Food & Drink

Southern Taverns to Warm Your Bones

Order up a pint at these cozy gathering spots

Photo: Andrew Thomas Lee

The Wrecking Bar Brewpub in Atlanta, Georgia.

There are no hard and fast rules for what defines a tavern, except that it serves spirits to the public. (That means you and me!) But you know one when you see one. They’re welcoming, unfussy, and relaxed—and a crackling fireplace sure doesn’t hurt. Here are some prime examples of where you’ll want to linger with friends on a chilly day.

The Workman’s Friend, Charlotte

If you can find a more beguiling spot to sip a Guinness on a fall day than this village-style pub’s corner leather banquette next to the white tile–bordered fireplace, then you are a true guru of soulful comforts. Then again, a stool at the long wooden bar, lit by schoolhouse pendants instead of sports-blaring TVs, has its own advantages—namely positioning you closer to the next round and an excellent shepherd’s pie.

photo: Chris Rodarte
The Workman‘s Friend in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Wrecking Bar Brewpub, Atlanta

Housed in a Victorian mansion, the Wrecking Bar’s granite columns, exposed brick, and dark beadboard walls beckon you toward a convivial bar, communal spaces, and intimate nooks. They’re serious about their beer here, but not to the exclusion of a full cocktail program and an elevated, farm-to-table pub menu. Whatever you’re tippling or noshing, if the beer-boiled peanuts are on offer, you’re getting those too.

Michie Tavern 1784 Pub, Charlottesville, Virginia 

Monticello-bound tourists head to this historic log tavern for hearty “midday fare.” But when the crowd dwindles in the afternoon, an adjacent door is unlocked to reveal a snug, rustic pub where a Colonial Era–garbed barman dispenses local wines, ciders, and country-ham biscuits from behind a period wooden cage. Two front parlors offer mountain views and vintage table games, though it’s hard to resist the rear taproom when a fire blazes in its huge open hearth.

Embers Ski Lodge, Nashville 

Given Music City’s dearth of mountains or snow, Embers is not an actual ski lodge. But it’s got everything else that makes après-ski bars so appealing, including antler chandeliers, birch log accents, and plenty of good whiskey. Pair a pour with hand-cut Belgian fries, then angle for a seat near the glass-enclosed indoor firepit. Best of all, there’s no need to keep track of clunky ski gear while you socialize—unless you wish to keep things unnecessarily real.

Elkhorn Tavern, Lexington, Kentucky

When Barrel House Distilling Co. wanted a place to showcase its craft spirits, it went the DIY route and converted the original riverside rickhouse of the historic James E. Pepper Distillery into a taproom featuring natural wood aplenty, a copper-top bar, and a serious-eyed elk’s head mounted above a fireplace. A Barrel House signature cocktail is certainly appropriate, as is a steaming bowl of rabbit-and-elk burgoo served with corn muffins made with spent bourbon grains.

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The Peerless Saloon, Anniston, Alabama

The fireplaces might be found in the former-brothel-turned-party-room upstairs, but the 1899 ground-floor saloon glows with its own charm and history. Amazingly, this pre-Prohibition landmark was scheduled for demolition before making the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Thus was preserved the gorgeous, mirrored mahogany bar that previously saw service at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair—and the community pride that still fuels conversations over pints and shrimp po’boys in the church-pew booths.

Drover’s Inn Restaurant & Tavern, Wellsburg, West Virginia

Built in 1848, this Federal-style inn long provided livestock drivers with refuge. It’s operated as a restaurant since 1967, with a trio of dining rooms all featuring antique fireplaces. But before tucking into broasted chicken or smoked salmon, descend into the coal-cellar-turned-subterranean-tavern, where an L-shaped bar anchors formidable stone walls, and steins dangle from the ceiling. You might end up ordering a basket of wings and staying awhile.

The Bluebird, Baltimore

This well-conceived cocktail room invites you on a journey through a drink list inspired by classic literature and infused with botanicals. Or just trust the mixologist with your choice and soak up the calming vibe, where the warmth of the fireplace is assisted by the light streaming through oversized windows. Mushroom toast? Mmm yes, thanks. 

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Poe’s Tavern, Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina 

It’s hard to combine a beach bar with the foreboding fictions of Edgar Allan Poe. But when the wind blows outside, this handsome refuge is perfect for cracking open The Cask of Amontillado and a bottle of red. Or just ruminate on dozens of Poe portraits—the man himself would take perverse pleasure in his image literally rising from the flames as decoration on sooty fireplace bricks. When will you want to take your leave? Nevermore.