What to Drink at 10 of the Country’s Oldest Bars
Here, some of America’s oldest bars that are worth visiting, and what you should order when you get there.
Right now, you can vote for your favorite new bars across the country for F&W’s inaugural People’s Best New Bars award. But just because we’re showering attention on shiny new bars doesn’t mean we don’t love the great old stalwarts. Here, some of America’s oldest bars that are worth visiting, and what you should order when you get there.
Huber’s; Portland, OR
The oldest restaurant and bar in Portland was first established in 1879, when it was called the Bureau Saloon. It’s known for its turkey dinners, its stint as a speakeasy during Prohibition (when Manhattans were served in coffee cups) and a cameo in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho.
What to Order: The signature Spanish Coffee. Developed in the 1970s, it’s made with Bacardi 151, Bols triple sec, Kahlua, coffee and fresh whipped cream, with a garnish of grated nutmeg. The best part: Bartenders ignite the rum and triple sec before adding the Kahlua and coffee.
White Horse Tavern; Newport, RI
In 1673, this former family residence was converted into a tavern. Literacy rates were low in those days, so the sign was simply a picture of a white horse—thus, it became the White Horse Tavern. During the early 1700s William Mayes, Jr., a pirate, owned the tavern. The locals liked him so much, they protected him from the authorities.
What to Order: The Stormy Tavern is the tavern’s take on a Dark ’n Stormy. It’s made with the bar’s own barrel of Thomas Tew rum and locally produced Temple of the White Dog ginger beer.
The Cruise Room; Denver
Denver’s first post-Prohibition bar opened the day after repeal in 1933. The marble-floored Art Deco bar was styled after one of the lounges on the Queen Mary—hence the name. At one point during the 1960s it was the headquarters of the Evil Companions, a sort of Algonquin Round Table-esque literary group who liked to drink while talking books.
What to Order: The bar is known for crisp, ice-cold martinis served in large coupes.
Tobacco Road; Miami
If you want to visit the original location of Miami’s oldest bar, you better hurry down to Florida. It’s not closing, but the 102-year-old bar will move to a new location next year. During Prohibition the bar was known as The Bakery—because, if you were the authorities, then that’s what it was. But if you were an in-the-know customer, it was a speakeasy. During that time, the bar was a favorite of the legendary gangster Al Capone.
What to Order: Try one of the drinks from the throwback-meets-modern-day cocktail menu, such as a classic Hemingway daiquiri or The Gateway, made with rum, mint, yuzu and Prosecco.
McGillin’s Olde Ale House; Philadelphia
This truly old-school pub opened the day Abraham Lincoln was elected president, making it 154 years old. It’s Philadelphia’s oldest continuously operating tavern. Pro tip: Tip your bartender well and they’ll ring an old ship’s bell behind the bar.
What to Order: McGillin’s 1860 IPA, which the bar created in 2010 in honor of its 150th anniversary. It’s unfiltered, as it would have been when the bar first opened, and made by Stoudts Brewing, a local Pennsylvania brewery.
McSorley’s; New York City
A New York institution, McSorley’s is the oldest continuously operating saloon in the city. It opened in 1854 and started admitting women only in 1970. In fact, the bar’s motto used to be “Good ale, raw onions and no ladies.” (The bar used to serve free plates of cheese, crackers and onions.) Much of the walls are covered in memorabilia, some of it dating to 1910.
What to Order: You don’t get much in the way of options at McSorley’s. There is only the light version of the house ale or the dark version. Whichever you order, don’t be surprised when you get two mugs. At McSorley’s the beer comes in pairs.
Townhouse; Los Angeles
One of the oldest bars in Los Angeles, Townhouse originally opened its doors in 1915 under the name Menotti’s. During Prohibition, the owners started operating the Del Monte speakeasy in the basement. They received shipments of illegal whiskey via underground caves that led from the Abbot Kinney pier. Now, the basement serves as a performance venue for music, comedy and burlesque.
What to Order: In honor of the old whiskey delivery system, order an old-fashioned with Buffalo Trace.
Elixir; San Francisco
Originally called Jack’s Elixir Bar, Elixir is one of the oldest continuously running saloons in San Francisco. There’s evidence that the bar has been in business since 1858—though there was a bit of a hiccup when the saloon burned down after the 1906 earthquake.
What to Order: Though the bar adopted a focus on tequila when it was remolded and spiffed up in 2003, visitors should start with one of owner H. Joseph Ehrmann’s classic whiskey cocktails like the Kentucky Pilgrim, a mix of cardamom-cranberry-and-cinnamon-infused Wild Turkey, fresh lemon juice, maraschino liqueur and demerara syrup.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar; New Orleans
Built sometime between 1722 and 1732, Lafitte’s is said to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the country. Legend has it that the pirate brothers Pierre and Jean Lafitte owned the bar and used it as a base for their smuggling and piracy operations. Legend also has it that Jean never left and still haunts the bar to this day.
What to Order: Try the bar’s signature drink, the Obituary Cocktail. It’s an anise-tinged take on a martini made with gin, dry vermouth and absinthe.
McCrady’s; Charleston, SC
Charleston’s oldest tavern is now owned by chef Sean Brock, who transformed the 18th-century saloon (it was established in 1778) into a Modern Southern restaurant complete with ham cotton candy. While President George Washington was a couple of hundred years too early to enjoy Brock’s cooking, he did eat a 30-course meal there in 1791.
What to Order: The Ligurian Sea, a beautifully layered cocktail made with Cynar, gin, sweet vermouth and a float of hazy absinthe.