Somebody recently asked me the seemingly mundane, throw-away question: “Jeff, what’s your favorite bar you’ve ever been in?” The question ruined a week of my life. I made a top ten. Then top 25, 50. It just spiraled out of control. I’d have a list I liked and then remember ten more places. So I decided to just sit down and make my top 100. You’re welcome, world.
This list was so much fun to compile. It made me rigorously sift through what has been twenty years of drinking and travel. It made me remember nights I’d long forgotten and text friends I hadn’t spoken with in years. This list is, in many ways, a young man’s travel memoir.
Of course it is also subjective. I have lived all 37 of my years in New Jersey and New York so those states are everywhere on this list. I’ve been to Chicago and Ireland nearly twenty times each so they are too. I’ve never been to Spain…or Kansas City…or most of Texas, so they’re not in the mix. I probably had a shit time in a bar you love and a great time in a bar you think is shit. That’s drinking.
Some of the bars I’ve been in once. Some hundreds of times. It doesn’t matter. A great bar is like a great piece of art. You never forget it.
And I didn’t write up a description of every place because I didn’t think there’d be enough interest. So it’s a compilation of write-ups, photographs and just plain, old-fashioned lists. But just Google any of the establishments if you want more information.
This post will live at the top of the blog until Monday, July 8th as we take a little break for the holiday. Enjoy the 4th. Stay safe. If you drink, don’t drive. See ya’ll next week!
#100 The Black Cat Bar & Grill – Absecon, NJ
#99 Exit/In – Nashville, TN
Half this joint is a rock club. The other half a black-painted punk bar that is a welcome departure from the tourist scene on Lower Broadway.
#98 Bostwick’s Chowder House – East Hampton, NY
It’s a small bar. But it’s intensely local in an area where finding a local human being in the summertime is harder than finding a beer for less than $8. But they have both here. (A bartender once asked my friend Pat how many people were responsible for his drink tab. The answer was one.)
#97 The Newman Arms – London, England (Closed 2017, Reopened 2018!)
I tried to convince the bartender to let me do a one-man production of Sweeney Todd in this combo pub/pie house one night. He seemed into it. Maybe it will happen in October. #DBBinLondon
#96 Odd Couples – Harrison, NJ (Closed 2014)
The worst bar on this list. Whatever you think a dive bar is, it doesn’t hold a candle to this shit hole. But it provided me the proper hiding spot when I needed it.
#95 Willi’s Wine Bar – Paris, France
#94 Heidelberg Restaurant – NY, NY
#93 La Gitane – Bayeux, France
#92 Cafe Vlissinghe – Bruges, Belgium
#91 The Green Mill – Chicago, IL
The opening of the excellent Green Mill oral history from the Chicago Reader:
“It’s not uncommon to walk into a bar in Chicago these days and feel like the present is the past: drinkers belly up to polished wood, sipping drinks concocted from small-batch whiskies and admiring each other in the soft glow of exposed Edison lightbulbs. We’re living in a cocktail renaissance, a period when authenticity and history, even if the bar only opened last month, mean something. And that’s a good thing.”
#90 Pub Mars – Kazimierz Dolny, Poland
Only one other person on earth – Mr. Noah Brier himself – understands the surreal experience of this beauty of a bar in one of the perfect villages of Poland. There were too many pints and something with a painting.
#89 Lakeside Lounge – NY, NY (Closed 2012)
It’s in-bar photo booth, the first I remember in NYC, was legendarily weird. I had several strips with me and people I have no recollection of meeting. And we seem verrrrrrry friendly.
#88 Dick Mack’s Pub – Dingle, Co. Kerry, Ireland
My uncle once played Eleanor Rigby on the piano in the back for a local rugby team. I sang my own lyrics: “Eleanor Rigby, worked in the shop, down the block, and she sold lots of cheese. No one said please.”
#87 The Stag’s Head – Dublin, Ireland
With it’s stunning woodwork, this might be the most beautiful bar in the world.
#86 Parkside Lounge – NY, NY
The bar version of a Tom Waits tune. (Go get a corned beef from Katz’ up the street and eat it at the bar.)
#85 East L.A. – Hoboken, NJ
The three margarita limit is serious business.
#84 Doc Holliday’s – Glenwood Springs, CO
There are a lot of old cowboy joints on this beautiful stretch of Colorado. Silver Dollar Saloon in Leadville. Woody Creek Tavern. And if I got more time in either, I’m sure they’d have landed on this list. I got time in Doc’s. So it’s here.
#83 The Village Idiot – NY, NY (Closed 2004)
Used to set up Chicago Bears Starting Lineups on the tables in the back. Have no idea why. Also once got loaded with a guy who was reading the AA handbook at the time. Not sure what step that was. Also, this place smelled terrible.
