In the rush to accommodate the rapidly diversifying tastes of today’s yupster cocktail crowd, bar culture seems to have lost something of itself. Amidst the bevy of craft microbrews and mixologists serving up custom concoctions to a clientele seeking status over all else, what’s become of the local pub? A place where—forgive us, but this is important!—everybody knows your name and you can settle in for a few pints without worrying about your tab, the label on your blazer or who you know. A place where comfort is king, the music is good and conversation is easy. Though the focus has shifted away from the local toward a hipper type of establishment, we’ve a penchant for something, well, a little less trendy and a little more established. We’re talking about the classic American neighborhood bar, and this is a list of some of this country’s best.
Is it a diner, or is it a dive? Not sure it matters, so long as you make it out alive. With a slogan like theirs—“Alcoholics serving alcoholics since 1929”—two things are for certain: they take booze very seriously, and their patrons are a mixed bag of characters young and old. A quick scan of their well-used Facebook page reveals an ongoing dialogue that spills over from public forum to comments section and back again, and a much-publicized ban on Google Glass makes it clear: when it comes to the business of the bar, it’s personal. Politics aside, the bar has a reputation you can’t mess with, and the lighthearted and inviting approach makes the 5 Point a prime destination for travelers from all directions. (Photograph courtesy of Lester Public Library on Flickr.)
If you boiled down the patronage of your typical urban watering hole to its essence and turned that into a bar, you’d have Zeitgeist. With a good sense of humor, a slightly grim point of view and a love of partying, this place exudes a personality of its own that is just shy enough of depressing to be, well, awesome. Known for its raucous atmosphere, socializing (not to mention socialist) ways and enormous patio lined wall to wall with picnic tables, Zeitgeist is a California commune done right, complete with a huge roster of local and regional brews on tap. We’re all in. (Photograph courtesy of Thomas Hawk on Flickr.)
There’s a place we all dream of finding while passing through Middle America that, in our experience, only really exists in our minds. And then we found it in Little Rock. White Water Tavern has a holiness about it that can only be derived from its devotion to the rock and the roll of the live music it plays host to on an almost nightly basis; from deep blues to hipster jam bands, they love it all. Beer is cheap, almost painfully cold and they show films like The Outsiders on off nights, which means anyone’s welcome. Pure gold. (Photograph courtesy of White Water Tavern.)
On the edge of the trap that is Times Square exists a hole-in-the-wall shrine to boxing that is virtually free of tourists (proudly), the type of place that fuels New York legends. Stepping in, it’s easy to imagine a time when Rocky-esque characters or inconspicuous Beat poets took a breather from the hard knock life here. It’s a simple, unaltered relic that is less about what it offers than what it accepts, which is all walks. So long as you follow suit, enjoy your glass of beer and the jukebox serenade. Otherwise, forget about it. (Photograph courtesy of Dan Nguyen on Flickr.)
You can’t talk about neighborhood bars and leave out the Irish pub. But you can’t talk about Irish pubs without dealing with authenticity. The Druid, a Cambridge mainstay, does it right, acting as a cozy spot for a pint by day and a standing-room-only party room by night. But the real highlights are the Sunday Irish brunch, complete with a pint of Guinness, and the beer-battered fish and chips served up in newspaper. Simple and unfancy but steeped in the type of earth-bound atmosphere that lets you know it’s real. (Photography courtesy of The Druid Irish Pub.)
Header photo courtesy of Dan Nguyen on Flickr.