Some people would argue that live music is best enjoyed swilling the cheapest beer possible from a plastic cup. But some people are wrong. (Unless, of course, we’re talking about a punk show, in which case all bets are off.)
Finding a venue that has both well-made drinks and great bands performing regularly may be a difficult task, but such unicorns do exist, and visiting one can be a sublime experience. Here are a few of the best places around the country to get a cocktail and catch a show.
Harvard & Stone, Los Angeles
Set in the heart of L.A.’s Thai Town, Harvard & Stone hosts performances almost every night, ranging from unknown locals to the likes of Warren G and Eagles of Death Metal. It looks every bit a beat-up dive where you’d expect to see a show, except that manager Aaron Polsky has also built a world-class cocktail program that’s been a finalist for seven Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, including for best cocktail bar on the planet. The “R&D Bar” in the back is a popular bar-industry hangout, and when big-name mixologists from out of town pass through the City of Angels, they can often be found guest bartending there.
The Rustic, Dallas
With some 32 Texas beers on draft, a cocktail list heavy on spirits distilled in-state and a menu including all the local farms it sources ingredients from, The Rustic looks like your typical hipster farm-to-table restaurant. Until you step out back into the concert venue area, that is. “Pat’s Backyard” is named after part-owner (and country star) Pat Green, and appropriately hosts a wide variety of country-ish acts like Lucero and Green himself. You can also expect to always be able to catch a Cowboys games on Sunday, too.
Tonight is a pretty special night here at Cliff Bell’s. We’re honored to have the Marcus Elliot quartet and De'Sean Jones doing a live recording and holiday jam here tonight! Start your celebration off on the right note by joining us until midnight for some of Detroit’s most talented jazz musicians! • • • #cliffbells #detroitjazz #marcuselliot #deseanjones #knomadics #livejazz #holidaycelebration #holidayjazz
Cliff Bell’s, Detroit
During Prohibition, Cliff Bell was Detroit’s most famous saloonkeeper, opening a series of speakeasies around town. After repeal, his eponymous bar anchored the city’s nightlife for decades until it closed in 1985. In 2005, new owners restored the bar to its former glory. Step inside for a trip back to the heyday of the jazz club, where a menu of creative cocktails (like the Cliff Bell, a refreshing mix of vodka, Aperol, St-Germain and grapefruit juice) pairs with nightly shows by national touring acts, local high school jazz bands and everything in between.
Shady Lady Saloon, Sacramento, CA
With drinks like the Coastal Fog, a mix of local gin, citrus and sparkling wine “inspired by the sights and smells of Mt. Tamalpais,” the Shady Lady has won wide acclaim as one of America’s top cocktail bars from folks like Esquire and even this very publication. And its live music program is just as solid as its mixological one, with shows five nights a week from a variety of jazz, blues and country acts.
Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, Chicago
Most any movie set in Chicago includes a shot of this bar’s iconic neon sign, and for good reason: At 110 years old, it might be America’s oldest continually operating jazz club. There are underground tunnels beneath the place that used to be used to smuggle booze during Prohibition, along with a booth inside where Al Capone frequently held court. Today, the place is a living jazz museum, hosting two to three shows a night. There might not be a long list of craft cocktails, but there is an excellent selection of spirits, and the skilled bartenders make great versions of all the classics. The spot is also the home of the original poetry slam, held every Sunday evening for more than three decades.
Terra Blues, New York
Whiskey and blues music are a natural partnership, and this Greenwich Village joint takes both to the extreme, offering some 300 whiskies and a seven-days-a-week bill of legendary performers. The spirits list skews almost exclusively American, with an exhaustive selection of bourbons and ryes from craft producers all over the country. And the bartenders here can help you navigate through it all, suggesting a single selection, a flight or something from the cocktail menu.
Pink Garter Theatre/The Rose, Jackson, WY
David Kaplan, the force behind several of the nation’s top bars (including Death & Co. in New York and The Walker Inn in Los Angeles) is from Jackson, and when he set out to open a cocktail spot in his hometown, he made it special. A tasting-menu restaurant complete with world-class cocktail menu, The Rose is attached to the Pink Garter. This is the historic-saloon-turned-theater that hosts DJs, touring bands and even an original musical. (And yes, you can take your drink from the bar into the theater!)
d.b.a., New Orleans
The Crescent City’s famed Frenchmen Street might be home to the world’s highest concentration of music venues in the space of just a few blocks, and d.b.a has the best drinks selection of all of ‘em, with about 80 whiskies and an impressive selection of beers, all written on chalkboards hung over the bar. And there’s pretty much always someone onstage, with a rotation of local-favorite brass bands, blues artists and rock groups on the calendar at all times. Tired of the show here? Grab a to-go cup and take your whiskey with you to one of the dozen or so other options just steps away.