Bourbon is America’s spirit, and it would be hard to argue that anyone else can serve it better than us. But what parts of the U.S. serve bourbon better than the rest is a harder question to answer. The criteria for a great bourbon bar are many, but these days nothing is quite so important as access to rare bottles and hard-to-find pours.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of 10 of the best places to go when you really want to try something special, whether it’s an old bottle from a long-gone distillery, something from before prohibition, or just a hyped-up pour of a whiskey you can’t find at your neighborhood bar.
There are others around the country that came close to making this list, but we picked these 10 establishments with the confidence that no bourbon devotee will be disappointed by what they have to offer.
There are plenty of rainy days in Seattle, which is great because there are tons of things to do there. Beyond drinking whiskey — of which they have one of the largest selections in the country — there are antique bartending guides a-plenty. That’s assuming you get through the 90-plus-page drinks menu. canonseattle.com
San Francisco: Hard Water
San Francisco’s answer to the library-style whiskey bar has dozens of bottles from extinct distilleries (and extinct bottles from operating ones). With the bartenders up and down the ladders, you’re getting a bit of Cirque du Soleil with your drink — and who doesn’t like a show? hardwaterbar.com
Washington, D.C.: Jack Rose
It’s appropriate that Jack Rose sits in the nation’s capital, because it has a lot in common with another national treasure: the Library of Congress. Think of Jack Rose that way — around 2,000 bottles in the active catalogue, with thousands more in storage. Owner Bill Thomas’s whiskey stacks include vintage bottles older than your parents, and the prices are one of the few things in D.C. that aren’t criminal. jackrosediningsaloon.com
If you love bourbon, Haymarket is one of the most important stops you can make when visiting Louisville. Sure they have Pappy year-round, but the small bar’s selection features drams far rarer than the overpriced 23 the rest of the country scrambles for. The owner regularly circulates in vintage “dusty” bottles bought at estate sales and auctions. We know the bourbon trail calls to you, but we promise you’ll experience (and taste) more at Haymarket. haymarketwhiskeybar.com
New York City: Fine & Rare
New York’s cup runneth over with great whiskey bars, but new entry Fine & Rare is brimming with something more. It’s not just the space, which is a perfect blend of mod and deco, with live jazz covering the remaining senses to be tickled; between private bottlings and a ton of impossible-to-find selections, Fine & Rare is the best place in the city to sit back and enjoy whatever whiskey you pick. fineandrare.nyc
New York City: Copper & Oak
On an unassuming street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Copper & Oak looks tiny. It’s a wonder then that they’ve managed to cram hundreds of rare and amazing drams into the wall-to-wall shelves. The big-ticket items may be Japanese whiskies from long-gone distilleries, but a fantastic bourbon selection will keep you busy for weeks. The selection is rotated regularly, and limited editions from years ago have fun way of showing up unexpectedly. Who doesn’t like that kind of surprise guest. www.copperandoak.com
We called Delilah’s “dark, loud, and friendly” before, and that still stands. What’s changed is our excitement over their rarities. Owner Mike Miller is a regular at auctions. And the treasures he procures make their way into the windy city’s best bourbon bar, alongside film screenings, country music, and a generally fun vibe. delilahschicago.com
Portland, Oregon: Multnomah Whiskey Library
Portland’s answer to the rest of the country’s options is a 1,500-bottle collection of great spirits. Membership allows you to skip what can at times be a long line for tables, and once you’re inside, bar carts roam the large space to serve patrons. Inside the decor is comfy chairs with a lodge vibe, but the only hunting you’ll do is through the menu.
Chicago: Longman and Eagle
There aren’t a lot of bars that will be thrilled with you for sleeping there overnight, but Longman & Eagle won’t mind, since they’re also an inn. But with more than a hundred rare bourbons and dozens of private selections, it might be worth making those reservations and making a night of it. longmanandeagle.com
Detroit: Butter Run Saloon
“Butter Run” is a reference to a family habit of using a trip to the store to get more butter as an excuse to drop into the local bar. We’re here to say quite bluntly that if you’re going to stop into a bar in Detroit, it should be this one. Hundreds of whiskeys make this suburban Detroit bar one of the best-stocked in Michigan. With that selection, you won’t need to make excuses. butterrun.com