Bars. Saloons. Taverns. Clubs. Speakeasies. Whatever you call your favorite watering hole, you can be assured that Christine Sismondo knows a good place to get a stiff drink. As the author of America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops, we figured she could give us some good recommendations on where to belly up for a proper cocktail. Here, Sismondo gives us her 10 favorite bars in America.
1. Marie’s Crisis, 59 Grove St., West Village, New York City
Located in the basement of the building that Thomas Paine died in, patrons keep liberty alive by singing show tunes around a piano bar ’til all hours of the night at Marie’s. Not to put too fine a point on this, but this place is a dive. That said, it’s been named “best bar in the world” by everyone I’ve ever taken there.
2. The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar in the Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St., San Francisco
The Tonga Room is brilliant, over-the-top, high-end tiki, with excellent mai-tais and an actual barge floating down a “river” in the middle of the lounge area. An absolute must on the bar bucket list.
3. Green Parrot Bar, 601 Whitehead St., Key West, Fla.
Every time I’ve been to the Green Parrot in Key West, I’ve seen mind-blowingly good live music. It’s also off the dreaded Duval strip, which means a greater likelihood of interaction with the locals, and at our last call, home to a charming bar cat, Frank.
4. Sun Liquor, 607 Summit Ave. E, Seattle, Wa.
I’m a little too old to be a regular at Sun Liquor, but this is the only bar I’ve ever walked into that desperately made me want to be a bar owner. The décor and service are understated yet perfect and the cocktails are phenomenal.
5. The Chart Room, 300 Chartres St., New Orleans
For history and beauty, go to New Orleans’ Napoleon House or Tujagues. For a nice, relaxed good time, the Chart Room is the ticket. Although it’s an open bar on a corner two blocks from Bourbon, it feels like a hidden gem.
6. Bukowski’s Tavern, 50 Dalton St., Boston
The other Bukowski’s is in Cambridge, and I hear it’s even better. That said, the Back Bay location is one of the more comfortable places to pass a few nighttime hours in downtown Boston. Despite being named after the dive-bar bard, it caters to a wide range of clientele and offers excellent beer choices in a wholly unpretentious setting.7. Al’s Wine and Whiskey Lounge, 321 Clinton St., Syracuse, N.Y.
If this bar were in New York City, people would still have to remark on the first-rate selection of hard liquor. The fact that it’s in Syracuse makes it all the more amazing. It’s a veritable library of booze staffed by passionate and knowledgeable bartenders.8. The Lodge, 21 West Division St., Chicago
I struggled between Chicago’s Andy’s Jazz Club, which boasts great music and a classy atmosphere, and The Lodge, which, I swear is where Springer recruits his guests. In all fairness, for the people-watching, I have to pick The Lodge.
9. The Whistling Oyster, 807 South Broadway, Fells Point, Baltimore
When in Baltimore, I never fail to drop in to the Whistling Oyster, a bar that caters to both tourists and locals, particularly those who work on the boats at Fells Point. It really is the kind of place where you wind up making friends with strangers and occasionally taking the party down the street to the neighboring Cat’s Eye or Horse You Came In On Saloon, the latter haunted by that other bar-room bard, Edgar Allan Poe.
10. The Saloon in the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, 49 E. 42nd St., New York City
Hard to pick just one iconic bar in New York, but the saloon at the back of the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station ought to be mentioned. Replete with a secret entrance and a nautical theme, it puts one in mind of a different era.
The Sea of Happiness Lounge, helmed by Captain George in the Cass Hotel in Chicago. The charming George was usually more inebriated than his patrons, and he remains one of the more memorable hosts I’ve had the pleasure to meet.
Christine Sismondo is the author of America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops, available from Oxford University Press.