From St. Louis to London, Our Editors Share Their Favorite Bars — And What Makes Them So Unique
I'm my best self in my favorite bars. I'm not possessed of some grand, booze-fueled delusion that a few sips of a French 75 suddenly infuses me with the wit of Dorothy Parker or the charm of Idris Elba; it's just that I know I'm in good hands. I can relax and give myself over to the experience, whatever that happens to be. In Las Vegas, I melt into the jewel-hued, crushed-velvet pleasure of the Peppermill's Fireside Lounge to nurse a Mai Tai the size of a bowling pin and stare into the dancing flame in the center of a bubbling pool of water. While in Sin City — honestly sometimes the reason I'm there in the first place — I anchor myself to a barstool within the self-proclaimed "Happiest Place on Earth," the Double Down Saloon, a 24/7 punk rock bolthole with surly-sweet bartenders who might grudgingly indicate you've passed muster by slipping you a free Twinkie or Slim Jim alongside your shot glass of the bar's signature Ass Juice.
In New Orleans, I am languid and loose, fizzing into bliss over Brandy Milk Punch, Sazeracs, the aforementioned F75s at the eponymous French 75 Bar, Jewel of the South (anchored by Chris Hannah who tended bar at the latter for eons), Superior Seafood (they serve them in slush form there), and Cure. Ensconced in the nearly century-old Art Deco The Fumoir bar at Claridge's, I gaze up at the black and white Man Ray photographs that line the walls, nip greedily at an outrageously expensive Paper Plane and imagine myself taking a deep drag from a slim cigarette holder balanced between my gloved fingers. (I don't smoke. Never have.)
Back in New York, I perch at the end of the bar at my favorite neighborhood place, Stone Park Cafe, chatting with Angela Waterhouse, my favorite bartender in all the land, and who also is behind the stick at The Ear Inn. I've celebrated more milestones and heartaches in that exact geographic spot than I could possibly recall, and during the height of the pandemic, more than just about any other place, I dreamed of returning there once the world felt safe again. All of these places unlock a different part of my soul and let it settle there. The drinks are excellent, of course, but I'd go there just to be. The same holds true for my talented colleagues, all of whom share my reverence for these places, spaces, and people, and they've been kind enough to let us in on their secrets.
Here are, in alphabetical order, our editors' favorite dives, neighborhood joints, cocktail cathedrals, and everything in between. — Kat Kinsman, Senior Editor
Bacchanal Wine — New Orleans, LA
Usually when food and drink people recommend a bar or restaurant, they tell you exactly how to curate your experience: where to sit, the must-order entree, the cocktail that will make your night. But even after so many friends told me to go to Bacchanal when I was planning my last trip to New Orleans, I didn't know what to expect. Just go, they said. So, my husband and our friends and I stopped by for a drink before dinner on our first night in town. We went back the next night after dinner. And again, the following afternoon for an aperitif. And then one last time on our last night in town for a final cocktail to cap off the trip. If we didn't have morning flights out, I'm confident we would have swung by one last time en route to the airport. It's that good.
Now I understand why Bacchanal doesn't come with specific recommendations. Yes, there is good wine, outdoor seating and live music. But it's so much more than the sum of its parts. Bacchanal is a vibe. It's the epically fun backyard party thrown by your coolest friend that starts anew every afternoon and is always pretty great. There is live jazz every afternoon and evening in the backyard of the house-turned-bar. There's the best people-watching around. You don't necessarily go for the food, but I've had lovely cheese plates and snacks. The best part of Bacchanal is that there isn't anything you are supposed to do other than enjoy yourself. Pick up a bottle of wine (or beer or cocktail; drink what you want), snag a coveted backyard table and a few plastic chairs, and sit and soak up the laid-back atmosphere and the notion that sometimes, life can and should be easy.I deeply wish we had something like it in Chicago where I live, but Bacchanal is purely a New Orleans moment; it's emblematic of the soul of the city. It's about a lazy afternoon, good times, laughter and something tasty to sip. So yeah, you should go next time you're in town. — Chandra Ram, Associate Editorial Director, Food
600 Poland Ave., New Orleans, LA bacchanalwine.com
Bearded Lady — Brooklyn, NY
The first day I moved to New York City, I went to Bearded Lady. This was a product of living nearby and reading some Google reviews, but it was one of the best ways I could have introduced myself to Brooklyn. At the end of that night, a stranger handed my roommate and me a napkin with a list of his local food and drink recommendations written on it. All of his suggestions were great, and we've tried quite a few of them by now, but none of the bars have topped Bearded Lady.
