The Best Bars in America, 2022

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It may have been a while since you put on a pair of “nice pants” to go to a bar, but when that very 2022 confluence of joie de vivre and pandemic ennui begins to stir and you hear about a new piano bar with red booths or a semisecret room with Kubrick-level design details or a place that has the best damn Sazerac in the world, you put one leg in after the other and you order yourself a Lyft. Or, hell, hop on the next flight to New Orleans. It is time for the Big Night Out.

Drinking culture over the past two-plus years has morphed from negronis hastily made on your kitchen counter to cocktails on the go to cautiously rediscovering what it’s like to sit at a bar to where we are now—going out with a sense of epicness. “Wasn’t this supposed to happen last year, post-vax?” you might ask. It didn’t. Things went sideways. But we are happy to report, as per our last bar tab, which included a seafood tower and many martinis: The people want to party.

You’ll see proof of it in many of the new bars on this year’s list. They’re just a little more special. You don’t go there for the ’Gram. You may see someone in a white tux. You don’t just pop in for a drink after work. You go to feel like it’s your birthday even though it’s just a Tuesday.

Can you still simply get a drink in peace after a hard day? Yes. Always. We have bars for that purpose on this list, too. But should you find yourself eyeing those nice pants? Wear them. Text a friend or three. And go. —KEVIN SINTUMUANG


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Let the record spin long enough and if you’re lucky, silence leads to a hidden track. So it is at the old CitizenTimes building, the home to Asheville’s biggest newspaper. After the printing operations moved to Greenville, South Carolina, the space was reborn in 2020 as a vinyl pressing plant, a record shop, and a very good bar called Session. You can watch blobs of vinyl smooshed into discs, then trimmed into perfect circles, while listening to the Daily Sides—curated playlists available in printed form on clipboards. On one molasses-slow Asheville afternoon, as light streamed through some of the twenty-thousand glass bricks, Lauryn Hill’s voice filled the air. A negroni sbagliato turned into a negroni sour, until the record was over and I sat happily at the undulating bar—or perhaps it was me who was undulating—waiting for the hidden track. 14 O’Henry Avenue —JOSHUA DAVID STEIN


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On a rooftop high over Atlanta, a DJ is spinning records in the corner and you are consuming boozy soft-serve ice cream. The perfect food pairing for your tequila-mango cone? A flight of house-made corn dogs. St. Julep’s breezy indoor-outdoor space has both a bar area with sorbet-hued barstools and several lounge sections with chaises where friends can chill and take in the view. True to its Buckhead roots planted nine floors below, St. Julep also offers a bevy of Outkast-themed drinks, such as the Bowtie, the 13th Floor, and the Ms. Jackson—this last one like a Big Gulp for big kids, with Tito’s, cherry Heering, hibiscus, and lime. Can I get a “Hey Ya!”? 374 East Paces Ferry Road NE —BETH ANN FENNELLY


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Ladies and gentlemen, I have met the most perfect server on this side of the Rio Grande. Her name is Feliza Bustos, and if you’re lucky she’ll be the one carrying out a glowing fishbowl full of gin, lemongrass shochu, and star fruit as the lights begin to flash and dramatic music plays at this maximalist tiki bar in Texas. She sways and twirls like a TGIF waitress on acid before ultimately placing the drink down. Perhaps I am simply verklempt at the sensory overload. Every inch of the wall is taken over by grimacing deities. The tiki drinks on the lavishly illustrated menu are assiduously sourced and served in mugs that are vessels the same way a parade float is a method of conveyance. Feliza delivers my Forbidden Grog in a pale-green seahorse. Inside, the rum runs wild, cavorting with banana, fig, honey, and more. Seahorses are great fathers, I begin to say, but before she can hear more of my Hippocampus trivia, Feliza is off, twirling into the night. 1300 South Lamar Boulevard —J. D. S.


