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The 38 Essential Cocktail Bars Across America

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The inaugural Cocktail 38 appeared in November of 2012, and now it is due for an update. While some bars like Anvil (Houston), Midnight Cowboy (Austin), Williams & Graham (Denver), Cure (New Orleans), The Aviary (Chicago), and more held their ground, others gave way to 38 newcomers like Pastry War (Houston), Fox Liquor Bar (Raleigh), and Marvel Bar (Minneapolis).

To be clear: this version was curated from scratch to be fair and open to every possibility. Any overlap with the previous 38 means those venues were agreed upon by our current panel of experts. A grand list of 150 bars was eventually cut to the final 38 presented here today. It was no easy task.

The Process

Similar to the local Eater 38 lists, the goal here is to include the best of the best, but also make sure to include a fair amount of geographical diversity as well as diversity of style. As such, your favorite bar in cocktail-centric cities like New York City and Chicago may not have made the list, but there's always next time. The heaviest-weighted criteria was the quality of the actual cocktails, though at times, atmosphere and the context of certain bars in the industry played a part as well.

Eater consulted with a panel of cocktail lovers and experts across the country consisting of writers with extensive knowledge of the subject, bloggers, the well-traveled, book authors, and industry professionals (more on that later). There was a general consensus among most of them, though oftentimes there were polarizing opinions. That means that while the bulk of the list was approved by the whole panel, some panelists may disagree with some selections. C'est la vie.

In any case, each listing was reviewed thoroughly, researched and eventually decided upon, though the final say is up to you. Eater fully expects a spirited discourse in the comments for those that feel certain inclusions or exclusions were unwarranted.

As for our panelists, a very heartfelt thanks goes out to:

Amanda Kludt (Eater), Chris Frankel (bartender), Melody Fury (writer), Bill Addison (Eater), Jordana Rothman (writer), Wayne Curtis (writer), Leslie Pariseau (Punch), Jessica Voelker (writer), Brad Thomas Parsons (author), David Wondrich (author), Mike Thelin (Feast Portland), Emma Janzen (writer), Talia Baiocchi (Punch), Felice Simmons (Urban Swank), Shanna Jones (Urban Swank), Caroline Pardilla (LA Mag), Allecia Vermillion (Seattle Met), Ryan Sutton (Eater), Matt Buchanan (The Awl), John deBary* (Momofuku) and all current Eater editors.

*Only comments and opinions related to unaffiliated bars were considered from this panelist.

Here now, the updated Eater National Cocktail 38. Entries are listed in alphabetical order. Please feel free to air your inevitable grievances in the comments below.

· All Cocktail Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Eater 38 Coverage [-E-]

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Eater maps are curated by editors and aim to reflect a diversity of neighborhoods, cuisines, and prices. Learn more about our editorial process. If you buy something or book a reservation from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

Anvil Bar & Refuge

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“Just don’t come here and order a vodka and cranberry,” say Felice Simmons and Shanna Jones of lifestyle blog, Urban Swank. That’s partially because you’ll want to consume something much more intricately prepared and also because Anvil doesn’t carry vodka in their arsenal of liquor. Writer Emma Janzen adds, “Anvil was one of the first bars to put Texas on the map for craft cocktails, and since then, the standards have yet to dip.” Outspoken founder, Bobby Heugel is the one to thank for that - he's become a national figurehead in the cocktail movement and a man that's truly spirited about his spirits. [Photo]

Arnaud's French 75 Bar

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“The drinks here are among the best in the city, and show how to build on a classic,” says freelance journalist Wayne Curtis. And bartender Chris Hannah is a “gentleman and a true master of the form” according to writer Jordana Rothman. The bar itself — named to honor the simple Champagne-based cocktail — used to be a "gentleman-only" area of French Quarter restaurant, Arnaud's, though it's been long since been updated to include the ladies too. The actual bar and bar back are certified vintage: both were built in the 1800s. [Photo]

The Aviary

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Punch's Leslie Pariseau calls the drinks here "really beautiful, mindfuck cocktails." Not surprising considering Next's Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas are behind the place, alongside beverage director (and Tales of the Cocktail's American Bartender of the Year) Charles Joly. What freelancer Wayne Curtis calls an "isolated Canary Island, with its own ecosystem of fascinating, endlessly inventive drinks" also has a speakeasy in its basement called The Office, of which is accessible for parties of up to 16 or by invitation. [Photo]

Bar Agricole

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Bar Agricole “fits beautifully into the ethos of the San Francisco food/wine continuum” says Punch's Leslie Pariseau. The restaurant and bar is known for using local, seasonable, and sustainable ingredients in both the food from chef Melissa Reitz and cocktails created by Thad Vogler and Eric Johnson. Writer Jordana Rothman adds this of their commitment to premium ingredients: “If they can’t find a distiller that meets their standards of quality and traceability, they make their own.” [Photo]

