Food & Drink

50 Best Southern Bars

Old or new, grungy or grand, the South’s choicest places to order up a round and unwind

Photo: Darren Braun

Bloody Mary 

The Rivershack Tavern in Jefferson, Louisiana
The Rivershack, on the banks of the Mississippi, elevates the classic morning-after cocktail to an art with its River Bottom Bloody Mary. Sure, you’ve got your A1, Worcestershire, and horseradish, but then comes a sprinkle of Tony Chachere’s, a blessed hit of bacon, and house-made pepper-infused vodka for just the right amount 
of head-clearing heat.

Booze with a View

Pollak Vineyards in Greenwood, Virginia
Set at the base of Afton Mountain in the Blue Ridge, this rustic wood-and-tile wine bar lets you sit out at long tables on the lovely lawn or the ample wraparound porch, overlooking the vines and orchards of the ninety-eight-acre property. Spring, summer, or fall, the overall effect is peaceful and gorgeous.


T’cholit Bar in St. Lucia
Try to describe the glorious Neverland tableau set before you from Ladera resort’s open-air, 1,100-foot-high perch—a sweep of lush rain-forest valley and sparkling Caribbean, bookended by the volcanic peaks known as the Pitons—and words sputter and stall. Best just to settle into a rattan armchair, nurse a neon rum concoction, and look away just long enough to exchange a knowing glance with your companion, congratulating yourselves for being there.

An assortment of craft cocktails at Fox Liquor Bar.

Photo: Lissa Gotwals

An assortment of craft cocktails at Fox Liquor Bar.



Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston, Texas
The bar’s name and modern industrial decor convey the owners’ workmanlike resolve to do one thing—produce the region’s best cocktails, a feat accomplished with startling frequency since it opened in 2009. The barkeeps’ pantry includes quintessentially Southern ingredients that rarely mix with liquor in less visionary watering holes. Recent drinks have featured okra seeds, cane vinegar, and sweet potatoes.


Fox Liquor Bar in Raleigh, North Carolina
This underground cocktail club is the late-night soul of Ashley Christensen’s new triple-
restaurant project, housed in the shell of a former downtown Piggly Wiggly. To craft the ambitious menu of specialty drinks, the Poole’s Diner chef-owner imported New York mix master Karin Stanley, whose evolving plans include cocktail kegs for soda fountain–style tipples on tap.

Relaxing at Fox Liquor Bar.

Photo: Lissa Gotwals

Relaxing at Fox Liquor Bar.


The Gin Joint in Charleston, South Carolina
The Gin Joint sits tucked among a number of tourist draws on Charleston’s East Bay Street, but locals know it as the place to go for an old-fashioned or a Sazerac with no shortage of style and plenty of kick. The pre-Prohibition menu means no vodka behind the bar, but you’ll never miss it.

A Vieux Carré at H. Harper Station.

Photo: Johnny Autry

A Vieux Carré at H. Harper Station.


H. Harper Station in Atlanta, Georgia
Owner and drinks guru Jerry Slater comes up with a slew of original cocktails, as the times demand. But his mastery of the classics is what really stands out. “My old-fashioned is very old-fashioned,” he says, without any orange or cherry to muddle the character of the original recipe. Lately, he has been turning all of Atlanta on to the old-school charms of the Singapore Sling, which is something like a Sonic cherry limeade for grown-ups.

College Sports 

The Esso Club in Clemson, South Carolina
Locals will tell you this former 1920s filling station is the place to score tickets to sold-out games, but a close second to a seat in the stands is a perch at the 1970s-era bar, made of cedar seating from the old football stadium. Order a basket of fried pickles and a cold beer while you watch the action unfold.


The Houndstooth in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
This no-frills drinking shrine reopened in 2008 after a complete remodel, though the new patio offers the same killer view of Bryant-Denny Stadium. It gets predictably packed on game days, but with more than forty flat-screen televisions (including a couple in the restrooms), you need not miss a single down.

Earnestine & Hazel's rocking jukebox.