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Brian Finke

You’re tucked into a booth in a room that’s tucked above a resurrected culinary landmark, Gage & Tollner. You’re surrounded by nautical decor that comes across as jokey at first but that begins to feel more like home with each cold, sweet, surprisingly layered sip of your mai tai. Maybe you’re on Fulton Street or maybe you’re aboard the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Either way, this is the language of getting lost, and the Sunken Harbor Club is a place where it somehow seems pointless to keep your phone on. St. John Frizell, Garret Richard, and the rest of the SHC team have created a getaway that melts away your stress and ferries you back to the seventies—whether it’s the 1970s or the 1870s, we’re still not sure. 372 Fulton Street, Second Floor —JEFF GORDINIER


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“Have you been to Little Palm yet?” asked the kind man shucking oysters at my chosen local establishment on my first evening in town. It was advice I fielded near every day up until I finally made it to the indoor/outdoor craft-cocktail haven—they call it a “swim club” due to its proximity (~ten feet) to the pool—at the Ryder Hotel. Little Palm is like nothing nearby. Motown fills the air as brightly colored boozy concoctions litter the bar. Daybeds fill. Diner banquettes buzz. A curious crowd gathers nightly: in-the-know locals, blissed-out hotel guests, and industry workers who just cut shift. Women in clacking heels. Men in suits. Families desperate for respite after sightseeing adventures. First dates. Me. My mom. Everyone, in other words. You should, too. 237 Meeting Street —MADISON VAIN


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Like so many great bars in Chicago, Moneygun feels unassuming at first, dark and no fuss on the fringes of the West Loop. But there’s always a youthful energy to the place, no matter the mix of folks in the room—after-work office types, United Center post-gamers, restaurant workers at the end of their shift. Part of it is the music: It’s always spot-on and DJs are frequent. Ultimately, it’s the drinks that keep you coming back. All familiar classics, yet all made with deft, dialed-in care by beverage director Donavan Mitchem and company. It’s like the ideal local haunt, where everything is a little bit better, from the Sazerac to the patty melt. 660 West Lake Street —K. S.


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Forty-nine feet under a quiet street in Cincinnati, the wail of a saxophone reverberates. This is Ghost Baby, a new bar built in one of the old tunnels that run under the neighborhood known as Over-the-Rhine. More than a century ago, before refrigeration, they served as storage for saloons. Kegs were fished from down below with a pulley and winch. Then the tunnels were abandoned. This one has been turned into an ambitious Babylon Berlin–feeling nightclub. There are two rooms in Ghost Baby: the Rattle Room and the Den. Both buzz with bomb-shelter excitement, but the Den is the one with the disco ball and stage, where cats blow in trios and quartets and couples sip imaginative cocktails like one made with fiery vodka, mezcal, and soursop. The drinks are much better than need be, except, I suppose, for the Bud Light, a lager kept around for old times’ sake. 1314 Republic Street —J. D. S.


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The name is a winking reference to Westchester County, the residential area just north of the Bronx that can feel like an extension of New York City. Traditionally the county has been associated with the literary boozing of John Cheever and Richard Yates, but things have changed, and Boro6 caters to longtime locals and Brooklyn transplants who’d rather have Mediterranean small plates and a glass of grüner veltliner than stale cocktail peanuts and a river of train-station G&Ts. Owners Paul Molakides (an Eleven Madison Park veteran) and Jennifer Aaronson (a Martha Stewart Living veteran) understand hospitality in their bones, so bring a paperback of Revolutionary Road and linger as long as you want. 549 Warburton Avenue —J. G.


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Brandon Liu / Mark Kushimi

The Hawaiian islands default to cornball. It’s seemingly all salt-and-pepper goateed dudes with deep sunburns and Tommy Bahama shirts dancing badly on Waikiki while slamming cup after cup of sickly-sweet piña coladas. But venture away from the beach and find a spot like EP Bar. Located semi-secretly in the back of a coffee shop in downtown Honolulu, the intimate joint spins an impressive collection of vinyl with a nod toward island-centric artists you likely can’t identify with Shazam. Kick back with a tropical-inspired cocktail or a highball—a big slice of the menu is dedicated to creative combos of whiskey and seltzer—and let the music wash over you like a gentle wave. 1150 Nuuanu Avenue, Unit A —DANIEL DUMAS


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Houston is a city with zero chill. When people go out, they get dolled up. When they eat, they feast. When they drink, oh brother, wahoo. Diversión, the cocktail bar next to Degust (one of our 2021 Best New Restaurants), doesn’t play it cool either, which is . . . cool. The low-slung brick building is a bar kitchen, stocked with more flasks and equipment than a Pfizer lab. Flagons of tinctures, ferments, vinegars, and shrubs line the wall. The bar chefs—led by Steven Enrique Salazar—click on a spotlight when they serve you a drink, and the drinks deserve such lighting. The Night at the Movies is a concoction of Sercial Madeira and cognac with citrus bitters, accompanied by an Android tablet playing a Charlie Chaplin flick. It’s a bit de trop. For the slightly more nonchalant, choose from the farm-to-table cocktails. Many of the ingredients are sourced from the bar’s own two five-thousand-square-foot farms. 7202 Long Point Road —J. D. S.