#82 J. McBarron – Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan, Ireland
Me. And Mr. McBarron.
#81 Club Lago – Chicago, IL
My favorite Italian restaurant in town also has one of my favorite bars.
#80 The Stone Pony – Asbury Park, NJ
#79 Twin Anchors Tavern – Chicago, IL
#78 Kelly’s Brew Pub – Albuquerque, NM
#77 Au Vieux Saint-Saveur – Dinan, France
#76 Paddy Reilly’s Music Bar – NY, NY
#75 Manuel’s Tavern – Atlanta, GA
The coolest political bar in America. Go around an election and see hundreds of staffers sorting through candidate signage and slamming back cheap light beer.
#74 The Old Owl Tavern – Harrodsburg, KY
There’s a plantation porch. There’s a weird room with an old TV and glass cases of Confederate clothing. There’s a feeling that Scarlett O’Hara could walk in at any moment.
#73 George’s Cocktail Lounge – Chicago, IL (Closed 2016)
Where I drank before and after Bears games for years, this dump on Wabash had character. And the cheapest Old Style in Chicago. ($1!)
#72 Drover’s Inn – Invernan, Scotland
Photo by my uncle, the brilliant Robert S. Varcoe.
#71 Rumours – NY, NY
For a few years, this bar housed a collection of musical theatre writers every Monday night. They were my collective. It might be the best pint of Guinness in Manhattan.
#70 P&G Cafe – NY, NY (Closed 2011)
#69 Emerald Point – Greenwood Lake, NY
#68 Kehoe’s Pub (Upstairs) – Dublin, Ireland
#67 South Pole Inn – Annascaul, Co. Kerry, Ireland
#66 Rusty Spur Saloon – Scottsdale, AZ
#65 The Fort – Dundee, Scotland
#64 La Midinette – Paris, France
Directions painted on the wall across the street from this terrific little bistro.
#63 The Pub at the Pier – Uig, Scotland
#62 Bohemian Beer Garden – Astoria, NY
#61 Veets – Mobile, AL
#60 Jackie’s Fifth Amendment – Brooklyn, NY (Closed 2013)
Known by at least me and my buddy Mike as Brooklyn’s “booze aquarium”. As Park Slope became a hipster paradise around it, Jackie’s and their seemingly Billy Joel-only juke box held on. Until it didn’t.
#59 Phil Hughes Bar – NY, NY
It’s been polished up in recent years but at it’s best, Phil’s was the only bar in Manhattan where two 70 year-olds might get into a fist fight.
#58 Backpackers – London, England (Closed 2009)
At 37 I would find this place exhausting. At 21, it was paradise. Sawdust. Shot dental chair. Girls with bunny ears. Dodgy end of town.
#57 Flanagan’s Pub – New Orleans, LA (Closed 2014)
#56 Bar del Fico – Rome, Italy
#55 Bertha’s – Baltimore, MD
#54 The 49er Lounge in the El Rancho Hotel – Gallup, NM
#53 Reardon’s – Bruff, Co. Limerick, Ireland
The most local pub on the list. One of my best friends – and Irish DBB contributor Ged Hourigan – grew up in this pub. His mother works there. His family photos are on the wall. I didn’t want to leave.
#52 The Greyhound – Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland
Owner didn’t like me. I didn’t care.
#51 Old Point Bar – New Orleans, LA
Get on the ferry boat to Algiers, have breakfast at Tout De Suite Cafe and drown the afternoon away from the crowds at this movie set of a bayou bar.
#50 Karpaty Pub (Sly Fox) at Ukrainian National Home – NY, NY
This joint has always been known for two things: the cheapest beers and the youngest patrons.
#49 McGillin’s Olde Ale House – Philadelphia, PA
It has been open 159 years. It ain’t by accident.
#48 Maple Leaf Tavern – Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
I was producing musicals at a casino on the Canadian side of the Falls and I couldn’t handle drinking in casino bars any more with that rancid DING DING DING DING DING noise. So I went for a wander and stumbled upon this joint on the outskirts. I spent the next two weeks there. (I went back to the casino bar once Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band showed up. Long story.)
#47 Iron Door Saloon – Groveland, CA
When the one bar in your one bar town is the Iron Door, you don’t need another bar. Throw some cash into the ceiling!
#46 The Rose & Crown – Palo Alto, CA
The whole town is Stanford students and app developer wannabes. Then there’s this brilliant little English pub where a serious Chelsea supporter named Carl – who works at the university as some kind of administrator – will be watching Christian Pulisic this fall. I’m jealous.