Photo: Michael Turek

Earnestine & Hazel’s rocking jukebox.


Dive Bars

Earnestine & Hazel’s
 in Memphis, Tennessee
A former brothel, E&H is now Memphis’s ultimate dive bar. It doesn’t really start hopping until after midnight, when the fabulous jukebox rocks and the drinks flow until 3 a.m., while patrons down the famous beer-absorbing Soul Burger. 901-523-9754


Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge in 
New Orleans, Louisiana
This great late-night room and wonder of DIY architecture has ceilings so low it feels like you’re drinking in a kids’ clubhouse. A favorite of off-duty barkeeps and nocturnal university students, the dimly lit Snake and Jake’s shines with simple concoctions—a shot and a beer, or two-ingredient highballs.


Wisteria Tavern
 in Pensacola, Florida
Outside, live oaks drip with Spanish moss above a sand-and-crushed-oyster-shell parking lot. Inside, under a funky open wood-truss ceiling, pool tables and pinball machines, a jukebox, whirling fans, and plenty of cold beer await. Until recently, the men’s room was a trough inside a dirt-floored outbuilding. Old Florida at its most classic.


The Cave in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
It’s underground, the walls are made of plastered chicken wire, and a roving mutt is likely brushing up against your legs in the gloom (if it hasn’t managed to scramble onto the bar itself). It’s the Cave, Chapel Hill’s oldest existing tavern. If the band in one of its subterranean chambers isn’t to your liking, duck your head and spelunk into the next room for some eight-ball.


Draught House 
Pub & Brewery in Austin, Texas
Austinites love their beer, and they love their dogs. They get to revel in both at this soulful pub, where you can grab a pint from one of seventy-three taps (including a rotating selection of original-recipe brews), head out to the parking lot, drop the tailgate on the pickup, and let Fido out to play.

Dogs are welcome at Surf Bar in Folly Beach, South Carolina.

Photo: Ben Williams

Good Pals

Dogs are welcome at Surf Bar in Folly Beach, South Carolina.


Surf Bar in Folly Beach, South Carolina
The covered patio at this canine-welcoming hangout, just two blocks from the beach, is a sweet spot to refuel after a day in the sun. You can’t go wrong with the house Painkiller and a thick, wood-fired burger. The guys in the kitchen will even grill an extra patty for your pooch.

Draft Houses 

Brick Store Pub
 in Decatur, Georgia
The Brick Store earns its reputation as one of the country’s prime beer meccas. At the expansive bar on the ground floor, explore a world of American craft
beers, English and German specialty ales and pilsners, and a selection of vintage and reserve bottles you won’t likely see elsewhere. Or head upstairs for a gorgeously curated selection of draft and bottled Belgian and Belgian-style brews, well paired with a plate of farmstead cheeses.


ChurchKey in Washington, D.C.
Flesh out your beer bucket list at this brew haven near Logan Circle, where thirsty patrons have been lining up to get in since its opening in 2009. The draws are obvious: upwards of five hundred bottle selections, fifty choices on draft, and a knowledgeable staff to help you navigate the list. Another savvy touch: Every beer on tap is available in four-ounce tastes.

Patrons seek out a pint at Asheville's Thirsty Monk.

Photo: Joey and Jessica

Beer and a Bite

Patrons seek out a pint at Asheville’s Thirsty Monk.


Thirsty Monk in Asheville, North Carolina
After Barry Bialik opened his extraordinary Belgian beer pub in an evocatively dark basement, he soon discovered monks weren’t the only ones making great beer. The Thirsty Monk still pours dozens of different tripels and lambics, but its upstairs bar now specializes in American craft beer, annually tapping hundreds of the nation’s most intriguing brews.

Hidden Gems

The Garage Café in Birmingham, Alabama
Walk past the shabby facade and gloomy interior and you’ll discover one of Birmingham’s treasures, a wisteria-covered courtyard filled with concrete tables and an assortment of quirky antiques, the soul of this unassuming Southside haunt. The cash-only bar has no beer on tap, but there’s a generous lineup of bottled brews, plus surprisingly tasty deli sandwiches made to order until 10 p.m.

