Cane & Table in New Orleans — Photo courtesy of Cane & Table
There may never be a better drinking city than New Orleans. Not only are there bars every few steps, there’s also a sense of revelry that flows through the city making every drink taste all the better. There’s no judgment, no repercussions, no Monday morning to worry about–just laissez les bon temps roulez. Stumble around the cobblestoned streets of the French Quarter, stumbling into the classics (Hotel Monteleone spinning bar), the iconic (Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, said to be the oldest bar in the country) and the new (Cane & Table, where your to-go drink can be served in a pineapple). If your schedule allows, take a cab into the Bywater neighborhood, and check out spots more frequented by locals, like Mimi’s in the Marigny and Oxalis.
What else would you expect from a town that elected a brewer (John Hickenlooper, now Colorado’s governor) as mayor? Beyond its stellar rep as a hoppy city with more than 200 local breweries, Denver also tops our list for day drinking: The town has 300 days of sunshine and about the same amount of great bars with patios to enjoy all that killer weather. In 2017, Colorado beer hero New Belgium Brewing is set to open a sour-beer specific brewery at The Source Hotel in the River North ‘hood, complete with a beer garden.
Southern Efficiency in Washington, D.C. — Photo courtesy of Southern Efficiency
You can’t have politics without booze, and while there are plenty of hush-hush upscale joints where you can down a five-ounce martini next to an incumbent (e.g. off the record), the buzz around D.C. now is for the more approachable spots. Cruise the Shaw neighborhood where you can shoot oysters, sherry and whiskey in subsequent order by bouncing among lauded barman Derek Brown’s establishments (Mockingbird Hill, Southern Efficiency, The Passenger, Eat the Rich). Or enjoy the local provisions at Bluejacket Brewery, near Nationals Stadium, and at the One Eight Distilling–part of the D.C’s hometown distilling boom.
No one would argue against Chicago as a great city for imbibing: When the country’s craft cocktail craze took hold nearly a decade ago, The Violet Hour in Wicker Park was venerated as a pioneer. Since, many of the bar’s alumni have gone on to establish top-shelf joints of their own around The Windy City. But what really makes Chicago a great place to throw a few back is it’s fondness for neighborhood pubs, such as Emmit’s (Irish saloon) and Maria’s Packaged Goods (run by a former hairdresser), that make up for what they like in pretense in solid drinks and good times.
Julep in Houston — Photo courtesy of Julep
Most people think of Austin when they think of booze, and while that’s well warranted (the city seemingly has more bars than people), Houston is the real best damn city for drinking in the Lonestar State. Start with Bobby Huegel, whose set of drinking establishments from his group’s Anvil Bar & Refuge to Southern-themed darling, Julep, put Texas’ craft cocktails on the map. After-hours venture into Grand Prize for cheap shots, beer, a rooftop and a jukebox. But before all that, visit Mrs. Alice, who still mans the bar for the happy hour crowd at Alice’s Tall Texan Drive-Inn.
Ah, St. Louis, the Gateway to the West. As of late, Missouri’s capital is singing a different tune. It's now filled with downtown revitalization, great neighborhood haunts and drink offerings that go far beyond Anheuser-Busch. Sip mescal and swim in a dumpster pool at the Fortune Teller Bar; chug a locally brewed Tax Evader IPA at Earthbound Beer; enjoy a legit Paloma at Mexican joint Siete Luminarias–and that’s all without leaving the Cherokee Street neighborhood. Downtown, Blood & Sand will serve you the best of its namesake and a knock-you-on-your-bum punch; and near Lafayette Square, St. Louis bar veteran Tim Kilgore has restored one of the best bars in the west with Planter’s House.
Somewhere between the honky-tonks and the suburbs Nashville got really cool–and really boozy. The Patterson House put the city on the craft cocktail map with its elegant, underground vibe and irreverently named cocktails, and icons like Tootsie’s and Robert’s Western World still satisfy the boot-scootin’ crowds. No matter your style, there’s an establishment to suit your party style and palate–from a Christmas-themed trailer with karaoke called Santa’s Pub, to the hipster-friendly 308 Bar, where the drinks and late-night bites are annoyingly and dangerously good. For a one-stop shop check into Pinewood Social, where between cocktails you can bowl, karaoke and take a dip in the pool. If your energy is running low, ask the Pinewood guys for an Easy Like Sunday Morning with Fernet-Branca and espresso.
Ballast Point beer in San Diego — Photo courtesy of Edwin
Many of the country’s top craft beers come from San Diego (Stone Brewing, Karl Strauss, Ballast Point). That may be enough for the bibulous traveler to book a flight, but then they’d be missing everything else: The Baja Wine Country, the high-rollers buying everyone shots in the Gaslamp Quarter, the Spice Quartet drinking game at Grant Grill.
How do Seattle residents put up with the cloudy skies and rainy forecasts? With booze–and lots of it. Its home state has more than 300 breweries and more local distilleries than any other. In Seattle, Linda’s Tavern is said to be the last place Kurt Cobain was seen alive, Pine Box has more than 30 beers on tap and Café Presse has caffeinated cocktails. Don’t worry about the morning, Seattle’s coffee fiends will help you perk up.
A night of drinking in San Fran will cost you a pretty penny, but what’s money got to do with it? Between the adoration for farm-to-table (and vine-to-glass), and the staunch curiosity of those Silicone Valley techie types, there’s a bounty of stout drinks and fancy cocktails to be had. ABV has a bevy of mixings organized by spirit, Smuggler’s Cove delves into tiki culture, and Bar Agricole is all handcrafted everything (even the recycled oak bar). Despite it’s sophisticated offerings, San Fran hasn’t totally lost its edge. For proof, look to the Mission’s jukebox-stocked District 500 Club and the 1930s Li Po Lounge in Chinatown. Just make sure to arrange transportation before heading out for the night; the town’s sloping streets have a way of turning you around (or worst, sobering you up).