Bearded Lady is cool, but not too cool. Floor-to-ceiling windows surround a turquoise and yellow space that manages to be bright without feeling kitschy. The vibe is somewhere between tiki bar and '50s-style diner, which means they serve a rotating menu of great frozen drinks, as well as some cheffy versions of comfort food. (I cannot recommend their Chicago Dog or Hi-Lo Nachos enough; they're the perfect follow up to too many Martinis.) Their cocktail list changes regularly, but one of my perennial favorites is the Fé Rey, which combines tequila, Aperol, and Prosecco for a perfect balance of bitter-sweet flavors.This is a bar that pays attention to the details without being fussy. They serve sparkling wine in coupe glasses (which somehow makes it taste better, even though a sommelier might not agree), and anything served up comes ice cold, with shards of ice still in it. In a city that too often gives you overpriced and poorly-made cocktails for $15, at Bearded Lady you can find a great drink for $13. — Merlyn Miller, Social Media Editor
686A Washington Ave., Brooklyn, NY beardedladybrooklyn.com
The Cantina at Valley Rock Inn & Mountain Club — Sloatsburg, NY
One of my favorite places to grab a drink is The Cantina at Valley Rock Inn & Mountain Club. It's an all-outdoor restaurant and bar tucked within the Inn's grounds, and offers several comfortable, beautifully designed spaces to plop down and sip. I've enjoyed a Bloody Mary (made with rosemary-infused vodka!) sitting at the cluster of couches on one side of the green lawn; on the porch where the main dining area and bar is, I've ordered everything from a Smokey Paloma to a warming mug of hot buttered spiked cider. Everything I've tried is wonderful, but my usual go-to is the Spicy Bee, which combines Catskill Honey Whiskey, fresh lemon juice, and jalapeño simple syrup in a glass with a maple chili rim. It has just the right amount of heat and gets a smooth sweetness from the honey whiskey, and I order it year-round. That's another plus about this place — they've mastered making outdoor dining feel cozy even in the middle of winter when it's 35°F, thanks to a robust collection of heaters and some fire pits dotted around. Most of the dining areas are covered, too, so even if it's raining, you can still enjoy some fresh air and an equally refreshing drink. — Bridget Hallinan, Associate Food Editor
27 Mill St., Sloatsburg, NY valleyrockinn.com
The Connaught Bar — London, UK
The Connaught Bar has received plenty of press over the past few years, and for good reason, having ranked the best bar in the world in both 2021 and 2022. I first visited a few years back for a story I was writing and instantly felt at home. The space is intimate with cozy nooks carved out on either side and front and center, the bar dominates the space and acts as a stage to showcase the talents of the impeccably dressed mixologists. Master of mixology, Ago Perrone, and his team, are personable, welcoming, and incredibly talented. While many visit for the world-renowned Martini (worth a try for sure), I opt for their Bloody Mary made with the bar's namesake gin. I prefer to go earlier in the afternoon, snagging a seat up by the bar before the place fills up. That corner seat offers the perfect vantage point of the streets of Mayfair as well as the artistry behind the bar, and it gives you the sense that you have the entire place to yourself. — Sean Flynn, Associate Editorial Director
Carlos Pl., London, UK the-connaught.co.uk
The Ear Inn
Hear me out: The Ear Inn, known to regulars simply as The Ear, is something like the Hogwarts Room of Requirement, though filled with alcohol instead of magic. The Ear, like the Room of Requirement, can be hard to find if you're looking for it, but easy to stumble upon spontaneously. It's located in a downtown, West Side neighborhood of Manhattan now referred to as Hudson Square — quite literally a square of space between TriBeCa, SoHo, and the West Village, a few streets above the Holland Tunnel. Maybe you stop by The Ear for a beer after dinner on Hudson Street. Maybe you head in for a midday burger before walking up the West Side Highway river path. No matter how you come to The Ear, or what for, it always seems to appear on that corner of Spring and Greenwich right when you need it most. And like the Room of Requirement, once you spot The Ear, you'll want to go in. It's the kind of place that invites curiosity. It's also the kind of place that looks like it carries history — and that's because it does.
