[The original version of this story included an entry about Haymarket Whiskey Bar, whose owner, Matthew Landan, has been accused of rape and sexual assault by multiple women. As Landan’s name was not mentioned in the entry, we didn’t make the connection (though we had covered the case before). It was an oversight that we deeply regret. We have removed the entry and we apologize for any hurt caused by this inclusion.]
Whiskey — like many spirits that rely on an element of craft — is experiencing a full-blown renaissance. As the number of small-batch distillers increases, it seems like whiskey-centric bars are popping up all over the country. This is a good thing for the drinking public. If your local saloon has an extensive whiskey collection, you’ll obviously get to try some truly unique whiskeys (without spending a mortgage payment on a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle).
But not all whiskey bars are created equal. That’s why we asked Michael Neff — a whiskey expert who has created bar programs for such notable spots as Holiday Cocktail Lounge, Ward III, and Rum House in NYC and Three Clubs in Hollywood — to tell us his choices for the most important whiskey bars in America.
It should be noted that Neff’s choices aren’t necessarily the bars that have the biggest whiskey lists or the most expensive selections. They’re also not bars that you would necessarily see on every round up of “best whiskey bars.” That’s because Michael took the time to dig deeper. In some cases mere geography is what makes a bar important. In another, it’s a well-known bar whose whiskey selection is often totally overshadowed by other elements that made it famous.
Far Bar (Los Angeles, CA)
“Far Bar is a gem. You would think that their location — in the heart of Little Tokyo on the outskirts of Downtown Los Angeles — would mean that they specialize in Japanese and other Pacific Riwhiskeyses, and you would be right. That said, they clearly have a healthy respect for whiskey in general, and their sprawling collection winds throughout the space.”
Dead Rabbit Grog & Grocery (New York, NY)
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It takes a lot of work to start the day looking like this picture. Work that begins with the night porters in the kitchen from 3am, before they move on to deep-cleaning all three floors of the building. The barback arrives at 8.30am and starts checking, filling, replenishing everything from the juice bottles (with freshly squeezed juice, of course) to the straw caddies and beer lines. Then at around 10am the bartender checks, fills and replenishes everything else – menus, till rolls, coasters. Eveything. That takes her up to 11am, when she opens the doors – and welcomes the first customers to another day at the Dead Rabbit. Photo by @buda.photography.
“Whether or not this Downtown destination is the “Best Bar in the World” is a matter for debate. It is, however, a great joint and much celebrated for its cocktails. Their acclaim often overshadows the part that impresses me the most—their Irish whisky collection is unmatched. They clearly have a love of the spirit, and their international notoriety gives them access to bottles that normal humans can’t hope to taste on this side of the Atlantic.”
Blue Sky Bar (Denver, CO)
“We don’t talk about context enough when we talk about whiskey. The environment in which we drink can have an outsized impact on how we feel about what it is we’re drinking. Case in point. Blue Sky Bar is unusual in that it is a). attached to a Quizno’s franchise and b). located on the second level of Terminal A in the Denver airport. Their whiskey collection, however, rivals that of much fancier joints bragging trendier addresses, and their staff is knowledgeable and informed (if a bit surly with it).
The experience of choice and discovery makes any whiskey bar a joy to experience. Having that experience on a layover makes it that much more memorable.”