Bar Congress

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"Well-executed classics and innovative combinations” are keys to this David Bull-owned cocktail lounge's success (which is sandwiched between sister concepts Congress and Second Bar + Kitchen in the same building), according to Austin writer Melody Fury. And while writer Emma Janzen admits it “isn’t as outwardly flashy or concept-forward as many other craft cocktail bars,” its drinks prepared with many a housemade mixer, drinking vinegar or shrub could stand up to some of the best in the country. [Photo]

The Broken Shaker

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There’s nothing broken about this James Beard-nominated bar located inside the Freehand Miami Hostel. Punch editor in chief Talia Baiocchi says, “It's one of those craft cocktail bars that is the modern imagination of what Miami must've been like in the deco days — all daiquiris and live music and outdoor drinking.” Eater's Amanda Kludt agrees, and adds their “awesome daily punches and reasonable prices" to the list of reasons why its essential. Bar Lab's Elad Zvi and Gabriel Orta developed the concept for hostel owner, Sydell Group, and continue to manage its operations. [Photo]

Bryant's Cocktail Lounge

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Cocktail expert David Wondrich is a fan of this Milwaukee bar, which is the city’s (and possibly the state’s) oldest — established in 1938. Wondrich says it was “cool before there were hipsters,” which is true considering the fact Bryant’s has been serving booze since before most of its current guests were born. Many of the house cocktails on the massive menu are originals, with closely guarded recipes and plenty of historical lore. [Photo]

Seattle Met’s food and drink editor Allecia Vermillion calls this the “brown liquor juggernaut of Seattle cocktail bars” with a massive (in the thousands) whiskey collection and back-to-back James Beard noms for outstanding bar program. It helps that founder Jamie Boudreau is “always pushing the boundaries of cocktail culture in the Northwest,” according to Punch's Leslie Pariseau, and making this a must-visit place for cocktail lovers in Seattle. [Photo]

Clover Club

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“If you're ever tired of [New York City], walk into Clover on a Wednesday and listen to live 1920s jazz while sipping on a Street & Smith (tequila, mezcal, grapefruit infused Campari, maraschino), and you'll fall in love with the Big Apple all over again,” says Ryan Sutton, Eater critic, of Julie Reiner’s cozy Brooklyn cocktail bar. Momofuku bar director John deBary also credits it as a place “responsible for the current [cocktail] renaissance we’re enjoying” that’s also provided an incubator for some of the city’s best bartending talent. [Photo]

Clyde Common

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Feast Portland’s Mike Thelin calls Jeffery Morgenthaler’s bar an “institution of cocktailing and modern hanging out.” It’s also a place where Morgenthaler can shape and test plenty of ideas that food and drink writer Jordana Rothman claims are “some of the most durable cocktail world trends of the last few years,” citing barrel-aged drinks as just one of them. The self-proclaimed “European-style tavern” is also a great place for food to accompany those JBFA-nominated cocktails. [Photo]

Columbia Room

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Located inside The Passenger, Columbia Room gives guests one of the most intimate cocktail experiences in the nation with a bar that seats only 10. Though its size could lead people to believe Derek Brown’s tiny bar is based on exclusivity, food and drink writer Jessica Voelker says “the staff here is never pretentious.” Along with options that include a tasting menu of cocktails and small plates or a simple a la carte format, freelance journalist Wayne Curtis also enjoys the “entertaining education in spirits and what to do with them” on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. [Photo]

“It’s modern but it also honors the city’s amazing cocktail culture,” says writer Jessica Voelker of this off-the-beaten-path craft cocktail bar from Neal Bodenheimer, Kirk Estopinal and Matthew Kohnke (also of Bellocq in Hotel Modern). Cure has become the must-visit spot for serious booze hounds weary of the sugary hurricanes and crowds found on Bourbon Street, even if it does require a cab ride away from the main tourist attractions. Writer Emma Janzen refers to it as a “litmus test for quality” in a city where boozing is the number one attraction. Bonuses include small plates for snacking and a happy hour with $6 classic cocktails. [Photo]

“The grandaddy of Boston’s modern cocktail bars, Drink has seen an era of incredible bartenders behinds its three-counter bar,” says Punch's Leslie Pariseau. The menu-less bar requires trust on the part of its drinkers, but if the seemingly endless national and international accolades for Drink (which is part of chef Barbara Lynch’s empire) are any indication, there’s nothing to worry about except which liquors to request. [Photo]

Esquire Tavern

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“This place is magic,” says Feast Portland’s Mike Thelin of this 1933-established bar on the San Antonio River Walk that feels like walking into an old saloon. House cocktails often utilize the more Texas-leaning spirits like tequila in drinks like the Aviación, mixing it with hibiscus-mezcal cordial, maraschino and lime. Writer Emma Janzen thinks it’s “definitely a destination cocktail bar for both Texas and the rest of the country.” [Photo]

Fox Liquor Bar

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“Tucked away in the former basement of a Piggly Wiggly, Ashley Christensen's Raleigh bar possesses the charm of a speakeasy with the welcome inclusiveness of your favorite neighborhood bar,” says Bitters author Brad Thomas Parsons. The James Beard award winning chef is also serious about cocktails here with an extensive list of classic and original concoctions that are some of the best in North Carolina, all priced at $11 including tax. [Photo]

Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co.

