Love a good dive or cocktail bar? Yeah, us too. It’s not just the libations that draw us in (though a perfectly shaken martini never hurt), it’s the ambience and overall scene that makes for a good watering hole. For those times you’re looking for an experience rather than just a drink, we’ve rounded up the 15 bars in the U.S. that should be on your bucket list.
You’re not just grabbing a beer or having a glass of wine when you visit any of these establishments — each destination offers an escape from reality. From a bar that your dog might love even more than you do to a tavern that will get you in the holiday spirit no matter the time of year, there is surely one on this list that will entice you. A few are even kid-friendly!
So if you happen to be in one of these cities, definitely make time to swing by for a drink. Cheers!
Be a spy at the Safe House.
You have to find the entrance (they don’t make it obvious) and figure out the secret password before you get to enter this kitschy world of spies. You could spend hours looking at all the decor or trying to figure out all the hidden treasures. They have both a family-friendly daytime menu (it is Milwaukee after all, where it’s perfectly acceptable to have kids in bars), plus a nighttime menu with fun drinks like The Man with the Golden Martini. There are all sorts of nooks and crannies, and they have regular magic nights, dancing, karaoke, and trivia. Their birthdays are especially popular because it involves a secret room and a “Hail to the Chief” chair. Oh no, we’ve probably said too much. By the way, they have a Chicago location, too. Get details here.
Play with some pooches at MUTTS Canine Cantina.
This is not just a bar that happens to let dogs pop in for a visit with their owners, there are plenty of those. No, this is an actual off-leash dog park that doubles as a bar and restaurant. The set up is clearly designed with dogs in mind first and foremost. You can become a member (weekly, monthly, and annual options are available), or you can pop by for a visit to the dog area or go to the cantina for no fee. They have good reviews on their food and drinks, plus regular specials. They truly take “dogs are welcome” to the next level. See what’s coming up in their Dallas or Fort Worth location on their website.
Celebrate The Big Lebowski at The Ringer.
San Antonio, Texas
“A place where White Russians are always on special, practicing your bowling skills is a daily chore, and comments on how our rug really ties the room together fly frequently,” reads The Ringer website. This bar is fairly new, but it’s already a staple and a must-visit place for fans of the movie. You can also get a deal on White Russians every single day for just $4. It also has mini bowling, beer pong, and trivia. Plus, the game will probably always be on when you stop. By the way, if you want a website that tells you where all The Big Lebowski bars are around the world, it’s right here. Learn more about the Ringer.
Have a drink on a plane at The Airplane Restaurant.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
You don’t have to leave the ground to feel like you’re sky high. This cool restaurant and bar centers around a fully intact Boeing KC-97 tanker built in 1953. It’s filled with aviation history, photos, and artifacts. The food is pretty standard, offering burgers, sandwiches, and salads. It’s especially popular with families, so there are kid-friendly options as well. If you happen to be in the area, definitely stop by and have a seat at the bar — you’re sure to learn a thing or two about the history of air trave. Get more info.
Little Longhorn Saloon
Gamble on chickens at The Little Longhorn Saloon.
If you’re looking for some good ole honkey tonk, then this is the place for you. (Even if you’re not looking for honky tonk, you should probably experience it for yourself at least once.) This is a classic Austin stop, with the world-famous Chicken Sh*t Bingo. You’re not going to find it on the popular and touristy Sixth Street downtown, though. This saloon is on the outskirts, and it’s definitely worth the trip. Every Sunday, they sell squares on a giant board, then they release the chicken and wait around until she poops (yup!). Whatever number she lands on is the big winner for the night. If you go, be sure to get there early before they run out of squares. You don’t want to miss your chance to root for your number and get the full experience. Learn more here.
Hang out with pirates at Smuggler’s Cove.
San Francisco, California
Get ready for lots of one liners and pirate jokes when you hit up this bar in San Francisco. It has won many bar awards over the years and claims the honor of having the largest rum selection in the United States. Be prepared to learn about the different types of rum and the history of it. Then you can choose from many rum drinks like Jamaican Planter’s Punch, The Dead Reckoning, and a Banana Daiquiri. It’s not a huge space, so go early. And be ready to have fun. The staff (or crew as they like to say) will be ready to make your pirate adventure truly unique. Learn more.
Go to church at Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium.