Though The Ear only became The Ear in the late 1970s, when current owners Martin Sheridan and Richard "Rip" Hayman took over, the building itself is said to have been built around 1770 for James Brown, a formerly enslaved person who, the story goes, became an aide to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The building changed hands throughout the years, going from a brewery to a restaurant to a Prohibition-era speakeasy, and alcohol has been served within its walls since at least 1817. These days, there's a sign hanging above the door that reads "EAR" in illuminated red letters. The first time you see that sign, you might do a double take; the "E" looks like it's plastered on top of the "B" in the word "BAR." In fact, it was. In order to skirt around a then-new signage review policy put in place by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, The Ear's owners covered part of the "B" to create an "E," thereby also birthing The Ear Inn.
The sign is just the beginning. Push open the forest green door and you'll enter ear heaven. Every inch of The Ear is plastered with ear artwork: a painting of a pink-and-peach-colored ear graces the ceiling, ear sculptures of various shades and sizes are positioned along the back of the bar, inside the phone booth (yes, there's a phone booth), there's a close-up photograph of an ear decorated with two pearl studs. And there's sensory pleasure for your own ears, too, with live music each week featuring a rotating roster of performers.
The food leans toward comfort, with dishes like cowboy chili and chicken pot pie. And the drinks? $15 classic cocktails, affordable wine, tons of beer. But you don't go to The Ear for the food, or even necessarily for the drinks. You go to The Ear for the vibe: the bare bones, no frills, packed house, where tables are draped with sheets of white paper and, by the end of a night, much of the paper has been covered with crayon-drawn doodles. With its worn wooden floors and dim dive bar lighting, at The Ear you feel like you're in a weird little secret enclave of the city — a place where anything can happen, and, if you're lucky, it does. — Nina Friend, Features Editor
326 Spring St., New York, NY theearinn.com
Hop Sing Laundromat — Philadelphia, PA and Ripplewood Whiskey & Craft — Ardmore, PA
My family and I moved out of Old City Philadelphia and into the suburbs eight years ago, which means that doing any sort of serious damage at Hop Sing Laundromat requires plenty of prior planning: Warning the babysitter that it'll be a late night, bracing ourselves for the (often) painful Uber or taxi charge home, the knowledge that, yes, our 40-something livers will hate us the next day, manifesting their individual displeasure in the form of recalcitrant headaches and questionable hand-eye coordination until lunchtime.
And honestly, I don't think my wife and I should have to bear any of the blame. That, I firmly believe, rests firmly on the proverbial shoulders of Hop Sing Laundromat itself, and its famously one-named proprietor, Lê. You see, Lê and his team have an almost spooky ability to take seemingly incompatible ingredients and make them perform an operatic aria together, or to craft a classic cocktail in such a way that you sometimes believe, on first sip, that you've never had such an impeccable rendition of that particular entry in the canon before. Combine that with the darkly lit yet alluring space and the well-curated music, and you have a recipe for a later night than you planned.
We've also fallen for a bar within walking distance of our house. Ripplewood Whiskey & Craft has, since it opened four years ago, earned the highest praise I can imagine: It's made us happy to have moved here.
