Want to savor some drinks with some friends over a bit of history? Well, then raise your glasses to presidents, revolutionaries, and pirates of ages past by racing on over to classic watering holes in and around the United States where the scene and the cocktails are still-- after all these centuries-- crafted to please.
From connoisseur cocktail bars and kitschy piano lounges, to terraces with soaring views or turn-of-the-century saloons, America is brimming with famous old bars and pubs that are creative, eclectic, and super interesting to check out. Here are eight classic bars in the U.S. worth traveling for.
These 8 Classic U.S. Bars Are Worth Traveling For
1. Iron Door Saloon – Groveland, California
Just miles down the road from Yosemite, this Groveland favorite is California’s oldest continuously operating bar—well, at least it claims to be. For more than a century and a half, it’s served gold prospectors, loggers, and workers alike trekking to the Sierra Nevada in search of majestic sites and better lives.
The space itself is dark and cavernous, still boasting its original granite walls from the 1850s, as well as the two infamous swinging cast-iron doors that were specially shipped over from England. Over the decades, it’s survived forest fires and provided guests with a chance to grab burgers and drink beer along with huge elk heads and old mining equipment hanging precariously over the bar.
2. Bemelmans’s Bar – New York City
Wonderful is what’s used to describe this NYC bar. Simply wonderful. Named in honor of the legendary creator of the classic Madeline books for children, Ludwig Bemelmans, this New York watering hole continues to draw socialites, politicians, movie stars, and moguls alike with an interior that maintains its Art Deco legacy of chocolate-brown leather banquettes, nickel-trimmed black glass tabletops, and a 24-karat gold leaf-covered ceiling.
With 75 seats, the dramatic black granite bar combines wit and coziness in true big city setting. Stick to the classics by ordering Champagne or some Manhattans. Or, better yet, try out President Harry S. Truman’s favorite, the Grand-Dad bourbon on the rocks!
3. Smiley’s Saloon – Bolinas, California
It’s a well-hidden community to a bunch of artists, writers, musicians, fishermen, and other colorful characters who all rush over to this 1851 saloon that was believed to have been built for the energetic young Captain Isaac Morgan when he arrived in Bolinas (or Jugville) back during the gold rush days.
Smiley’s remains one of several overnight accommodations in the area and continues to serve as a low-key, adults-only hotel inside a quaint building that’s just a mere ten-minute walk from the closest beach on Bolinas Bay. Simply decorated with a mix of modern and antique-style furnishings, the historic wood paneled walls of the hotel feature black and white photographs galore, while its long-running, saloon-style bar offers a pool table, regular live music, and karaoke nights. Come with friends to enjoy drinks and laughs at the oldest continuously operated saloon West of the Mississippi.
4. Pete’s Tavern – New York City
Boasting the longest continuous service record in New York City, Pete’s has served up food and drink to Manhattan’s busy populace without pause since 1864—and it has not lost any of the original old world integrity that made it so famous in the first place. Head on down to this an official historical landmark for a slice of ye olde American bliss, more than tasty Italian cuisine, and the warm eclectic atmosphere that made writer O. Henry adore the place so much – it’s the spot that actually made him famous!
5. The Carousel Bar & Lounge – New Orleans
Taking a trip to Carousel Bar & Lounge is close to taking a stroll through the New Orleans of yesteryear. Situated in the historic French Quarter, this popular spot has been buzzing with visitors and locals alike for the last sixty-five years, featuring the city’s only revolving bar.
Feel like you’re drinking on a real carousel without any of the motion sickness along with twenty-five other people at this classic haunt at the Hotel Monteleone.
6. Varnish Bar – Los Angeles, California
Tucked discreetly away in the historic core of downtown L.A. is a speakeasy lounge that contains everything from a classically refined five-star-Depression-era atmosphere, to a full vintage-style bar, wood-paneled booths, and soft candle lighting-- not to mention immaculately handcrafted drinks and spirits made from the finest of well-chosen ingredients: think real juices, berries, and herbs! Cocktail culture definitely reaches new heights here. So get that rendezvous on.
7. The Tunnel Bar - Northampton, Massachusetts
This Massachusetts hotspot was once literally a tunnel that passengers used to walk to awaiting trains. Today, the Northampton fave is a long, subterranean bar where customers of all sorts can savor cocktails and beer without ever needing to buy a train ticket home.
Pull up a stool and drink into the night inside a snazzy vintage train tunnel boasting all its original stonework and brickwork along with some of the best luxe martinis to be found.
8. Old Seelbach Bar – Louisville, Kentucky
Listed as one of the “50 Best Bars in the World,” stepping into the Old Seelbach is similar to taking a giant adventure back into true Southern history. It’s a classic, early 1900s bar that’s home to a ridiculous bourbon collection and skilled bartenders that continue to hand craft amazingly tasty classic cocktails. Enjoy one of many while lounging in a nice, comfy, and easy chair overlooking the buzzy scene.
This article was written by Pamela Chan.