Also just called Church, this bar in the Old Fourth Ward of Atlanta, Georgia is filled with faux religious symbols and pop art. If you’re easily offended or sensitive about religion jokes, it’s probably not for you. But if you like the mix of old church pews, clowns, Jesus art, and booze, then you’ll be just fine. There is so much to see that it’ll take you a few visits to take it all in. To get a sneak peek at some of the sights, check out the photos on their Facebook page.
Sing and see Saint Nick at Santa’s Pub.
It seems like Santa’s Pub keeps growing in popularity every single year. It definitely has dive bar vibes, along with a chance to see and take pictures with Santa Claus. It’s a cash-place, so prepare ahead for that. It’s also a great spot in town if you like karaoke, which is on every single night. It’s not the only Christmas-themed bar in the country. For instance, there’s Frosty’s in Orlando that is quite popular if you’re down in Florida. Santa’s is nice because it’s away from the busiest areas of Nashville for when you need a break from the hustle and bustle. Check it out here.
Take a trip back to your childhood at the Carousel Bar.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The Carousel Bar opened in 1949, becoming the only rotating bar in New Orleans. Don’t worry, it’s not moving around and around like a typical carousel, it just does a brief rotation about every 15 minutes. It also has quite the history as a favorite stop for artists and writers like Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Truman Capote. You’ll find some tasty and classic cocktails like a Sidecar, Manhattan, and Long Island Iced Tea, and regular entertainment. Located in the New Monteleone Hotel, you can find the upcoming schedule on their website.
The Wreck Bar (1)
Go see a mermaid at Wreck Bar.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Love mermaids? See one in real life at this bar in Florida. They have free shows on the weekends (free being a loose word because there are minimum purchase requirements), or you can do brunch with the mermaids on Sundays. Both are good options if you have kids that want to see the show. Then there’s an adult-only burlesque show (yes underwater) late nights on Friday and Saturday. Their website has more information on upcoming events. Check it out.
The Edison 2
Celebrate steampunk at The Edison.
Los Angeles, California
This bar was the city’s first power plant, so it has a lot of history. It’s a blend of science, art, and industry, and still has a lot of the original artifacts. You’ll also find some great craft cocktails on the menu like the Black Magic, Dead Man’s Hand, and Tennessee Twist. Be aware that there is a dress code of “Old World Elegance,” which basically means no t-shirts, athletic gear, baseball caps, or flip flops. It’s not super strict, but it just might take a little planning before you go. They have lots of extras like magic, comedy shows, and burlesque. Plus, the decor (and hidden bar) is a must-see. There are lots of bars in L.A. worth checking out, but this one definitely ups the quirky factor — even their website is an experience.
Go back to the 70s at Kozy Kar Bar.
San Francisco, California
You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back into a van from the 1970s when you enter this bar. It’s weird, unusual and even inappropriate at times, depending on your perspective. You’ll find shag carpets, lots of 70s and 80s memorabilia, and entertaining seating arrangements. (Yes, you can sit in a van or on a water bed.) You might need to be warned (or warn the ones you’re going with) that there will likely be some sexy NSFW programming on the TVs inside the bar. Learn more about this place and their hours on their website.
Gardenof Eden 2
Take off your shirt (or more) at the Garden of Eden.
Key West, Florida
Just because it’s a clothing-optional bar doesn’t mean everyone is going to show up in their birthday suits. The reviewers of this bar say that most people have their clothes on or there’s only modest nudity overall. (This might be a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective.) It will depend a lot upon when you go and time of day, but it’s definitely an option to strip down if that’s your thing. Either way, it definitely has that relaxed, Key West vibe. Plus, rooftop bars are just awesome in general. Learn more here.
Go to the circus at the Funhouse Lounge.
Regularly voted one of the weirdest bars in Portland (and that’s saying a lot), the Funhouse Lounge has a circus theme. It's a bar, a theater, and a clown room all rolled into one. You can definitely just swing on by anytime for a cocktail, but the real draw is the live performances. You’ll find so many different options for shows and happenings, including open mic night, bingo, and improv. Plus there’s so much weird stuff like Apples Against Humanity and SMUT (stand-up comedy combined with burlesque). To see what’s coming up, go to their website.
Pull out your inner child at the Unicorn Narwhal.
This bar on Capitol Hill in Seattle is like stepping into a carnival. Your inner child will come out with just the menu alone, featuring items like chicken nuggets, tots, and mac & cheese. There are weird (and fun) decorations everywhere you look and there is no shortage of color. You’ll also find fun and games with a pinball arcade and a photo booth. They have a cabaret every Sunday and regular special events. Check them out on their website.