America's Best Bars 2012

By The Editors of Playboy

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This is journalism, people. All year long our swarms of investigative reporters ping-pong across the nation, hitting juke joints, mixology meccas, beach bars and dives by the dozen. We look under every maraschino cherry, jotting down notes on wet napkins with steeled nerves and steady hands. To make our bar guide as definitive as possible, we spare lots of sleep and no expense. If you know of a drinking establishment that belongs on this list, clue us in. Meanwhile, pour yourself a tall one and enjoy this intoxicating menu.

Pancha’s (Yountville, California)

When night falls in Napa Valley, off-duty cult-cab winemakers, French Laundry chefs and vineyard workers gather at this dimly lit beacon to soak up Buds and shots with beef tongue burritos from the taco truck in the parking lot. (707-944-2125)

Jimmy’s Corner (New York) Yards from the theme park that is Times Square, this utterly improbable, thoroughly New York dive is owned by an ex-boxer (that’s Jimmy pictured on the wall with Muhammad Ali). The drinks are strong and cheap, and the TVs are always tuned to a game. (212-221-9510)

Jumbo’s Clown Room (Los Angeles) While fancier gentlemen’s clubs abound in L.A., here is a full-on urban pole-dancing circus of a bar where you’d actually be proud to take a date. The music leans toward the 1980s, and the Emmett Kelly clown art is creepily comforting. Hollyweird at its best. (jumbos.com)

Wally’s Café (Boston) Is it a dive bar? A jazz hall? A historical monument? It’s all three, goddamn it. It’s been a long time since Charlie Parker played here, but the music is top quality, and the crowd is the most racially diverse around—and in New England that’s saying something. (wallyscafe.com)

Harvey’s By the Bay (Miami) Though Mac’s Club Deuce is the Miami spot that always makes these lists (and for good reason), we recommend this quieter cave. Originally a prison, Harvey’s is situated on a 45-acre waterfront plot and named for the first Miami soldier to perish in World War I. Hoist a $2 LandShark and you’re living. (954-394-2763)

R Bar (New Orleans)New Orleans has many great dives, but this one is special. Get a haircut, drink a Bière Pâle, eat crawfish and rent a room—all in one spot. (royalstreetinn.com/r-bar)

Tommy’s Mexican restaurant (San Francisco) It’s not exactly a traditional dive. What it is: a hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint that sells the best margaritas in the world. Owner Julio Bermejo stocks hundreds of tequilas. Take your pick, along with some killer ceviche. (tommystequila.com)

Jack London Bar (Portland, Oregon) This fantastic haunt is hidden in the basement of an offtrack betting parlor turned pool hall. Enough said. (rialtopoolroom.com)

Lee Harvey’s (Dallas) A half-century-old roadhouse (above) south of downtown Dallas, Lee Harvey’s melds grunge and hipster posturing with a distinct Lone Star edge. Customers prize the PBRs, the pool table and the outdoor fire pit. (leeharveys.com)

Earnestine and Hazel’s (Memphis) Four blocks off Beale Street (ground zero for the American blues scene), beneath what was once a busy brothel, this bar (above left) has one of the best jukeboxes on the planet. The “soul burgers” are icing on the proverbial cake. (901-523-9754)

This is journalism, people. All year long our swarms of investigative reporters ping-pong across the nation, hitting juke joints, mixology meccas, beach bars and dives by the dozen. We look under every maraschino cherry, jotting down notes on wet napkins with steeled nerves and steady hands. To make our bar guide as definitive as possible, we spare lots of sleep and no expense. If you know of a drinking establishment that belongs on this list, clue us in. Meanwhile, pour yourself a tall one and enjoy this intoxicating menu.

La Descarga (Los Angeles)Sure, it’s situated on a street dotted with discount furniture stores, but that only adds to the stealth sex appeal of La Descarga. Salsa dancing until two a.m.! (ladescargala.com)

Library bar (Los Angeles)Barman Matthew Biancaniello shakes inventive drinks, such as the whole enchilada (smoky mescal et al.), into the wee hours in a room lined with books and bottles, conveniently located off the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. “Shall we get a room…?” (thompsonhotels.com)

Vesper bar (Las Vegas) You could walk around Vegas in shorts, sipping a cocktail from a neon flask. Or you could act like a real man, put on a blazer and take your woman for a proper cocktail in this elegant tavern (above right) in the lobby of the Cosmopolitan. (cosmopolitanvegas.com)