The whiskey selection is fantastic — broad and deep and very smart. The cocktails are excellent, whether it's a happy hour Old Fashioned or a more elaborate creation as the night rolls on. The menu finds the perfect balance between gorgeously composed dishes (the charred octopus with smoked tomato, ricotta, and black olive oil is terrific) and the classic (exquisite wings). And the team is knowledgeable, passionate, and kind. Taking out food and cocktails from Ripp, as it's known, helped get us through the worst parts of the pandemic. And now that Covid seems to be loosening its grip, we enjoy all that it has to offer in person.It feels so good to be back. — Brian Freedman, Contributing Editor
1029 Race St., Philadelphia, PA hopsinglaundromat.com /
The Long Island Bar, Brooklyn, NY
The Long Island Bar may be the brainchild of the man credited with inventing the Cosmo, but it's a far cry from the glitzy, kitschy watering holes you might find on an episode of Sex and the City. It's slightly nicer than a dive bar, but embraces the same casual nature. It's a place where you can actually hear and catch up with your friends. But instead of being forced to drink well whiskey with ginger ale all night, there is a slate of seriously great cocktails from owner and bar savant Toby Cecchini.
Here, Daiquiris are made with fresh pineapple juice. Martinis feature a blend of gin and good sake and a housemade bergamot-and-pomelo tincture. Palomas, made with plenty of bubbly grapefruit soda, go down a little too easily. The crown jewel of the menu though, in my humble opinion, is what has become my favorite drink of all time: the White Negroni Sbagliato, which is made with the ridiculously refreshing combination of Bianco vermouth, Suze, a heavy pour of sparkling wine, and garnished with both cucumber and a thick orange peel. (Double garnish! Feels like a treat.)
Many bars nail either the cocktails or the food, but Long Island Bar manages to perfect both. There's epic fried snacks to balance out the alcohol: salty deep-fried cheese curds, served with a French onion dip; mountains of thin, crispy fries, simply listed on the menu as "bowl of fries." But there's also enough substantial food — including a rice flour battered fried chicken sandwich and a tortilla española I dream about — on the menu that you don't have to figure out dinner before heading to the bar. It's truly the Swiss Army knife of drinking spots: perfect for birthdays, work celebrations, first dates. It's both a place to cheer up friends, and a place to cheers with friends. I live on the opposite coast from Long Island Bar these days, and I'm desperate to find a local equivalent, but of course I never will. There is only one Long Island Bar, it sits in Brooklyn on a quiet stretch of Atlantic Avenue, and it is perfect. — Khushbu Shah, Restaurant Editor
110 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, NY thelongislandbar.com
Milo's Bocce Garden — St. Louis, MO
It's been a while now since my five-year stint living in St. Louis, but not a day goes by that I don't miss Milo's Bocce Garden. The tavern in The Hill, St. Louis's historic Italian American neighborhood, dates back to 1902, and has been Milo's since the '70s. It's a cozy, dimly lit, wood-paneled corner bar with a sprawling outdoor patio and bocce court, the kind of place where after-work beers on a beautiful day always seemed to turn into closing the place down. You don't go to Milo's for cocktails; you go for $2.75 longnecks (I'm pretty sure they kept the High Life stocked just for me) and deep-fried hot pepper cheese balls. Milo's is a neighborhood spot no doubt, where everyone knows everyone, and chances are, your family and the owner's family go back generations. But I, a Southern outsider, was welcomed into the fold with open arms, and before I knew it, I was a member of the bocce league, showing up on chilly, early-spring weeknights to play alongside the cigar-smoking old men of the neighborhood. Milo's made St. Louis home. (And in case anyone was wondering, as their T-shirts proclaim, "It's pronounced bow-chee, not botch-ee.") — Erin Clyburn, Copy Editor
5201 Wilson Ave., St. Louis, MO milosboccegarden.com
Robert's Western World — Nashville, TN
I'm no expert on country music, but from what I understand the history of the genre is rife with offshoots and sects and schisms like those found in many Christian denominations. Pop country, alt country, outlaw country, that Nashville sound, that Bakersfield sound, and so on and so forth. If you have a few dozen hours there's a great podcast called Cocaine and Rhinestones that lays out the origins and melodrama of all of this.
