“In our quest across this great nation to find and share some of the most historic and culturally significant bars, we have had the opportunity to “belly up” to some of the best and worst drinking establishments out there. Perhaps the best part of our journey was to see the variety of watering holes Americans go to every day. We explored taverns, saloons, dives, speakeasies and even Tiki bars. Of the five kinds we visited, here’s a list of the best and oldest of each.”
5 Menger Bar, San Antonio, Texas (Saloon)
“The Menger Bar was established when the Menger Hotel was built in 1859 in San Antonio Texas. This was a true western saloon at the time, and legend has it that more cattle deals were struck here than any other place in the world. Teddy Roosevelt frequented the bar when he was stationed nearby before the Spanish-American war and he actually recruited many of his Rough Riders here. (At one point he was even reprimanded for buying his soldiers a round of drinks.) Today it is literally a stone’s throw from the Alamo and San Antonio’s Riverwalk and the ranchers and rough riders have been replaced with tourists and hotel guests but it still maintains that old saloon feeling. Serving great house margaritas and ice cold Lone Star beer it is worth stopping in to have a drink in Teddy Roosevelt’s old watering hole.”
4 Green Mill, Chicago, Illinois (Speakeasy)
“Originally opened in 1907 the Green Mill was built as an American version of France’s Moulin Rouge. It was known for its excess at the time of its opening, with scantily clad dancing girls, live performances and free flowing alcohol. With the passing of the Volstead act in 1919 the club was no longer able to maintain its grandeur and was forced to downsize and become a speakeasy.
It quickly became better known for one of its regulars, Al Capone, and one of its owners, “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn, who was Capone’s favorite and most feared enforcer. It is said that when Al Capone walked in the band would immediately start playing Capone’s favorite song, Rhapsody in Blue. Little has changed in the bar today with the same exact layout still present and decor dating back to the bars founding. You can even sit in Al Capone’s booth, his favorite due to the advantageous view of the two entrances and quick access to either. It features some of the best Jazz acts in the country almost nightly and a classic cocktail menu served by some of Chicago’s finest bartenders.”
3 Old ’76 House, Tappan, New York (Tavern)
“The Old 76 House is the oldest bar in the country and was built by Dutch immigrants in 1668. Because Tappan, in the Catskill Mountains just north of New York City, was an important place during the Revolutionary War, the Old ’76 House saw a number of famous guests, including George Washington himself. Its most notorious guest, however, was British spy, Major John Andre, who was jailed at the tavern and put on trial at the church across the street (he was subsequently hanged about two blocks away). This place is a must visit, not just for the history and excellent food, but also because part of the actual bar is still original. You can literally sit and drink at the same exact bar that George Washington once tipped back a few drinks of his own.”
2 Ear Inn, Manhattan, New York (Dive Bar)
“Originally built in 1817 for James Brown, a Revolutionary War veteran and aid to George Washington, the house was sold and turned into a bar in 1833. Known to have been a favorite among river pirates and immigrant gangs throughout the 1800 and 1900s as well as a speakeasy and brothel during prohibition, the Ear Inn is one of America’s oldest and most historic dive bars. Today you can still see a number of relics from its checkered past–bottles, pipes, etc.–strung throughout the bar and it is rumored to be haunted, with multiple reports of apparitions and strange noises. Though the river pirates and gang members have been replaced with hipsters, professionals, celebrities and tourists the bar retains that classic charm of an old bar but with that modern dive bar feel. They serve a variety of pub grub as well as craft and local beers and a pint of Ear Inn Ale accompanied by a shot of Jameson is the perfect way to start a night off in this legendary dive.”
1 Tonga Hut, North Hollywood, California (Tiki Bar)
“There are those Tiki bars you walk into that look like Pier One Imports threw up on their walls, and then there is the Tonga Hut, a study in the understated beauty of the South Pacific. Founded in 1958 the Tonga Hut has been serving liquid Aloha in North Hollywood since its founding, and grew a loyal fan base of Tiki lovers. In the 1970s it was threatened by the disco clubs that popped up in the area, and then further lost business in the 1980s when Tiki bars went out of fashion. By the time the current owners bought her, she was a shell of a Tiki bar—featuring taxidermy, sports memorabilia and even a coin-operated golf video game. She had become a dive. Luckily current owners revived the ‘Hut in the early 2000s by decorating, renovating and returning the bar to her former glory. They’ve also established a very worthwhile drink menu that will put you on the ground if you’re not careful.”
Learn more about America’s historic watering holes by picking up a copy of Derek and Clint’s book, Bucket List Bars: Historic Saloons, Pubs, and Dives of America!
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