Credit: Sara Norris/Thrillist
By: Andy Kryza
We’ve reached a wonderful point in civilization where even our dingiest dive bars have at least one craft beer available. But even as great beer becomes more and more the norm, a great beer bar is still a thing of amber-hued beauty. For the second year in a row, we’ve rounded up the 33 best beer bars in the country, destinations where the true believers can get their fill. From tiny places with impeccably curated drafts to joints with more taps than seats, these are the 33 best in the country.
Before you drink in our picks, know this: our best-of consists of some repeat bars from last year, plus new selections. Also, this is not a list of breweries (though some dabble), so if you’re miffed your favorite brewery didn’t make the cut, you’re reading the wrong story. Finally, while we love places like the Hopcat, Flying Saucer, and Yard House, this list excludes places that have expanded beyond three locations. Cool? Cool. Let’s drink.
The Avenue Pub
Credit: Dave Infante/Thrillist
In a city with such a strong drinking culture, New Orleans has a surprising dearth of beer-forward bars, but Avenue Pub more than makes up for it. Their 42 taps are lovingly curated and constantly changing, and you’ll find everything from local winners like Bayou Teche’s Saison D’Écrevisses to the Italian gose Baciami Lipsia from Birrificio del Ducato, and that draft lineup is boosted by 100+ bottles. Thanks to its huge balcony overlooking St. Charles Avenue (pro tip: you want to be here for Mardi Gras), the two-story bar would draw hordes even if its taps were filled with boring beers. But the huge selection of craft beers, not to mention the béchamel-, au jus-, and pork-covered Dump Truck Fries, ensure you will never want — or need — to leave. It’s open 24 hours, after all.
7 Monks Taproom
Traverse City, Mich.
Tucked among the brick-laden buildings of downtown Traverse City — a small lake-town that happens to be one of America’s best under-the-radar beer cities — 7 Monks brings a little extra greatness to what’s already an idyllic Michigan town. Forty-six carefully curated taps change more often than Katy Perry at the Super Bowl, with a strong focus on Mitten breweries like Bell’s, Short’s, Founders, Dark Horse, and Brewery Vivant, plus appearances from the likes of North Coast, Oskar Blues, and Ommegang and a bottle list that leans Belgian. And if, for some reason, great beer and gastropub food just aren’t enough to sate you, the Monk crew recently opened Low Bar in the basement next door, bringing the cocktail thunder with nearly 300 spirit options in a speakeasy setting.
Sure, it’s a little odd to call a small Maine town with a population hovering around 1,000 a beer destination, but even if Ebenezer’s was located in the seventh circle of hell (or, even worse, Gary, Ind.,), we’d be flocking. The place offers up more than 700 bottles and a Belgian-intensive tap selection in a cozy house that could easily be mistaken for one of the many farmhouses that double as bars in the Belgian countryside, apart from the uniquely Maine sight of snowmobiles parked outside during the winter. The place has so much clout that in 2007, the brewers at Belgium’s De Struise brewery took notice and developed Black Albert — a royal stout considered one of the world’s finest — just for Ebenezer’s.
The J. Clyde
Do you love beer, but don’t walk around with a thesaurus to help you describe to an ultra-hip bartender what you want? The 70+ tap offerings at this old-school ‘Bama beer hall are broken up into flavor profiles on the menu, organized under descriptors like “roast,” “malt,” and “tart and/or funk,” probably because tart and funk should never be mutually exclusive. What looks like a stone house straight out of a Tolkien book (or a Led Zeppelin album jacket) houses taps featuring some of the South’s best breweries, served up by a staff that seems to have studied the ever-changing menu with the vigor of a grad student. And that’s to say nothing of the sprawling covered patio out back, which adds another layer of awesome to one of the premier beer attractions South of the Mason-Dixon.
Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden
Credit: Dan Gentile/Thrillist
Everything’s bigger in Texas, and that includes beer gardens. In a monstrous feat of brew selection, they’ve assembled a team of 100 taps, over half of which are seasonal and limited releases. To make the menu less intimidating, they’re organized by flavor profile (light & refreshing to dark & roasty) and every beer has an elaborate description to let you know what you’re getting into. If the beer wasn’t enough, there are also bonuses like a massive patio, live music, a dog-run, and insane sausages ranging from turducken to bulgogi.