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Bitters flow in bright-red ribbons, glow in backlight, and spill into the starlit night from Brother Wolf, an amaro-centric bar near the old train depot in Knoxville. It’s not that big a city, and bitters are still a bit niche, so chances are you’ll run into someone you know. And you might lean, elbows on the drink rail, peering at the red, yellow, and black pages attached to a brass clipboard that constitute the menu and marveling at the range of amari. And you’ll probably order a very good drink, like a negroni bianco (made with gin from up the road and Baglio Baiata Alagna bianco from Sicily) or an Il Professore (made with Fernet and Montenegro), and maybe even bum a Parliament and smoke it outside and run into the owners, Aaron Thompson and his wife, Jessica King, and their two Great Pyrenees, Moose and Badger, and their daughter, Stella, namesake of the adjoining Osteria Stella. 108 West Jackson Avenue —J. D. S.


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Maddie Eickhoff

Tucked between a kosher deli and a bakery on an otherwise unremarkable block in Los Angeles’s Valley Village—a neighborhood that maintains a fragile balance between Orthodox Jews and the cast of Vanderpump Rules—is the best wine bar in town. Walk through the door into a cozy hunting lodge, where the music is played on cassettes and the wine list offers everything from a solid Napa cabernet to a Tavkveri from the country of Georgia. Co-owner Nick Caballero mixes good values with rare and vintage bottles, and lockdown forced the tiny hot-plate-and-toaster-oven kitchen out into the parking lot, where a Santa Maria grill cooks whole fish over white oak. A nightly happy hour has inexpensive bottles and a solid burger. Perhaps best of all, the clientele is the valley’s creative middle class; the place is packed with showrunners, comedy writers, and character actors, perfectly good company whom the paparazzi leave alone. It’s the city’s best-kept secret. Enjoy it before the Vanderpump kids find out. 12518 Burbank Boulevard —DAVE HOLMES


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A jazz club is often unassuming on the outside but brilliant and unpredictable inside. My favorite kind is where the number of musicians playing equals the number of people watching: small rooms, back rooms, living rooms, basements. The past few years have been good for these pockets of joy in New York. Places like Wild Birds, Marian’s, and Bar Bayeux in Brooklyn; the lush subterranean warrens at the Canary Club on the Lower East Side; and the Special Club in the West Village, a short walk from the OG of all basement spots, Smalls. To enter any of these hallowed rooms—which you can do pretty much any night of the week—is to enter the stuff of life itself: a wild improvisatory ride, a groove, communion, community, with an Old Pal in one hand, put down to clap after solos are traded, but only for a moment before you grasp it again. —J. D. S.


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James Jackman

The buzz surrounding the number of global restaurant brands setting their sights on Miami can obscure another boom: a flourishing independent food-and-wine scene. Paradis Books & Bread, a breezy natural wine bar and radical bookstore in North Miami, has emerged as a key member of this new school. Inside on a normal afternoon, regulars meet up to trade notes on their readings while the team puts out small plates whose recipes, co-owner and sommelier Bianca Sanon proudly admits, are mostly stolen from cherished sources like the Apartamento Cookbook. Few items cost more than ten bucks. Outside under the palm trees, people drink from a bottle list that could give most places in Paris’s 11th a run for their money. 12831 West Dixie Highway, North Miami —GABE ULLA


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Catherine Dzilenski, Idlewild Photo

Could you take a trip to this coastal town just to visit one bar? You will quickly discover that there’s a thriving food-and-drink scene to fill your days, but should you make a stop only at the Port of Call, you will be, well, a happy sailor. The horseshoe bar and the floor beneath are conjured from wood salvaged from old ships. The drinks, concocted by Jade Ayala and Sebastian Guerrero, are pure alchemy, incorporating things like rice koji, pét-nats, and spirits and infusions custom-made with the help of the experimental lab at the nearby Real McCoy Spirits distillery. They are, as they say, next-level. And the food is devised to match the drinks—pairings are even suggested. You will leave satiated on daiquiri twists and squid-ink empanadas, but when the rest of the town closes, come back for Dive down below, where a cold beer and a maximalist hot dog topped with bonito aioli and kimchi will steel your nerves for the misty walk home. 15 Water Street —K. S.