Lido Restaurant & Bayside Grill (Miami)Let the masseuse at the Standard hotel spa do the work on your date. Then have her meet you on the deck of the hotel’s restaurant-bar at sunset. A martini later and she’ll melt in your hands. (standardhotels.com)

Smuggler’s Cove (San Francisco) At first this place looks like a Disney pirate setup overflowing with buccaneer junk. But don’t be fooled. Head downstairs to the cozy galley-like bar and order a pair of old fashioneds with rare aged rum. Just the thing if you’re hunting for booty. (smugglerscovesf.com)

The Cruise Room (Denver) Step into the Cruise Room and you’ll feel as if you’re in the bar on the Titanic: elegant, maritime-themed, pre-Prohibition chic. If this place doesn’t charm her, she’s as cold as the iceberg you’re about to smash into. (theoxfordhotel.com)

The Library (Dallas) This spot at the Warwick Melrose has played provocateur to generations of upper-tier mischief makers. Patrons don’t come for the literary gems on the walls but for the sturdy cocktails, the saloon singers and, if fancy strikes, discreet departures. (librarybardallas.com)

Signature Room at the 95th (Chicago) On the 95th floor of the Hancock tower, the panorama of the Windy City at night will blow her away. So will the Signature martinis. After a couple, take her across the street to Café Spiaggia for dinner. (signatureroom.com)

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (New Orleans) It’s not fancy, but it is dark, intimate and magical. A far cry from the other drunk pits on Bourbon Street, Lafitte’s is reputed to be the oldest bar in America. You never know when some fine player will sit down and tickle the ivories at the piano in the middle of the place. (lafittesblacksmithshop.com)

Lewers Lounge (Honolulu) It’s in a fancy hotel on Waikiki Beach (above left). That alone should be enough to excite her. Add in old-school ambiance, a jazz ensemble, a heady gin buzz and a sunburn that she needs gently massaged—you get the picture. (halekulani.com)

This is journalism, people. All year long our swarms of investigative reporters ping-pong across the nation, hitting juke joints, mixology meccas, beach bars and dives by the dozen. We look under every maraschino cherry, jotting down notes on wet napkins with steeled nerves and steady hands. To make our bar guide as definitive as possible, we spare lots of sleep and no expense. If you know of a drinking establishment that belongs on this list, clue us in. Meanwhile, pour yourself a tall one and enjoy this intoxicating menu.

The Musso & Frank grill (Los Angeles) Cocktail fads come and go, but the bartenders at Musso & Frank on Hollywood Boulevard hold steady in red jackets and bow ties. Dean Martin, Raymond Chandler, Johnny Depp—they all drank here. Don’t dare order anything but a dry martini. (mussoandfrank.com)

Chateau Marmont, the garden patio (Los Angeles)When the history of modern celebrity is written, this bar (above right) will have its own volume. Harder to get in to than Harvard, it’s the only place where Miuccia Prada, Louis C.K. and Waka Flocka Flame might share a round. (chateaumarmont.com)

The Sazerac Bar (New Orleans)Every bucket list should include a Ramos gin fizz at the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt New Orleans Hotel—like drinking history out of a glass. The sazeracs aren’t bad either. (therooseveltneworleans.com)

Bemelmans Bar (New York) Named for longtime Carlyle Hotel resident Ludwig Bemelmans, this temple of postwar elegance (above left) is as old school as it gets, from the trippy murals (painted by Mr. B himself) to the white-jacketed waiters. It’s a time warp to a better era. Go there. (thecarlyle.com)

Rob Roy (Seattle) It’s all about the ice at this warm, dimly lit boozy mecca. Big shards of hand-cut ice transform everyday drinks into works of consumable art. Imaginative creations round out the menu of authentic classics. (robroyseattle.com)

Columbia Room (Washington, D.C.) One of the most intimate watering holes in the country, this 10-seat bar requires reservations; its cocktail tasting menu is a wonderful journey. Owner Derek Brown is one of the friendliest and smartest barmen ever to shake one up. (passengerdc.com)

Prizefighter (Emeryville, California)Jon Santer left a high-profile job in the spirits industry to open the bar of his dreams. Start with a doorknocker punch, then follow it with a classic like a bee’s knees. Terrific concoctions, totally unpretentious. (prizefighterbar.com)

Napoleon House (New Orleans) If you haven’t had a Pimm’s in the courtyard of Napoleon’s, you need to book a ticket to the Big Easy right now. One of the most beautiful and decadent bars in America since 1797. (napoleonhouse.com)