But if you only have an hour and want to get to the heart of why this music matters and has endured for so long, go to Robert's Western World in Nashville, Tennessee. It sits across the alley from the Ryman Auditorium, what many consider to be the high church of country music. Robert's might as well be the rowdy basement rec room of that church. It's a narrow rabbit hole best entered through the back door, something that country stars playing next door have done for decades to conveniently grab a drink in between sets. Or so I'm told. I take the back door not to follow in the footsteps of Johnny Cash but to avoid the bachelorette parties, honking, and harshness of Broadway. Once inside Robert's, choose your own adventure: You can hang out at the back bar and observe the beautiful chaos down below or you can walk down the steep set of stairs to the main bar, order a fried bologna sandwich and a cold beer, and inch closer to the action up front.
There aren't many rules at Robert's other than the golden rule. The live music will be very good whether it's two in the afternoon or midnight. Acquiesce. Let go. The country standards will envelop you. One night the experience might feel downright psychedelic. One night you may feel like joining a singalong of "May The Circle Be Unbroken" with 200 strangers. Maybe one night when Bob Dylan is playing at the big arena down the street you'll two-step with your lover while Beck, free of selfie takers, does his own little dance, a sort of waltz, right next to you. That's Robert's. — Hunter Lewis, Editor-in-Chief
416 Broadway # B, Nashville, TN robertswesternworld.com
Schofield's Bar — Manchester, UK
Many things have been said about London but it's the oft-overlooked northern city of Manchester that appeals to me because of one bar in particular: Schofield's Bar. Tucked into Sunlight House, an Art Deco masterpiece in the middle of Deansgate, stepping into Schofield's is like stepping back into the time when the building and its style would be commonplace, life seems slower, friendlier, and importantly, more luxurious. The staff — decked out in crisp white button-downs, ties and tidy aprons — add to that old-timey vibe and the equally smartly outfitted bar, dimly lit and cozy, creates an inviting atmosphere that says, "Come on, stay a while." They even have a library for visitors to peruse while sipping on a corresponding cocktail — and yes, Mr. 007 and F. Scott Fitzgerald play a part in this picture.
Of course, that brings us to the cocktails, which are what really matter. The cocktails do not miss. Drawing on 25 years of collective bartending experience, plus accolades like "International Bartender of the Year (at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards) and "Bartender's Bartender" (at The World's 50 Best Bars) in addition to stints at The American Bar at the Savoy Hotel, London and other hospitality heavyweights, brothers Joe and Daniel Schofield certainly have the know-how to craft a stunning menu of delicious libations.
The brothers place a big emphasis on the classics and classics are perfection, I've never had a better Clover Club or my boyfriend a better Negroni — his go-to order to test a bar's abilities. But their own concoctions are also not to be missed. I couldn't tell you what I had the pleasure of drinking the last time I strolled into Schofield's because A. Their menu has changed, as any good cocktail menu should, and B. I had too many of them to remember. But I can tell you that they were all gin based, and each better than the last. Looking at their current offerings I'm considering hopping across the pond for the Heated Dispute, a gin drink with rhubarb, white pepper, lemon, egg white, and tonic, or the Stone Fence which features Schofield's Maker's Mark Private Select, ginger, lemon, and cider. One word of advice, if you're now also planning a trip to Manchester to check out the spot, what makes it all so special is that despite the luxurious setting, knowledgeable bartenders, and fancy drinks, Schofield's Bar is in no way stuffy. In fact you'll feel as at home here as you do at your favorite neighborhood bar. But as laid back as it is, and as much fun as you might have had at that Manchester United or City game, please leave the football shirt at the hotel. — Sam Gutierrez, Senior Social Editor
3 Little Quay Street Sunlight House, Manchester, UK schofieldsbar.com