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Brian Finke

Bartender Chris Hannah is one of the pillars of cocktail culture and knowledge in New Orleans, and thus a national treasure. He holds court behind the bar here, in this lovely cottage on one of the quieter streets in the French Quarter, making what are arguably the best cocktails in this town, and thus America. You will have the very best Sazerac here. The very best French 75. And several other obscure historic concoctions he’s dusted off, as well as sublime new creations. You will come for the drinks, but the decadent foods—Wagyu tongue, sweetbreads, caviar—will have you staying for extra rounds. 1026 St. Louis Street —K. S.


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While this bar opened in the middle of the pandemic, you wouldn’t be able to tell given the name or locale of the place. That’s because, as in so much of NOLA, its history runs deep. This building was the home of Antoine Peychaud, whose namesake bitters are the key ingredient to the granddaddy of NOLA cocktails, the Sazerac. You will get an excellent one of those here at the hands of barman Nick Jarrett, but the pro move is to head to the courtyard in the back and order the Peychaud’s Fizz, a refreshing aperitivo that will stave off the humidity in the Quarter. 727 Toulouse Street —K. S.


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Teddy Wolff

Chez Zou is the Dunkirk of cool on Manhattan’s West Side, a rearguard action mounted to show that even in the soulless spires of midtown west, pockets of pleasure remain. On the fourth floor of one such tower in a newly built complex called Manhattan West is the cocktail haven Chez Zou. The design, by vibey design firm AvroKO, is all curves and greenery. The drinks, served from a glowing alcove, nod to the Mediterranean. You can taste the mistrals, for instance, in the martini, made with olive-oil-washed vodka and grape-leaf brine. But there’s something about a colada, here made with mango milk punch and pomegranate, arriving in its Technicolor gradation, that feels like spoils for a victor. Even if the war is lost, at least tonight at Chez Zou, the battle has been won. 385 Ninth Avenue, Fourth Floor —J. D. S.


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Brian Finke

Part supper club, part piano bar, all sumptuous. This is idealized old-school New York glamour. Cozy banquettes, a piano player performing jazz covers of pop songs, martinis, shrimp cocktail, caviar, leopard print carpet, bartenders in white jackets, servers in black dresses, and all of the dressed-up crowd looking a little better in the golden light of a blood-red room. The Nines, a labor of love from restaurateur Jon Neidich, with cocktails from beverage director Ashley Santoro, feels of another time, yet when you’re here, you will feel nowhere but now. Go on, order that second martini. 9 Great Jones Street —K. S.


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Brian Finke

The Rainbow Room, New York’s premier skyborne bar, atop Rockefeller Center, closed to the public in 1998, depriving the drinking world of superlative cocktails sipped while tickling the underbelly of clouds. But the story isn’t over. A quarter century later, at Overstory, all those decadent, atmospheric vibes shine even brighter and more brilliantly. On the sixty-fourth floor of an art deco building, Overstory distills Rainbow’s vastness into an intimate twenty-six-seat oval room with silken walls and velvet banquettes. Everything glows here, like some sort of nightlife empyrean. I like my manhattans rye up perfect, but I ain’t mad at this one. It consists of cacaonib miso-infused whiskey, fermented blackened pear, single-malt whiskey, and smoked rhubarb amaro. It comes over ice, which is nice, and when sipped with the city’s blanket of blinking jewels below you, even if it isn’t a perfect manhattan, it’s a perfect manhattan. 70 Pine Street, Sixty fourth Floor —J. D. S.


