Iconic Bars Offer Unique Ambiance

Founding Fathers Pub. Photo by Mark Hogan

Founding Fathers Pub. Photo by Mark Hogan

Above:  Founding Fathers Pub in Buffalo, New York. Photo by Mark Hogan

Story by Igor Guryashkin

Igor's work has appeared in The New Yorker, Salon and ESPN The Magazine. He lives in Louisville with his cats.

These legendary watering holes are worth a visit on your next trip.

A bar is many things to many people. Perhaps it’s a place where you meet your future partner, a place where everybody knows your name, or maybe it’s just a simple joint that creates an atmosphere of revelry, togetherness and conviviality like no other. Here is our list of unique and iconic drinking establishments around the country.

Earnestine & Hazel’s, Tennessee

Memphis favorite Earnestine & Hazel’s opened in 1992, in an old building that was formerly a 1930s pharmacy. Since then, it has been featured in nine movies, praised by magazines as one of the nation’s best and even considered the most haunted bar in the country. The drinks list is short; the food menu is even shorter — a burger and that’s it. But with nightly live music that shows off Memphis' talents in a venue that used to be a local jazz hangout, brothel and a Ray Charles haunt, it’s a destination not to be missed.

Red’s Blues Club, Mississippi

Originating from the Gullah (a type of Creole) word “joog” — meaning rowdy or disorderly — these juke joints used to populate the South as informal destinations for music, drinking and dancing. There are few left, but one of the last standing is Red’s Blues Club in Clarksdale. Red’s might not look like much, but it’s a hub for intimate and authentic rip-roaring blues, right in the middle of the genre’s birthplace — the Mississippi Delta. A true mecca for any dedicated blues pilgrim.

Holy Grale, Kentucky

One of the best bars in America is situated inside a former Unitarian church built in 1905. There are no craft cocktails, no speakeasy gimmicks or any pretense of exclusivity. What Holy Grale does have is ambience that a drunk monk of yesteryear would find agreeable, even familiar. It also boasts one of the best burgers and fries (duck fat, of course) around and a rotating beer selection from remote, hard-to-find sources that would put most brew aficionados in a spin.

Bacchanal Wine, Louisiana

Far enough — but not too far — from the grubby, sweaty and frankly unsavory tourist trap of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street is Bacchanal Wine. What could be better than a phenomenal wine program, locally sourced and seasonal food that’s not just your typical gumbo, and live music courtesy of some of the best up-and-coming jazz musicians New Orleans has to offer. Put simply, Bacchanal allows you to enjoy The Big Easy like a local, rather than the tourist you probably are. Oh, and all that can be absorbed within the confines of a fairy light-laden back garden. What could be better?


The Sip ‘N Dip Lounge, Montana

Inside a midsize but far-from-ordinary hotel in Great Falls, Montana — the O’Haire Motor Inn — is a swimming pool that sits snugly behind the bar. Every night in this fabled tiki lounge, mermaids (more accurately: costumed employees with superlative swimming skills) go for a swim as patrons look on. What more could you possibly need to know? Well, the fact that it’s also smack bang in the middle of one of the most beautiful, sparse landscapes in North America — that’s reason enough to go, surely?

Founding Fathers Pub, New York

In the upper reaches of New York State is an old Buffalo pub housed in an 1870s-era livery building. It’s adorned from floor to ceiling in portraits of you guessed it — the Founding Fathers. With an atmosphere akin to stepping into a colonial-era saloon, this is your chance to sit amongst history while checking out one of the nation’s most uniquely appointed buildings. And when you’re done, Niagara Falls and Canada are but a mere few minutes away.

McSorley’s Old Ale House, New York

OK, perhaps the choice of McSorley’s is a little cliche. But when you’re one of the oldest Irish taverns in New York City and can lay claim to being a watering hole for a plethora of legendary artists, politicians and writers, then perhaps you’re worth the visit. Open for more than 140 years, McSorley’s is basically unchanged — straw on the old wooden floorboards, just two types of beer (light and dark, and the light is pretty dark) and burgers with mustard spicy enough to give you a nosebleed. Touristy or not, it’s a time capsule worth visiting every time you’re in the Big Apple.

Forbes Island, California

A man-made flotilla affectionately known as Forbes Island is also home to a bar and restaurant that offers stunning vistas of San Francisco’s Bay Area. Perhaps offering one of best views of any restaurant in America, it’s also a touch offbeat (you have to take a shuttle boat to get there!) Weighing 700 tons, the flotilla offers palm trees, its own waterfall and even a 55-step lighthouse. Yes, it’s unusual but it’s located in one of the nation’s unique cities after all. So stop by, get dinner and watch the world go by.

The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, New York

This is the world’s best bar. But don’t take my word for it; it’s official. It was just voted the best bar in the world for 2016 and has held the title of the best bar in North America for four years running. If you want a peerless cocktail then it seems The Dead Rabbit leads everyone else in this regard. Whether you’re drinking in the downstairs casual taproom, or indulging in the finery of the upstairs parlor, you’re sure to be satisfied.

Prizefighter, California

Sometimes you want things to just be easy. Well, Prizefighter in Emeryville, California, is easy. It has the relaxed ambience of a local haunt and yet has the same passion for craft cocktails as any other elite liquor slingers in the land. Music is tasteful and not so loud that you'll need to yell. And did we mention you can bring your dog? It’s the type of place you’ll spend five hours and feel like it was 15 minutes.

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