Tujaque's bartender Paul Gustings gets ready to pour.

Photo: Cedric Angeles

Mix Master

Tujaque’s bartender Paul Gustings gets ready to pour.


Tujague’s in New Orleans, Louisiana
A true artifact of New Orleans history, this oft-overlooked saloon hides in plain sight—just a few steps from the Café du Monde. Reigning bartender Paul Gus-tings isn’t much for small talk, but his drinks speak for themselves, including obscure concoctions like the Angostura Phosphate, a fragrant glass of tangy, spicy goodness.


Arkey Blue’s 
Silver Dollar Saloon in 
Bandera, Texas
Downstairs in a basement on the main drag of the self-proclaimed Cowboy Capital of the World is the dream honky-tonk: sorta dark, longnecks served icy, neon on the wall, sawdust on the floor, pool table, country jukebox, Dolly Parton pinball, dance floor, tiny bandstand, and on Saturday nights, Arkey Blue hisself, who’s been warbling originals like “Misty Hours of Daylight” and “Daddy’s Sick Again” since 1968. 830-796-8826


Robert’s Western World
 in Nashville, Tennessee
Though it gets its share of tourists, Robert’s is known as the only Broadway bar locals frequent, and for good reason: The honky-tonkin’ starts at 11 in the morning and goes until close. Don’t expect songs much more recent than 1970. This is old-school country territory, exemplified by the ferocious playing of local legends the Don Kelly Band.

Hotel  Bars

The Driskill Bar in Austin, Texas
Flush with leather and drowsy lighting, Austin’s oldest hotel bar is like a private study that surrendered to boozy drinks and indulgent snacks a century ago. Suits and boots alike occupy seats around the glass-topped grand piano, hexagonal bar, and cowhide couches, with a music legend or two often sprinkled among the crowd.


The Purser’s Pub 
St. in Michaels, Maryland
A favorite of well-heeled Chesapeake sailors or visiting Washington, D.C., hotshots, this bead-board-walled bar is set inside the tony Inn at Perry Cabin. Order a dozen fresh oysters at sunset with a beer or an ice-cold “up” martini (vodka, please), then stare out at the sailboats on the bay, and you have the whole Chesapeake experience spread across a tabletop.

Juke Joints

Lassis Inn
 in Little Rock, Arkansas
Contrary to popular belief, fried fish, not pork barbecue, is the signal food served by our region’s jukes. Open since the early 1900s, this joint upholds that tradition by dishing ribs of battered and fried buffalo fish, layered between cottony slices of white bread. To wash down those bones, snag a tall-boy can of domestic. 501-372-8714


Po’ Monkey’s Lounge in Merigold, Mississippi
A former sharecropper’s shack made of unpainted cypress planks and roofed with corrugated steel, Monkey’s is one of the last rural juke joints around. It’s only open on Thursday nights, and you’re greeted at the door by owner William Seaberry, aka Po’ Monkey, before settling in to a DJ spinning soul, R&B, and blues. The kitchen sells beer and soda, but if you want something stronger, you can BYOB.


Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale, Mississippi
There’s no sign, but if you see a guy grilling chicken on the sidewalk, you’ve found it. Don’t expect frills. Just some chairs, couches, and beer (and maybe some moonshine if you ask owner Red Paden nicely). But it’s real-deal blues, with local legends like Terry “Big T” Williams and T-Model Ford doing the honors. 
395 Sunflower Ave.

Oyster  Bars

Gilhooley’s Raw Bar in San Leon, Texas
The wooden floor dips when you walk on it, and the roof leaks when it rains. No matter. It’s the bivalves that count. Oysters Gilhooley—fresh-shucked oysters dotted with garlic butter and smoked over pecan wood—may well be the best barbecued oysters on the Gulf Coast. 


Indian Pass Raw Bar
 in Port St. Joe, Florida
After Hurricane Kate virtually destroyed the McNeill family’s wholesale oyster operation in 1985, owner Jim McNeill decided to open a bar and sell their oysters direct. Good thing for the rest of us. The oysters are usually served the same day they’re caught, and they come raw, baked, gratinéed, or steamed—but never fried.

