douche station in the bro event horizon of Gansevoort. Avoid.

for SF, nthing Rick House, the Alembic and Bourbon and Branch.

for Philly, nthing Ranstead and Franklin Mortgage

if you feel like taking this trip international, I can also add:

Melbourne: The Everleigh, pedigreed from Milk & Honey in London, totally excellent cocktails and hospitality, and great ambiance.

Toronto: Black Hoof

Hong Kong: 001

Stockholm: Pharmarium
posted by bl1nk at 8:18 PM on July 9, 2014

In NYC, Milk & honey has been replaced with the excellent Attaboy:
posted by o2b at 2:16 PM on July 11, 2014

For Lawrence, Kansas:
- 715
- Pachamamas Star Bar
posted by jefftriplett at 3:06 PM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Finally updated the list with the new additions and corrections. Thanks, everyone.
posted by Zosia Blue at 11:47 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am super late to this question but I'm shocked no one has mentioned Speakeasy 518 in Albany, New York. I was recently there and it was mind-blowing. I can not recommend it enough
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 11:59 AM on July 24, 2014

Komara and ifjuly already did a great rundown of New Orleans bars, which I totally agree with. Loa inside International House Hotel has a really cool, modern vibe. For something more classically New Orleans, also check out the rotating Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone. It's a historic institution and one of those things you really should do if it's your first time in NOLA, but they do actually have really great cocktails there too!

I love Twelve Mile Limit in Mid-city as well, not to mention Midcity Yacht Club. Also check out Three Muses on Frenchmen Street.

Tales of the Cocktail, which takes place each July here in New Orleans, hosts an annual awards ceremony to name the best bars around the world, so their Spirited Awards picks each year are another great resource! A lot of the bars that have been mentioned here already made their picks for best bars in the world.
posted by MissMalaprop at 7:25 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

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