#45 Midnight Rodeo – Amarillo, TX (Closed 2017)
We pulled into the parking lot early on a Thursday night. Thursday night was 25¢ Coors Light night. There were two of us. Things happened. But Eric and I are still alive and that’s what’s important.
#44 Big Dean’s Ocean Front Cafe – Santa Monica, CA
I’m not an L.A. guy. But this bar reminded me of something you’d find in Belmar, NJ so I stayed a lonnnnnng time. (And it was the only bar in town I returned to on both subsequent trips.)
#43 Montero’s – Brooklyn, NY
There are no more longshoremen in this longshoremen bar. But there’s still a huge telephone booth. So that’s something.
#42 Sharky’s – Baltimore, MD
A lesbian bar with ice cold Natty Bohs and brats cooked up in the stuff. If you play the old school trivia machine good luck beating DBB.
#41 ‘t Poatersgat – Bruges, Belgium
One of the coolest bar entryways around.
#40 Joe Watty’s Pub – Kilronan, Inish Mor, Ireland
#39 Jacob Wirth Restaurant – Boston, MA (Closed 2018)
#38 Penny Lane Pub – Richmond, VA
#37 Cedar Tavern – NY, NY (Closed 2006)
#36 Applebee’s – San Jose, CA / Astoria, NY
Working on a musical of mine with an all African American cast, we were not accepted everywhere in San Jose. But we were adored at the Bees across from the Oakwood in which we were staying. I’ve been loyal ever since. It’s become where my collaborator Scott and I have writing meetings.
#35 The Last Drop – Edinburgh, Scotland
Why is it called that? Because this is the pub folks used to sit in and watch the public hangings outside.
#34 The Bar at TPC Sawgrass – Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
At this golf mecca, the best golf bar in the country.
#33 Foxy John’s – Dingle, Co. Kerry, Ireland
They sell beer. And shoes. And the old men who drink inside live in the apartment just beyond the back door. (Ask them to tell you stories about being extras on the set of Ryan’s Daughter.)
#32 Woodwork – Brooklyn, NY (Closed 2018)
The greatest soccer bar in the history of the world. So say Reverend Dave and I and so it shall always be remembered. World Cup 2010 remains one of my favorite drinking periods of my life, almost entirely due to the greatness of this joint.
#31 Elaine’s – NY, NY (Closed 2011)
Some bars are more than bars. They are legends. I didn’t know the Elaine’s of Woody Allen. Didn’t know it as a celebrity haunt. But it was still great, even down the stretch. It wasn’t a joint where writers wrote. It was a joint where writers ate, on the house.
#30 Rossi’s – Chicago, IL
I’ve been to this bar with my brothers, my lady, my buddies…everybody. And nobody has ever had a bad time. How could you?
#29 Parker House Back Porch – Sea Girt, NJ
I used to sit here as a little kid and hold the money while my uncle and his buddies played weird bar games. And I dropped to my knees here in 2009 when Tom Watson blew The Open. It’s part of my life.
#28 Old Pink – Buffalo, NY
Me and Buffalo legend Del Reid in “the Pink”.
#27 The J Bar in the Hotel Jerome – Aspen, CO
Hunter S. Thompson used it as his office. Why wouldn’t he?
#26 Jazzkeller – Frankfurt, Germany
I still don’t know how Noah and I ended up down that staircase. But it turns out so did The Beatles. (Take a look at what I’m wearing in the picture two spots up.)
#25 Coq D’or at the Drake Hotel – Chicago, IL
My favorite hotel in the world has my favorite hotel bar. And when most of your trips to Chicago are in the dead of winter, a great hotel bar comes in handy. The Bookbinder Soup. Eat it. You’ll thank me.
#24 Krug’s – Newark, NJ
If you asked me to describe it I’d just say, “It’s a fucking bar. Go in and have a Bud and burger.”
#23 The Bar at Rutt’s Hut – Clifton, NJ
Yes, Rutt’s is a hot dog haven. But the bar is unaltered for like fifty years. Formica tabletops. Beers served in weirdly small mugs. Jeopardy always on the TVs no matter what time it is. A Jersey and American icon.
#22 White Horse Tavern – NY, NY
Sit in the last bar stool to the right. Look into the mirror on the wall. You’ll see the painting of Dylan Thomas looking back at you, like he’s beside you having a whiskey. His last drinks were here.
#21 Jimmy’s Corner – NY, NY
The owner Jimmy Glenn worked in Ali’s corner. The walls are adorned with boxing history. Go when there’s a big fight at the Garden and you’ll end up stumbling onto 44th Street well after the sun has come up with Joe Calzaghe’s cousin. (Yep. Happened to me.)