Located on the west end of the booming Division Street restaurant explosion, Apex is about as Portland as a beer bar gets. It’s strategically set up on a commuter corridor, making it an ideal bike-up joint. When the rain stops, there’s a sprawling, picnic table-strewn patio, where food from the vegan-friendly (and carnivore-approved) burrito spot next door is more than welcome. Inside, lit by the glow of ephemera and the digital draft board, is an impeccably curated row of 50 taps, which veer local but also include hard-to-find offerings from the likes of Evil Twin and Ballast Point, and imports from Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Kegs tend to blow fast. Luckily, Apex has a real-time tap updater online, so in the event that they get something super rare — which they will — you can check in on it before saddling up on your bike. Which is probably a fixie. Because you’re in Portland.
Just a few months after we named it one of the country’s best new bars, Edmund’s Oast is back as one of our finest beer bars in America, period. The reasons are many, but EO’s excellence all starts behind the soaring back wall of its main bar, where 40 kegs, ponies, and PubKegs pump out a mind-blowing array of hard-to-find domestics like Prairie and Jolly Pumpkin peppered with imports from Belgium, Germany, the UK, and Japan… plus a handful of their own house beers. The open kitchen serves up fine small plates and bar snacks all afternoon, including charcuterie from their in-house curing program. Despite the ample seating, there’s often a line of people out front waiting to get in when Oast opens for business. That’s why they built The Bower — an adjacent semi-enclosed pavilion boasting 80 seats and 15 of its own taps.
Don’t let its setting on a sleepy tree-lined street heavily populated by the stroller set fool you: this place is awesome, from the high-volume heavy metal to the 30-strong, Midwest-heavy tap list deep with deep-cuts and hits from the likes of Bell’s, Three Floyds, Pipeworks, and more (including a few selections of their own, which are contract brewed off site and damn tasty as well). If for some reason you feel the need to go beyond the draft list, they boast an excellent collection of large-format treasures. Also, tater tots. Get some tater tots.
The Pine Box
Yep, Pine Box gets its name from the fact that it used to be a funeral home, and the aesthetics reflect that morbid past. And yes, said funeral home hosted Bruce Lee’s funeral, so there’s definitely some mighty chi going on here. The vaulted beer emporium’s slinging a mostly West Coast assortment of smallish but obsessively chosen taps (Bend Brewing, Naked City, and Gigantic were recently featured) from behind a U-shaped bar built using shelves that once held ashes in the crematorium. Definitely spring for some of the joint’s incredibly delicious pizza (we’re partial to the one with duck egg and capicola), which — don’t worry — is cooked in a very different oven than the one used in Pine Box’s former life.
Blind Tiger Ale House
New York City
Credit: Drew Swantak/Thrillist
One of New York’s early craft beer adopters (all the way back in 1995, which is like 100 years ago in craft beer years), Blind Tiger might not have 900 taps and robots operating a digital list, but they do have a focus on quality over quantity that serves as a fine example of what a beer bar should be. Thirty-plus taps constantly change, with extra love given to East Coast beers like Peekskill, Brooklyn, and Other Half, and frequent tap takeovers allow brewers to put forward their best, brightest, and rarest. The bottle selection ranges from grand crus to saisons and rare imports, which could be confusing to the non-snob if the staff wasn’t so damned friendly and knowledgeable, making Blind Tiger one of the rare places that serves pints without condescension. Also, for the record, their wings are among the city’s best, though all the small plates at the spot are meant to pair with beer, and the menu — like the tap list — is prone to change daily.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
While Hopcat’s much-deserved expansion into juggernaut status disqualified them from the list (we still love you, Hopcat… all six of you), this year we’re able to share the love with Ashley’s, which has transformed many a yellow fizz-swilling Wolverine into a craft beer connoisseur thanks to 70+ local and international taps. Few college-town bars can boast a tap list with this kind of cred, as they’re pouring everything from German and Belgian ales, Pacific Northwest brews, and, of course, hometown favorites like Founders and New Holland. Oh, and there’s Philly cheesesteak poutine, which gives Ted Kaczynski competition for the title of “craziest thing to come out of Ann Arbor.”
El Bait Shop
Des Moines, Iowa
El Bait Shop is a spot that proves you can be a world-class beer bar without being a world-class beer snob. Where 100+ taps pour everything from Mikkeller to Jolly Pumpkin to reserve beers from the likes of North Coast, and pairs them with gigantic tenderloin sandwiches and chicken gizzards. Where a selection of 150+ bottles is illuminated by the glow of neon signs. It’s a craft beer oasis cleverly disguised as a backwoods dive bar, a spot where beer nerds and locals commingle inside, and members of the local running club regain their calories on the back patio, which has its own bar. It is, in short, perfect.
