If you’re visiting (or live in) a major city, you’re likely to be inundated with high-quality cocktail bars. Some of these bars might even be specific to certain liquors — maybe tequila, gin, or whiskey. Since you probably don’t want to waste your Saturday night hopping from underwhelming bar to underwhelming bar, you can go on your phone and check travel websites for reviews and details.
Or you can get the info from the folks who really know. Bartenders.
When it comes to picking a whiskey bar to visit, few people know more about what to look for than your friendly, neighborhood bartender. But what exactly are they looking for? Roman Cervantes, bartender at La Pulperia in New City is a big fan of Caledonia Scottish Pub in New York City, mostly for its selection.
“It has a warm vibe and features so many whiskeys,” he says.
While that might seem like a simple explanation. It’s a solid rationale. If you’re going to spend your evening (and your hard-earned money) at a bar, you’re going to want it to be comfortable and brimming with options.
To make sure we had all the best spots covered, we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us their favorite whiskey bars. From Portland to Louisville, these are the spots that the folks pouring your drinks love best.
Kalani Ben, Bartender at The Spare Room in Hollywood, California
Delilah’s (Chicago) is perfect for me. It’s a super rad neighborhood bar with a back bar of nearly 600+ bottles, making it nearly impossible to not get pleasantly lost in their selections. It’s a far from stuffy environment that has a music selection ranging from punk, ska, and rockabilly to reggae or hard outlaw country. Another great appeal to this bar is that they have a regular rotation of art displays from local artists and painters.
If that’s not enough, they regularly screen films in the background that range anywhere from rock concerts, horror flicks, classic grindhouse, all the way through sci-fi.
The Varnish (Los Angeles)
Kelly McAuliffe, manager at Salazar in Los Angeles
Locally? The Varnish. First of all, it’s a true speakeasy, and you can grab a Cole’s French Dip on your way in or way out. They truly offer a great selection of whiskey/bourbon/scotch. Plus, unlike most places that offer a “bartender’s choice” option, this staff knows their spirits and asks the right questions to make sure you get a pristine custom cocktail.
Ward III (New York City)
Nick Jackson, bartender at The Rum House in New York City
My favorite whiskey bar would be Ward III in TriBeCa. With over 300 bottles to choose from and expert cocktail bartenders to help you choose, it would be hard to go wrong. The weekdays are nice for the chill opportunity to deep dive into the beverage program, while the weekends are a fun vibe still with great cocktails.
Seven Grand (San Diego)
Keith Zintakmon, bartender at JRDN in San Diego
If I has to pick my favorite whiskey bar, it would be one locally here in the San Diego area. Seven Grand in North park because of a great selection, great atmosphere, and reasonable prices.
Dead Rabbit (New York City)
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Gary Wallach, director of food & beverage at Arlo SoHo in New York City
I’ve always felt the ground floor of the Dead Rabbit is special. They might be known for the cocktail bar upstairs, but they themselves will tell you how much effort and time is spent into collecting whiskey and developing a team that can help you explore the back bar.
Scopa Italian Roots (Venice, California)
Justin Campbell, beverage director for The h.wood Group in Los Angeles
Scopa Italian Roots has a great whiskey selection and if you’re lucky enough to get into their speakeasy Old Lightning you can really get your hands on some great stuff. Not only is it a beautiful space with a great staff, but they have a great Japanese whisky selection too.
Hard Water (San Francisco)
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in honor of @50bestbars awarding an absolute misogynist with the industry icon award and for every man that’s walked into my work and asked me “if I know about whiskey or if I just work there”- I present to you 3 whole #womenbehindthebarafter3 ! we can do everything you can and look better doing it 😇
Alec Barber-Grossi, bartender at Accomplice Bar in Los Angeles
Hard Water in San Francisco. They carry 480 all American whiskeys, and many lauded barrels. They are also great with other industry folks.
On The Rocks (New York City)
Mark Tubridy, mixologist at 21 Club in New York City
My favorite whiskey bar has to be On The Rocks in NYC. It was introduced to me by one of our brand reps at 21 and I was immediately impressed with the establishment’s commitment to obtaining and selling rare and unique whiskeys that are seldom seen on even the most discerning of spirits lists. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable, and they are not only willing, but eager to test you on their favorites as they guide you toward the right whiskey for you on any given night.
Why will I never work there? Because I have too much fun learning from them on the other side of the bar.
Proof Reader (Portland, Oregon)
Amy Wong, lead bartender at King Tide Fish & Shell in Portland, Oregon
My favorite whiskey bar is Proof Reader in Portland. They don’t carry a massive selection, but they carry enough quality whiskies. The best part is that the bartenders are knowledgeable without the snootiness. I know a visit comes with good company and quality spirits.
Whiskey Brooklyn (New York City)
Trevor Alderson, bartender at Blue Smoke in New York City
Whiskey Brooklyn in Williamsburg is so much fun. The basement is stacked with arcade games, giant Jenga, giant Connect 4, an excellently designed bar with room to move around and ample table space at the surrounding booths. They even have a photo booth in the back. Obviously, the Whiskey selection is top notch, and they serve killer pickle backs. Nothing about this bar is snooty. Everything is fun.
Steak & Whiskey (Hermosa Beach, California)
Jon Baer, manager of beverage and bakery operations for The Cheesecake Factory Incorporated
Steak & Whisky American Tavern in Hermosa Beach, California. It’s all about the atmosphere. It has a laid-back beach cities vibe with a great whiskey selection and classic food options.
Noorman’s Kil (New York City)
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Planning a birthday or private event? Noorman’s Kil is the perfect place for that whiskey-loving birthday boy or girl! The bar area or the spacious backyard garden is easily capable of accommodating parties of 50-75 people or more. https://noormanskil.com/parties-private-events1
Adam Cornelius, director of operations at Little Beet Table in Greenwich Connecticut
Noorman’s Kil in Williamsburg. It’s close to home which is great, and even beyond that, it has a very extensive selection with a knowledgeable staff. I can always find something that I haven’t had before, which is great for your second round.
Oh, and I can also get a great grilled cheese alongside it.
Silver Dollar (Louisville, Kentucky)
Liam Deegan, partner at Barrel Proof in New Orleans
Silver Dollar in Louisville is pretty great. The Barrel Proof staff went there back in our first year during a distillery trip and we immediately felt at home. Lots of great whiskey at good prices, but it doesn’t have the vibe that you have to drink whiskey there. It’s a fun place to drink beer and tequila, which a lot of the time is what people that drink and work at Barrel Proof go for.
Paddy’s (Portland, Oregon)
Cheston Overman, lead bartender at Bookstore Bar & Café in Seattle
My favorite whiskey bar is Paddy’s in Portland Oregon. Whiskey bars can often be pretentious, but not this one – it’s a laidback spot with a great selection, and the whiskeys are beautifully displayed on tiered glass shelves.