A great bar is a composite creation; it's not all about the drinks. For all the consideration that's given to the quality of the cocktails, wine, and other drinks poured in an establishment, a bar should be judged along many other factors. Is it comfortable and neither too frenetic nor too sleepy? Does the music fit the mood without leaving you humming that damn Journey song for the next three days? Does the bartender laugh at your jokes, then come back with even better ones?
In the May issue of Esquire, the editors present the third annual collection of the Best Bars in America. The list covers the full range of drinking establishments, which are added to a growing compilation from past years of the nation's best spots to bend an elbow. High-grade cocktails bars such as Alembic in San Francisco and the Varnish in Los Angeles are new additions, but so is The Buffet, a dive bar in Tucson that's occupied a spot by the railroad tracks since the Great Depression, and the Helen Back Café in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, an unpretentious beer-and-pizza joint on the Florida panhandle.
Whether they're serving pitchers of Bud or well-honed martinis, the characteristic these bars share is that they're all fantastic places to spend a couple of hours, regardless of if you've gone there to experience a great cocktail or simply throw darts and drink beer. And as happens every year when Esquire's list comes out, the bars mentioned receive some well-deserved congratulations from new customers and regulars, while there's a good deal of grumbling over beer (and online) by patrons of places that were somehow, inexplicably, overlooked.
Here's Esquire's list of the Best Bars in America. What places do you think deserve recognition as some of the best watering holes in the country?
About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.