It’s a little-known fact that folks in the Boston area like to drink. And while there are tons of great beer bars in the city — Sunset, Bukowski, and Mead Hall, we love you dearly — our hearts and livers belong to Lord Hobo. Some beer bars have them bested in terms of quantity, but the 40 taps at Lord Hobo offer up a little bit of everything, whether you’re looking for an imported pilsner or something a little different like, say, an ale seasoned with a variety of peppercorns, or an Allagash triple aged in Jim Beam barrels. Throw in a menu that jumps all over the board (tom yum chicken sausage and duck cassoulet hold court alongside savory popovers and pork roast), and you’ve got a place that guarantees your beer belly will be aptly filled by the time you leave.
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
When we listed Riverside Market last year, we were bowled over by the way the owners converted an old convenience store into a beer bar in which 550+ beers fill fridges that used to hold year-old sandwiches. We were in awe of owner Julian Siegel’s vast knowledge, the place’s 20+ small-release taps, and the fact that you could drink all you wanted from the cooler, then bring the empties up to pay. But now? Riverside is taking over the neighborhood with the addition of the Craft Beer Cartel across the street, which itself holds beers, a nanobrewery, and homebrew equipment. If they keep this up, next year they’ll be breeding Clydesdales next door.
Credit: Lacey Muszynski/Thrillist
First and foremost, Burnhearts is the kind of place you want to duck into early some sleepy afternoon and just lose track of time. Play a few rounds of shuffleboard in back. Commandeer a corner booth and get into some Trivial Pursuit. Chat up the friendly bartenders (this is Wisconsin, after all). The fact that during all this you may well be drinking some Founders Blushing Monk or Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Stout is a bonus. Also, if you’re in the area in February, go to Mitten Fest. You won’t be disappointed.
Portland’s got enough great beer bars to fill up half this list, but no such list is complete without Belmont Station. Like Cameron Frye’s house, the place is cold, and like a museum. Except you’re allowed to touch (and drink!) everything. That includes 1,200 bottles from every corner of the world — among them whole sections of Belgians and Germans — plus seasonal one-offs and rarities from America’s best brewers. Basically, if a beer is available in bottles on the West Coast, Belmont Station has it. Even better, you can pop those bottles in the Biercafe next door, which includes 20+ taps that always feature Belgians and small-batch miracles from Stumptown’s best brewers, many of whom use Belmont as the unveiling spot and testing ground for new creations.
When many people associate the words “farmhouse” and “Vermont,” they tend to think of their hazy memories of a Phish concert. Thankfully, this is not that farmhouse, because cluster flies ruin beer. There are only 24 taps here, but each one is carefully selected, featuring great beers from Vermont (Lost Nation, Hill Farmstead, and Hermit Thrush), plus the likes of Cigar City and Green Flash repping the rest of the country. On top of that, tap takeovers let brewers rip, and homebrew competitions are held for those looking for undiscovered comforts. There’s a grill that serves up excellent farm-to-table fare, but if you’re more inclined to sip a pint and casually snack, hit up the basement bar, where a fireplace can warm your body as you warm your belly with a can of Heady Topper (if you’re lucky!).
The Mayor of Old Town
Fort Collins, Colo.
One-hundred beers on tap is a mighty feat for any beer bar, but what sets the fair Mayor apart is that they change all the damn time. They’re a modern beer bar through and through: their Twitter feed offers constant updates on what’s just been tapped, and they also have their own iPhone/Android app. Plenty of those new brews on tap (and about a third of the total tap list) are Northern Colorado beers — not surprising since they’re within a short bike ride of stalwarts like Odell and Funkwerks. Great local breweries often collaborate with the Mayor to create small-batch goodies for their customers: a recent Belgian quad made with New Belgium had a prune puree added to it, and was given the name Dark Side of the Prune. Bet you wish you were (t)here.
