The Hottest Bars in 15 U.S. Cities

By Zagat Staff | March 19, 2014 By Zagat Staff  |  March 19, 2014

From craft beer destinations to swanky cocktail lounges, here are the hottest bars in 15 U.S. markets, as part of our #BarBlitz spectacular. Bottoms up!

  • Photo by: Andrew Thomas Lee

    Atlanta: Kimball House

    Why It's Hot: The oyster happy hour at this Decatur spot has people coming in early and in droves, but the expertly combined cocktails and full classic absinthe service set Kimball House a step above its competitors.
    Must Drink: The White Lion ($11) combines Kübler absinthe, cherry brandy, Hayman’s Royal Dock gin, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, lemon, vanilla and honey.
    Insider Tip: Kimball House takes no reservations for its bar or its main dining room, so show up with fingers crossed.

  • Austin: Half Step

    Why It's Hot: This swanky lounge brings the last missing element to Rainey Street: craft cocktails. Bar manager and co-owner Chris Bostick says the bar is “slightly sultry and grown-up,” and we couldn’t agree more. The small menu allows for mixologists to focus on quality, and neat details like the Clinebell ice machine make it a special occasion.

    Must Drink: Try the Floradora, a refreshing drink with gin, lime, ginger and raspberry syrup that's just in time for spring.

    Insider Tip: There's no sign on the building, so just look for the neon sign in the window of the refurbished house on Rainey Street that says "You earned it."

  • Boston: Highball Lounge

    Why It's Hot: Industry types flock here not just for the creative cocktail list (skimmed by clicking through a toy View Master), but for a playful, retro-chic vibe of board games, goofy garnishes (like a rubber ducky) and DJs spinning eclectic grooves.  

    Must Drink: The fragrant Wallflower ($12), pictured, tastes as good as it looks thanks to a combination of Bombay Sapphire East Gin, orange vermouth, basil and lemon finished with a spritz of honey lavender essence "perfume." 

    Insider Tip: The limited but tasty menu of edibles was conceptualized by star chef Ken Oringer. Ask for the off-menu "secret burger," which boasts creative, constantly changing toppings.

  • Chicago: Sportsman’s Club

    Why It’s Hot: Heisler Hospitality's latest is a drinking den for the urban hunter/gatherer/hipster. Inspired by a French hunting museum coupled with Chicago tavern sensibility, the 35-seat space is like a deer head-adorned woodland lodge with a cozy fire-lit backyard.
    Must Drink: Amaro shot
    Insider Tip: A massive backyard opens this summer.

  • Dallas: Blind Butcher

    Why It’s Hot: Because the folks from Goodfriend know how to get the chemistry just right for the perfect neighborhood hang. Here, it’s the in-house butchery cranking out charcuterie and sausage, along with a finely curated beer list and great cocktails in a bespoke interior.
    Must Drink: The Seasonal Smash, which rotates ($10)
    Insider Tip: The patio’s open at last, so head out back for some outdoor leisure.

  • Photo by: Adam Larkey Photography

    Denver: Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project

    The Gist: Though his taproom at RiNo artisan marketplace The Source is just six months old, Chad Yakobson has built a national cult following since 2010 for his Brettanocmyces-fermented, barrel-aged creations. With a background in viticulture and a master’s degree in brewing and distilling, he’s your go-to guy for wild sours and saisons.
    The Flagship Pour: Since the variations on that theme are constantly changing, better to ask what’s new than to get your heart set on any one thing you’ve read about (and read about, and read about).
    Now On Tap: Wild Wednesdays are reserved for 6 PM tappings of beer blended with Happy Leaf Kombucha; today, it’s beet, apple and carrot. 
    The Food: Hey, this is The Source, where Babettes’ pastries, snacks from Mondo MarketComida’s tacos and Acorn’s seasonal small plates are literally steps away.   
    Insider’s Tip: As you might guess from the above, our best tip is to ignore all tips, insidery or not. Come free of expectations and ready for surprises.

  • Houston: Lei Low

    Why It's Hot: Think strong tropical cocktails, kitschy tiki decor and flaming drinks - aka, heaven
    Must Drink: Anything with a tiny umbrella as a garnish. Get started with a traditional mai tai and work your way up.
    Insider Tip: Parking is atrocious (but don't let that scare you off), so carpool if you can.

  • Los Angeles: Pot Lobby Bar

    Why It's Hot: Only Roy Choi could get away with serving kimchi soju in a hotel lobby bar, and only Choi could call that bar Pot. The chef was tapped to oversee the food and beverage program at The Line Hotel, a new boutique hotel that replaced Koreatown's Radisson. The lobby bar is like a swank puzzle of angled banquettes and cozy pentagonal-shaped booths, with a bar that looks almost like a wooden mushroom with shiny balloons spelling out “pot bar” nesting in the top. Boxes full of toy water guns and colorful glasses, big bowls of fruit, Mexican candelas, lollipop roses, tamarind sticks and bowls of candy line the bar. The vibe is playful, low-key, groovy and dark. In a word: Choi. 