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“Some of the best service […] and a delightfully creative menu,” are just a couple of reasons Momofuku bar director John deBary endorses this Philly cocktail bar named after the front for what was the largest Prohibition alcohol ring in the country. While the feeling is speakeasy-esque, the drinks are all over the map with classics, punches and more adventurous selections that include ingredients like Arbequina olive oil-washed mescal, cardamaro, Amaro Meletti, creme de framboise and wormwood bitters (A Room Without a Roof). [Photo]

The Gin Joint

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This husband-and-wife owned bar from MariElena and Joe Raya has been known to host many a late-night chef gathering. That’s in part because the cocktails here are legit with a dedication to make everything just so, including a special ice machine, locally sourced ingredients and housemade syrups. A small menu of bar snacks helps the medicine go down. [Photo]

Kimball House

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"Some of the richest bartender talent in the Atlanta metro area" is stationed here, according to Eater critic Bill Addision. In addition to an extensive list of traditionally served absinthes and refined cocktails, Addison says, "sitting at the bar, drinking cocktails and slurping oysters, is the power move" at this French-inflected restaurant and bar housed in a former railway depot built in the late 1800s. [Photo]


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It’s five years old and still going strong, thanks to owner Ryan Maybee’s solid cocktail program (with seasonal updates) and intimate speakeasy atmosphere. This Kansas City treasure is just downstairs from its sister establishment, the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, and plays host to guests with a reservation-only policy vying for one of its 48 seats. [Photo]

Marvel Bar

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Beverage director Pip Hanson and head bartender Peder Schweigert are run this sleek Minneapolis cocktail bar, which serves plenty of original, seasonal drinks along with a weekly punch and a section with “non-intoxicants.” It’s gotten plenty of notice from national media along with a James Beard nomination for Outstanding Bar Program this year. Being Minneapolis, there's usually a decent selection of hot cocktails come winter. [Photo]

Midnight Cowboy

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What once was a seedy massage parlor is now a cocktail haven for Austin, brought to life and transformed by the founder of the movie theater/restaurant/bar chain known as Alamo Drafthouse. Not unlike its predecessor, Midnight Cowboy employs tableside service and what well-traveled free agent bartender Chris Frankel thinks are “most of Austin’s strongest bartenders.” Reservations are available, though walk-ins are also welcome. And though they carry entirely different meanings now that it’s a bar and not a brothel, there are happy endings all around. This time they happen to be in booze form. [Photo]

The NoMad

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Eater critic Ryan Sutton calls this 2014 James Beard Foundation Award winning hotel bar a “bastion of cocktailian civility in Midtown.” Momofuku bar director John deBary praises Leo Robitschek and his team for their ability to “enthusiastically handle both the high-volume demands of a hotel bar, and the demands for precision and attention to detail you would expect at far smaller bars.” Add to that Punch's Leslie Pariseau’s observation that “the menu is always pushing the boundaries of New York taste,” and you have one of NYC’s quintessential cocktail stops. [Photo]

Paper Plane

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Eater critic Bill Addison thinks this Southern bar is "the hottest place to drink in the Atlanta area," though their tight menu also gets noticed for excellence. Addison finds that head bartender Paul Calvert is a "virtuoso at blending potent flavors compatibly." Cocktails like the In Bloom with Mezcal, Italian vermouth, Campari, St. Germain and rose water (there's that expert blending at work) are interesting to say the least, and the atmosphere is intimate. Let it be known they welcome "Members and Non-Members Only" into the place. [Photo]

The Pastry War

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Yet another Houston soon-to-be institution from Bobby Heugel has taken residence in the hottest neighborhood du jour: downtown. Though it’s young, the mezcaleria — featuring handpicked, thoroughly researched booze from small-batch producers — is making some of the best margaritas (and other agave-derived cocktails) in the country. Imbibe and Punch author David Wondrich sums it up nicely: “Picky mezcal drinks in a non-picky setting. The way forward.” Be warned, however, they do not serve actual pastry here, unless you count homemade tamales. [Photo]

Patterson House

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This five-year-old Nashville speakeasy was among the first wave of high-quality cocktail bars to open up in town. Ben and Max Goldberg of Strategic Hospitality are behind this softly lit, chandelier-bedecked gem that attracts many an in-town celebrity looking to booze it up in a mellow atmosphere. It should also be noted there is an Old Fashioned here made with bacon-infused bourbon. [Photo]