Thirsty Moose Taphouse
Sometimes, you want a calm, quiet place to relax with a pint in an atmosphere that can help you reflect on each delicate hops note and deduce the nuanced use of spices. Go somewhere else. The Thirsty Moose is a beer bar that emphasizes the “bar” part while taking the “beer” part extremely seriously. One-hundred sixteen taps seriously, in fact, with offerings ranging from Portland, Maine’s Allagash to Belgium’s Petrus, with a handful of more familiar (re: mass-produced) selections thrown in so you can nerd out without having to explain to friends with simpler palates what an IBU is. There’s a sports bar vibe to the two bars upstairs, while downstairs serves as a music venue for bands and DJs. So yeah, you’re not going to get a lot of peace and quiet here. That’s kind of the point.
San Diego, Calif.
Credit: Sara Norris/Thrillist
Housed in a location that has had a beer and wine license for more than 75 years, this place has undergone several transformations over time, but the history of good beer-drinking is long, and the atmosphere remains welcoming and divey — pool tables, shuffleboard, a stellar jukebox, and tap handles hung from the ceiling can attest to that. But what sets Hamilton’s apart in a town with more great beer bars than most states can claim is its 25+ West Coast-obsessed taps that pour regional pride, and the seemingly endless bottle list that makes sure rarities and beloved beers from the rest of the world have a place at the bar, too.
Brick Store Pub
2006 was a big year for Georgia, and not just because it was the year “Hey Ya” reached its 12 billionth radio play. It also marked the repeal of Georgia’s 6% cap on beers, which led the way for the Brick Store to achieve beer bar nirvana status. Since 1997, the joint had been pouring the finest array of beers in Georgia, with a focus on craft beer and English and German imports. But when 2006 hit, they celebrated by opening the Belgian Room upstairs, which taps the nectar of JCVD’s homeland via eight drafts (beer from which is served in its dedicated glassware), plus 120 bottles. This is a place of serious beer worship — no TVs, no stuffy snobbery. Just genuine love for beer that’s served up warm or cooler than a polar bear’s toenails, depending on the style.
The Happy Gnome
St. Paul, Minn.
The Gnome’s a double threat. Not only is it the finest beer bar in St. Paul, it’s also got some of the best burgers in the entire freakin’ state. No, seriously. Our favorite has braised short ribs on top, and is smushed between buttery buns. Anyway, back to the beer — there are 70+ taps. And because a bar cannot be considered a radical beer spot on volume alone, the cats who work there break down the menu into helpful categories like “hoppy.” “double-hoppy,” “lighter,” and more seasonal shout-outs like “pumpkiny.” Visit in the spring so you can taste 30-40 special breweries’ contributions to Firkin Fest, or wait until summer to enjoy one of the state’s best patios. Did we mention that this place is kind of the best?
When it comes to drinking food, pretzels and sausages get all the glory. Not at Mekong, a Richmond favorite where 50+ taps pour a huge variety of regional and national favorites, 200 more bottles pick up where the tap list leaves off, and everything can be paired up with something on the extensive menu of Vietnamese comfort food. So what stout best pairs with clay-pot pork? Which red really brings out the spices in the Viet seafood bouillabaisse, or the tender fried calamari? Well, just ask the bartenders, who are schooled in the art of exploring American craft beer’s most unlikely culinary allies.
San Diego, Calif.
Despite its tendency to remind you of endlessly getting your butt kicked in Street Fighter, Tiger!Tiger! has a lot more in common with Homer Simpson, in that its two specialties are beer and donuts. And that, friends, is enough to make them one of the best damned beer bars in the US. Said donuts are only served on Sunday, but that just gives you an excuse to start working on their immaculately clean (lines are scrubbed after each keg is blown) and expertly selected taps, which change all the time and on Fridays feature themed flights. Throw in homemade chicken biscuits to go along with those beers and donuts, and your lazy Sunday just got lazier. But really, the donuts are just the (ugh) icing on the cake. The beer makes every day at Tiger!Tiger! a good one.
Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar
Credit: Kailley Lindman/Thrillist
A neighborhood institution on Chicago’s South Side that long operated under the name Kaplan’s as a classic Chicago “slashie” (part bar, part liquor store), the proprietor’s sons took over a few years ago, hence the name change (Maria’s their Mother, who ran the joint for years) and the vastly improved beer selection. You’ll always find something you’ve never tried on tap, and you’ll find just about anything you could ever want to try among the nearly 500 cans and bottles. You’ll find it hard not to do some shopping on the way out.
We know, we know. We’re all up on this D.C. beer bar, which is named after the old-school beer-opening apparatus. But you know what? When one of your resident beer experts names it among the best damned beer bars in the world, you tend to become a groupie. Especially when 55 draft lines and 500+ bottles represent some of the best brews from across this great nation, plus an international delegation of world-class offerings that make Churchkey look like the United Nations — except in this version, Sam Kahamba Kutesa really knows how to throw down.