    Must Drink: The cocktails are curated by Matt Biancaniello, a barman known for keeping things like uni, nori, dill, arugula and mushrooms in his arsenal, and veer from the creatively straightforward (mezcal and tonic) to curry-infused soju and Long Island iced teas made with blood-orange soda. Prices range from $11-$13.

    Insider Tip: Valet is $8 with a validated ticket from the bar.

  • Miami: Batch Gastropub

    Why It's Hot: With its daily drink specials (half off all drinks every Monday all day long) and high-tech, tablet-operated tableside taps, this bumping new Brickell gastrobar won't ever disappoint on the drinking options. 

    Must Drink: 305 Collins ($11) on tap made with mint-infused vodka and fresh passion fruit.

    Insider Tip: There's plenty of upscale pub grub to chew on including bar snacks like warm pretzel bites and herb 'n' Parmesan fries or dinner options like pork belly tacos and spicy salami pizza. 

  • New York City: Nitecap

    Why It's hot: Alex Day and David Kaplan of cocktail den Death & Co. and Maison Premiere's Natasha David have opened this new hot spot in the basement of the Lower East Side restaurant Schapiro's. An epic 14-page drink menu offers up a series of signature cocktail creations for both early evening, late-night and everything in between complete with noshes from Schapiro's upstairs. Also, the spot is walk-in friendly.

    Must Drink: Peach Boy: Krogstad Aquavit, Mathilde peach, orgeat, lemon juice and mint ($12); Tartan Swizzle: Famous Grouse Scotch, Laphroaig 10-year single malt, Passion Mix, pineapple and lime juices ($13)

    Insider Tip: The "honor bar" menu lets you grab a bottle from the list and "pay for what you drink." Plus there's a whole menu of "Shortys" here, which are short pours of beer paired with harder booze like bourbon and sherry.

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Philadelphia: The Gaslight

    Why It's Hot: When longtime Rittenhouse dance club Alfa closed its doors, the crack bar team needed a new spot to call home ... and this Jason Cichonski revamp of an Old City pub is where they ended up. Brick walls and wood-slab tables complement the well-stocked bars, and the atmosphere is cheerily sunshine-filled during brunch but sexily sultry - with lights fashioned after gas lamps - at night.

    Must Drink: Big Brown (Bulleit bourbon, Campari, sweet vermouth; $10), Hello Kitty (strawberry-and-green-tea-infused lychee martini; $10), The Jawn (port-barrel-aged bourbon, Carpano Antica, green chartreuse; $10)

    Insider Tip: If there’s a crowd, make your way to the back bar so you’ll have room to enjoy the great selection of bar snacks - don’t miss the foie gras crostini or whiskey-caramel-mustard wings.

  • Photo by: Blind Lady Ale House

    San Diego: Blind Lady Ale House

    Why It’s Hot: Aside from being laid-back with an awesome beer selection, Will Ferrell has been quoted as saying it’s his favorite place in town for beer. 
    Must Drink: Automatic's The Darkest Thing You Have
    Insider Tip: Come with an empty stomach for their often talked about thin-crust butternut squash pizza and irresistible pommes frites.

  • Photo by: Hopwater Distribution

    San Francisco: Hopwater Distribution

    Why It's Hot: 31 taps of glory, all taken from California brewmasters
    Must Drink: Two Rivers Pink Lady Cider ($6), Rasputin's Nitro Imperial Stout ($7)
    Insider Tip: Bruce Paton, San Francisco's "Beer Chef," created a menu of bar bites like oyster Jell-O shots, fried pickled beets and Dungeness tater tots.

  • Seattle: Bar Ferd'nand

    Why It's Hot: Located in the crazy popular Melrose Market, this has become THE place to pre-funk and after-party when dining at Sitka & Spruce, Taylor Shellfish, Mamnoon or Terra Plata, making this one of the tastiest blocks in the city.

    Must Drink: Cocktails are well mixed, but we lean toward the excellent selection of French wines by the glass, perfect for sipping with a dozen oysters on the half shell. 

    Insider Yip: This sweet spot is also open for morning coffee, featuring Stumptown.

  • Washington, DC: Dram & Grain

    Why It's Hot: Exclusivity always equals hotness, and with only 60 reservation slots available one day a week (Saturdays), this speakeasy in the basement of Jack Rose Dining Saloon is very, very exclusive. 
    Must Drink: The Ode to Omaha ($17) - a creation of Trevor Frye, who uses hickory chips in a dry smoker to infuse the Thomas Tew Rum, housemade blackberry-cinnamon syrup and Jerry Thomas bitters with smoke. The cocktail is served in an orblike vessel that's corked before serving. 
    Insider Tip: Text or call for a reservation, speakeasy-style, but be advised that they're booked through mid-April. They also claim to be the only place in the city where you can try pre-Prohibition whiskey. 

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