McSorley’s Old Ale House (New York) Presidents, poets, beats and deadbeats have all drained a glass at this sacred East Village haunt established in 1854. It’s the Vatican City of saloons. (mcsorleysnewyork.com)

Cliff Bell’s (Detroit) One of Detroit’s great prewar spots, Cliff Bell’s closed in 1985. Pioneering boozehounds refurbished the place in 2005 with original furniture, carved-wood wall fixtures—the works, just as it was way back when. A heady cocktail of stiff drinks, great jazz and Motor City magic. (cliffbells.com)

This is journalism, people. All year long our swarms of investigative reporters ping-pong across the nation, hitting juke joints, mixology meccas, beach bars and dives by the dozen. We look under every maraschino cherry, jotting down notes on wet napkins with steeled nerves and steady hands. To make our bar guide as definitive as possible, we spare lots of sleep and no expense. If you know of a drinking establishment that belongs on this list, clue us in. Meanwhile, pour yourself a tall one and enjoy this intoxicating menu.

Copa D’oro (Santa Monica) A short walk from Santa Monica’s famed farmers’ market sits the most seasonally driven cocktail menu in the country. Go for the seasonal change, a bespoke cocktail created by barman Vincenzo Marinella from spirits, herbs, vegetables and fruits. (copadoro.com)

PDT (New York) Superior cocktails aside, two things set PDT (above left) apart. One: The entrance is a vintage phone booth in the back of a Crif Dogs, the deep-fried-wiener eatery. And two: You can get waffle fries. PDT (“please don’t tell”) marries a speakeasy vibe and a menu of drunk food no man could resist. (212-614-0386)

Apothéke (New York) Running hard with the 19th-century-German-pharmacy theme, Apothéke doesn’t mix drinks so much as fill “prescriptions.” The menu is divided into stimulants, painkillers and aphrodisiacs. Insane-sounding ingredients abound. Roasted corn, anyone? (apothekenyc.com)

The Violet Hour (Chicago) No cell phones, no reservations, no baseball hats and no cosmopolitans. What you will get at this bar (below right): imaginative world-class creations as carefully thought out as a good novel. Our favorite: a coffee & cigarettes, made with Sailor Jerry rum and tobacco bitters. (theviolethour.com)

TearDrop cocktail Lounge (Portland, Oregon) House-made bitters and tinctures accompany bottles behind this bar. Owner Daniel Shoemaker is a spirits savant. All his bartenders go through rigorous training, and the results are spectacular. Try a huevo batida on a hot summer day. Coooool. (teardroplounge.com)

The Alembic (San Francisco) Smack in the middle of strung-out Haight-Ashbury (did we say smack?) sits this sophisticated cocktail bar (below left). The menu is divided into the canon of classics (jack rose, blood and sand) and new-school creations (try a love in vain). (alembicbar.com)

Drink (Boston) In a city of hard drinkers, this cleverly named establishment resembles a sushi bar. No cocktail menu here. The bartender susses out your mood and delivers something unexpected but on point every time. Definitely try a Drink signature cocktail. (drinkfortpoint.com)

Cure (New Orleans) A cab ride Uptown transports you to this elegant wonderland with a menu that will widen your eyes if not your liver. The gin-based “expense account” cocktail is delicious, especially if you have a corporate card. (curenola.com)

The Aviary (Chicago) The cocktail counterpart to Grant Achatz’s Alinea (three Michelin stars!), the Aviary is a deconstructionist’s dream. Flavors arrive via vapors and fogs. Ingredients come frozen or flaming in more than 30 kinds of glassware. Like nothing else on Earth. (theaviary.com)

The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co. (Philadelphia) Named for the company that served as the front for what was once the largest illicit booze ring in the country, this establishment (above right) is an homage to the pre-Prohibition era: the style, architecture, music, even the lightbulbs—and, yes, the drinks. (thefranklinbar.com)

Photo Credits:Prizefighter: Credit: Prizefighter/Facebook; Draught House: Credit: Josh Wilson/Draught House Pub/Flickr; Apotheke: Credit: Thomas Schauer; Green Mill: Credit: courtesy Marc Pokempner/Green Mill; Ernestine: Credit: acrusingcouple.com; Lee Harvey's: Credit: Tyler Sharp; Lewer's Lounge: Credit: courtesy Lewer's Lounge; Franklin Mortgage and Investment: Credit: courtesy The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co.; The Violet Hour: Credit: courtesy Violet Hour;


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