The Hay Merchant
Like the Happy Gnome before it (er, above it, since it’s the bar directly above it alphabetically), the Hay Merchant serves both Houston’s best beer experience and one of its best burgers in the form of the UB Double Double. Actually, it’s now called the Cease & Desist burger, thanks to a court order served by In-N-Out. For you, though, the burger’s just served with Houston’s best beer selection, courtesy of 80 taps and five casks that run the gamut from lawnmower to rare & dynamic to the “not for the faint of heart” selection of barrel-aged one-offs and other rarities. And if a burger’s not big enough for you, they’ll also roast you half a pig’s head, which pairs wonderfully with one of the aged barleywines that they have on tap. For real.
The first American outpost for the popular Denmark brewhouse, this 42-tapped beauty has both local and European brews on the list (including several exclusive-to-this-spot Mikkellers). It’s only a couple years old, and people freaked out when it arrived. Turns out, this place keeps on getting better and better. Take, for instance, the “secret” downstairs sour room and specialized foodstuffs that pair damn well with all those beers. Or the fact that kegs are stored in three different refrigerators in order to serve beers at the proper temperature. The devil’s in the details at Mikkeller. Luckily, Beelzebub’s got good taste in beer.
Even if your name is Thadeus Reinheitsgebot BeerAdvocate III, the chances of you running into something you’ve never had from this Greenpoint spot’s sparse but obsessively selected taps are strong. Hell, you may not recognize anything on the menu here, but the mad beer genius Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø from Evil Twin is behind this one, so it doesn’t really matter because they’re all going to be beautiful. The 20+ carefully selected taps are hooked to a high-tech, temp-regulating system and are organized from light to dark. Oh, and don’t worry if you don’t know what the hell the taps are pouring. The staff knows their stuff, and won’t shun you for asking.
Credit: Jess Mayhugh/Thrillist
Max’s looks like it could be pretty much any bar in Baltimore — it’s a brick, two-story corner bar lit by LED screens for thirsty Ravens fans. But frankly, you’ve gotta be big and cavernous just to fit the sheer volume of beer available here, which includes about 150 taps, five casks, and 1,000+ bottles from around the world. Everyone from Oxbow to Flying Dog to Chimay and Burning Sky are likely to show up in this behemoth, which offers a great middle ground between hardcore beer drinkers seeking something rare and less knowledgeable folks looking to explore the world of hops without feeling intimidated. They also host an annual Belgian fest featuring old-school ales from around the world, and weekly $6 32oz beers (in plastic cups!) on Fridays. Just because your palate left college doesn’t mean your drinking vessel has to.
A relative newcomer to the Columbus craft beer scene — which is fairly robust once you get out of the tailgate crowds — the Crest has become the city’s best beer bar for many, many reasons, from its stellar patio and rooftop garden to a local-centric menu that looks like it was stolen from a high-end restaurant and transported to a bar (butcher’s-cut ribeye, bison burgers, etc.). Oh, and they also have beer. Sixty taps’ worth, to be precise, with attention to the best of Ohio’s booming scene (Hoppin’ Frog, Thirsty Dog, and the like), in addition to international drafts and a healthy selection of bottles and cans. And the cans are more likely to be from 21st Amendment or Jackie O’s than whatever the dudes in the Buckeyes parking lot are smashing on their heads.
Yes, the name is pun-tastic. Yes, the fact that it inhabits an old turn-of-the-century (no, not the 21st century) Unitarian church makes the name almost TOO appropriate. But none of that would really matter if they didn’t back it up with the beer, which they most assuredly do, especially in the choir loft, with limited seating, limited hours, and a small tap selection of one-offs and rarities. The fact that there’s bone marrow poutine involved doesn’t hurt either. One could describe it as sinfully good, but that’d be overkill.
The Mission’s tiny beer bar that could, Monk’s Kettle has been slowly growing since making this list last year. They recently added 20 seats outside and four new draft lines, which now total 28. And if 28 taps don’t blow your skirt up, you should probably switch to thinner fabric. And rest assured that this ultra-chill spot brings its A-game when choosing what to pour, and keeps about 180 bottles on hand, including a selection of sours and other Belgian-style beers that chill out in the Monk’s cellars, just getting better and better with time. Just like the bar itself.
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