Even though the acronym means “Please Don’t Tell,” word’s been out about modern speakeasy PDT (an annex to Crif Dogs) for quite some time now. Food and drink writer Jordana Rothman says, “You can’t talk about cocktails in New York without talking about Jim Meehan, Jeff Bell and their standard-bearing East Village hideaway. It still feels like the epicenter of creative mixology.” Momofuku bar director John deBary got his bartending start here and calls Meehan a legend, adding “walking through that phone booth will never be not cool.” Also never not cool: the drinks. [Photo]

Polite Provisions

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“Erick Castro's team is bar-none trained to be not only hospitable, but down to earth and goddamned good at making drinks. He's thinking on a level of a high-volume bar, but the attention to detail is that of a 10-seat craft cocktail joint,” says Punch's Leslie Pariseau. The ambitious cocktail menu here uses lots of housemade mixers like tonic and grapefruit soda, bitters and more; plus spirits, already-mixed cocktails, beer and wine on draft. [Photo]

Proof on Main

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Proof Bar inside the farm-to-table Proof on Main restaurant is part hotel bar — it's located inside the 21C Museum Hotel — part rotating art exhibit, and part bourbon pusher. Because what good would a Kentucky bar be without its native spirit? There are over 75 variations of the whiskey to choose from here, many of which would go nicely in a must-order mint julep, and many of which were distilled just down the road. [Photo]

Rob Roy

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Bitters author Brad Thomas Parsons had a friend that once described Rob Roy as having a “70s coke-den vibe,” to which he responded: “But how many coke dens are cool enough where a bespoke Boulevardier and Rainier tall-boy are equally welcome drink orders?” Anu Apte’s Seattle bar was essential enough to make the last Cocktail 38, and food and drink writer Jessica Voelker thinks that since then, it “seems to have transformed from the unofficial clubhouse for the serious cocktail kids to a high-volume bar with professional polish” in the best possible way.

Smuggler’s Cove

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Imbibe and Punch author David Wondrich calls this San Francisco treasure the “best tiki bar to open in 50 years.” Its star spirit is rum and its cocktails are self-described as “traditional drinks of the Caribbean islands, classic libations of Prohibition-era Havana and exotic cocktails from legendary tiki bars” with an appropriately nautical/tiki-themed interior. More about that rum: Smuggler’s has their own brand called Eurydice, of which ingredients and production all hail from their home state of California. [Photo]

The Sugar House

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“Sugar House has brought their speakeasy vibe and extensive cocktail menu to the mainstream,” says Victoria Trudeau, Eater Detroit editor. She also mentions their support of locally made spirits and the fact that it’s become an essential place to take out-of-town guests. The frequently rotating cocktail menu keeps things fresh and offers a virtual novella of choices that includes a glossary in the back. [Photo]

Three Dots and a Dash

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The tiki tradition is being revived one bar at a time, and Three Dots and a Dash is one of the many getting it right. Really right. Writer Emma Janzen says, "It’s amazing watching Paul McGee’s skilled staff build 4-5 incredibly complicated cocktails (they all have like 7 ingredients each) at the same time while also politely educating you on the history of this drink or the nuances of that rum. Modern tiki drinks featuring mezcal, genever and Scotch hold court against classics, which all taste fresh, balanced and totally on-point every time." [Photo]

The Varnish Bar

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Great cocktails are king at this five-year-old LA bar in the back of 1908-founded Cole's restaurant (where it's said the French Dip sandwich originated). LA Mag cocktail blogger Caroline Pardilla says, "It continues to be the place to go in L.A. for a perfect, historically accurate classic cocktail. Your phone won't work here, so give yourself over to this bar from another era and enjoy live jazz and a simple but straightforward classic cocktail list." [Photo]

Velvet Tango Room

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Just shy of its 20th anniversary, Paulius Nasvytis' Velvet Tango Room remains a "unique and irreplaceable" cocktail bar according to Imbibe and Punch author David Wondrich. In addition to the upscale atmosphere — there's a dress code against wearing anything "disreputable" — the cocktail cred here includes specialty ice cubes that are frozen at -30-degrees Farenheit, cherries imported from Italy, housemade bitters and an aversion to making chocolate-tinis. [Photo]

Vegas is full of swanky bars, but Vesper is one that remains a consistent stop among them to find a well-made cocktail. Freelance journalist Wayne Curtis believes this bar inside The Cosmopolitan "proves you can do high quality drinks at high volume in a high foot traffic venue." The Eater Las Vegas local Cocktail 38 suggests the Cross Stitch, a flaming drink made with 12-year rum, whiskey and Benedictine. [Photo]