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As the name might suggest, the move at Snail Bar, in Oakland’s Temescal district, is to take it s-l-o-o-o-w. Get there early (the place tends to fill up fast) and grab a glass (or a bottle). Chef and founder Andres Giraldo Florez, who spent years in Michelinstarred kitchens, has a serious interest in natural wines, which he pairs with an array of fun small plates prepared with precision, like the snails, a buttery, ultra-umami miso blast that’s cut with razor-thin slices of sweet ’n’ tart kumquats. It’s the closest you’ll get to Paris in northern California. 4935 Shattuck Avenue —OMAR MAMOON


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GOING LOW ABV After three rounds of cocktails at the new old El Quijote in NYC’s Hotel Chelsea, I was expecting to stumble east—wait, west—on Twenty-third Street to fall asleep on the F train home. Instead, I walked in a straight line and soberishly thought, Either I have God-level tolerance or the drinks were weak. Happily, the latter is true and part of a trend of lowerABV cocktails that are still spirited but not punishingly so. The Adonis, for instance, balances amontillado sherry, Basque cider, and single-malt whiskey but still weighs in at 20 percent ABV as opposed to the usual 30 to 35 percent. This is a boon. You can try more, stay longer, and stop wondering why you ordered that last round. —J. D. S.


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This little speakeasy, entered through an unmarked door off a brick alley, clocks in at a mere 264 square feet, yet that’s enough space for cocktail wizard and co-owner Joe Stinchcomb to work his alchemy. The frequently changing craft cocktails often reference Black history or culture, whether that means Nina Simone or The Boondocks. HBO’s The Wire was celebrated with six stunners, including the Omar Comin’. Corianderinfused Scotch whisky captured the fierce masculinity Michael K. Williams brought to his character, but flavors of mango, ginger, lime, and cardamom reflected the complexity of the Omar who tenderly kissed his boyfriend, shopped in his pj’s, and took his grandmother to church. The Wire can be rewatched on HBO, but there’s no resurrection for the Omar Comin’: Stinchcomb gets bored after a few weeks and retires his menus. If you want to keep pace with his newest obsessions, you’ll just have to drink there more often. 1006 Van Buren Avenue —B. A. F.


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Heather Amistad / AJ Meeker / Ashley Marti / Snowpeak

Named after the Japanese word for bonfire, Takibi is nestled in the Portland headquarters of Japanese-based outdoors brand Snow Peak. The space is centered on a woodburning hearth and serves up izakaya-inspired fare alongside sake, wine, cider, and beer sourced mostly from Oregon and Japan. Then there’s the cocktail menu, mashing up both regional influences and dreamed up by famed mixologist and beverage director Jim Meehan. Be certain not to miss the Tanigawa, Takibi’s signature riff on the julep. Blending singlemalt whisky and umeshu (a liqueur made from ume plums) and piled high with shaved ice from a traditional kakigori maker, it’s the ethos of the whole place distilled into a single drink. 2275 Northwest Flanders Street —JONATHAN EVANS


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Youngblood After walking through a secret door in the back of a gastropub, you find yourself in an amber-hued room with soaring ceilings and a number of carefully considered bottles dotting the walls. Soon Champagne materializes and you’re chatting with the bartenders about spirits and flavors or even music you’re obsessed with. Youngblood doesn’t have menus; instead the staff susses out a vibe and creates a cocktail experience structured like a meal: appetizer, main course, dessert. Don’t be afraid to get funky. Oaxacan rum with pineapple, absinthe, and Chartreuse doesn’t sound like it would work but, holy hell, does it ever work. 777 G Street —D. D.


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Leo Patrone / Stephanie Rudy

It’s as if nature conspired to make Scribe the al fresco oasis in Sonoma. A pioneer of all things en vogue, this winery boasts lush greenery, a range of terroir-driven wines, farm-to-table fare, and, as at any beloved watering hole, people practicing the unspoken art of gathering with comrades. Guests traverse a palm-tree-lined runway that leads to the property’s hacienda. Pét-nat in hand, one can meander through the airy estate and take in its Mediterranean design while enjoying golden hour. The key to entry? The Scribe Viticultural Society, which is free to join if you commit to at least two consecutive seasonal allocations from the winery. An easy win-win. 2100 Denmark Street —SHANIKA HILLOCKS


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At the bars of Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr. Lyan) across the Atlantic, the high-concept menus could always be the highlight of a London or Amsterdam visit. His first bar stateside, beneath the Riggs hotel, has similarly brainy drinks that will leave you contemplating whether you too can age manhattans in a microwave or whether Amalfi lemon distillate is what your martinis have been missing. For deepest contemplation, opt to take your cocktail in the former bank vault. 900 F Street NW —K. S.


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RUVEN AFANADOR

This article appeared in the SUMMER 2022 issue of Esquire
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