#20 The American Bar – Kilronan, Inish Mor, Ireland
Margot walks up to me drunkenly says, “These two guys are going to show me around their bike shop down by the pier.”
“Like hell they are,” I said.
We ended up almost falling into Galway Bay a few hours later.
#19 Cafe Papeneiland – Amsterdam, Netherlands
#18 Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop – New Orleans, LA
Text from Reverend Dave: “Lafittes is more than a building. It’s a mindset. A lifestyle. A theology.”
#17 Marie’s Crisis – NY, NY
I know every word of “Getting Married Today” from Company. And I sang it every Tuesday night for about a year.
#16 Silver Bell Tavern (original) – North Arlington, NJ (Closed 2012)
I used to walk into this bar alone every December 24th around 6 pm. By midnight, I’d be sitting with three old dudes singing Fairytale of New York and drinking eggnog shots.
#15 Spring Lounge – NY, NY
I’m sitting by the window, 8:30 AM, New Year’s Day. A drunk gets up from the bar and walks to the jukebox. A few minutes later he comes over to me and says, “Kansas. Chicago. Foreigner. Journey. You and me are taking a trip, kid.”
#14 Corner Bar – Sag Harbor, NY
When the yachts pull into Sag Harbor, the staffs drink here. And the stories they tell.
#13 The George Inn – London, England
Shakespeare performed in the courtyard and as they so often manage to do in Europe, it feels like nobody has moved a chair since.
#12 L’Art Brut Bistrot – Paris, France
These are my friends. You know a bar is great when your return itinerary to one of the greatest cities on earth has it as stop number one. Fuck the Louvre. Go to Brut.
#11 Klub Obsesja – Krakow, Poland
I got into a fight with two Germans over a woman here. I never threw a punch because the woman grabbed me by both wrists with hands that felt like she’d be rolling pierogies for years. The Germans got locked up. My brother and I? Unscathed.
#10 Josie Woods Pub – NY, NY
I feel like I don’t need to explain this one.
#9 Napoleon House – New Orleans, LA
The perfect setting. The perfect staff. The perfect combination of food and drink. It’s quintessential New Orleans.
#8 Milady’s – NY, NY (Closed 2014)
So many stories. Years of stories. One time I went here on my birthday. I didn’t wanna hang with people, I just wanted to have a million drinks. My buddy Mike ended up walking in by chance. So did my uncle and his friends. A party erupted. When I left the bartender, a crazy woman called Dee, handed me a key chain with the bar’s name and address on it. “If you end up lost, have a cab bring you back here,” she said. “We’ll sort you out.”
#7 Tigh Neachtain – Galway City, Ireland
There’s an out of tune piano in the corner. I got the whole bar to sing Lean on Me once. Or maybe nobody sang. It was that kind of night.
#6 Tigh Hughes – An Spidéal, Co. Galway, Ireland
There is no greater music pub on the planet.
#5 The Copper Kettle – Woodside, NY
How do you describe a bar that you can’t imagine your life without? The Kettle isn’t just my local. It’s my home. I’ve met some of my best friends there. It’s changed my life entirely.
#4 Old Town Alehouse – Chicago IL
The First Lady of DBB & Uncle Roger.
(Special thanks here to Rahul & Anya, who’ve given this place so much more meaning for me in recent years.)
#3 Original Billy Goat Tavern – Chicago, IL
Give me Wise Guys Corner. Give me Reverend Dave chirping at the staff about Jay Cutler. Give me Rick Pearson watching the Blackhawks. Give me an Old Style every ten minutes and a burger every half hour. Give me one more drink to have for the rest of my life and it’s here.
#2 McHale’s Bar – NY, NY (Closed 2006)
“McHale’s was a theater bar. That couldn’t be helped. It stood mere yards from a dozen Broadway theaters. But it was a working class theater bar, the sort of joint that no longer exists in Times Square. You would see the occasional celebrity there, like Brian Dennehy or Ed Harris. But it was more a home to stagehands and journeyman actors only a true theater geek would recognize. The wait staff was composed of aspiring actresses who exhibited the kind of personality and sass you always imagined hash-slingers in Times Square would.”
#1 The Tropical Pub – Belmar, NJ (Closed 2007)
The bar was a block from the beach and didn’t have a window to be found. If there weren’t surf boards all over the joint, it could have been in Bayonne.
But on Sundays they had bingo. 1 pm start. By 10 am, hundreds of hungover Jersey douches would be lined up for blocks and blocks and blocks. (We never waited because we knew the owner and my uncle had us pretend to be pizza delivery guys.) If you called out “Bingo” and didn’t have it you had to wear a sign that read “Asshole” around your neck and high five every single person in the place.
It was the greatest bar in the history of the world.