Rum Shack

Papa Zouk in Antigua
Tear yourself away from Antigua’s fabled beaches to make an evening pilgrimage to this humble cottage on the outskirts of the capital, St. John’s, marked by a no-nonsense sign promising “Fish ’n’ Rum.” Inside await a few tables on a covered gravel patio, an unwritten menu of Creole-inflected seafood, and German expat Bert Kirchner’s world-class collection of rums—upwards of 250 and counting. 268-464-6044

The Brunswick stew hot dog at Euclid Avenue Yacht Club.

Photo: Johnny Autry

The Brunswick stew hot dog at Euclid Avenue Yacht Club.


Snack Bars

Euclid Avenue Yacht Club in Atlanta, Georgia
Long before brew geeks gathered to talk of cask ales and high-gravity stouts, the Yacht Club, a workingman’s tavern paneled in teak wainscoting, was pouring great beers in Little Five Points. Beyond the brews, the food has always been better than it has to be, especially the signature quarter-pound hot dogs, doused in house-made Brunswick stew.


Ripple in Washington, D.C.
Cocktailians who come to this snazzy spot for classic drinks and updated Sazeracs jazzed up with lemon-spice bitters won’t suffer from a lack of choice edibles to see them through a tippling session. Chef Logan Cox’s changing menu includes such locally sourced dishes as glazed shoat belly and blood sausage–stuffed squid.


Sylvain in New Orleans, Louisiana
This recent addition to the French Quarter cocktail/restaurant scene has cozy ambience to spare—ten-seat copper-top bar, a dozen tables, back-entrance courtyard—plus a strong gastropub kitchen that stays open until midnight on weekends, a surprising rarity in New Orleans. The cocktails get creative too, with names like Superfly Snuka and Aunt Rose’s Gingered Boom Boom.


El Bar in Atlanta, Georgia
The El forgoes the special codes, secret doors, and tricked-out phone booths popular with the new breed of Prohibition-cute speakeasies. Just poke around in the back, basement level of El Azteca Mexican Restaurant, and you’ll find the unmarked entrance to this hopping shoebox-sized space, where the bartenders and DJs start plying their trade only after 11 p.m. (Thursday–


PX in Alexandria, Virginia
Look for the red door around the corner from Eamonn’s A Dublin Chipper. If the blue streetlight is on and the Jolly Roger is flying, ring the doorbell and wait. Assuming you’re dressed appropriately, a glamorous gatekeeper will lead you to a small bar where mixologists craft cocktails from house-made bitters, sodas, 
syrups, and infusions.

Vintage Bars

The Backstreet Pub in Beaufort, North Carolina
One block from the Beaufort Inlet stands this narrow, two-story brick time machine, filled with grizzled fishermen. You half-expect onetime Beaufort resident Blackbeard to walk in. Board games and paperbacks stand piled in the shadows. Read a book on the patio, or—if a storm blows in—settle in before the low flicker of the fireplace. 252-728-7108


The Gibson Inn in Apalachicola, Florida
When black cypress groves and navigable waterways brought tremendous wealth to northern Florida in the early 1900s, barons had their pick of stylish drinking spots. Among the few vestiges of the era is the circa 1907 Gibson Inn, where visitors down stiff cocktails among circumnavigators and oystermen in the elegant wood-paneled bar.

Whiskey Bars

The Bar at Husk in 
Charleston, South Carolina
Plenty of the crowd here are biding their time while awaiting a table at the main event, chef Sean Brock’s workshop of Southern locavore gastronomy next door. But the sultry carriage-house bar—all exposed brick and dark wooden trusses—is worth an outing in its own right. Choose from among fifty-plus bourbons and cocktail inventions like the Fire in the Orchard, a blend of Maker’s Mark, smoked apple juice, and pickled jalapeño that tastes like autumn on the rocks.


The Horse & Barrel in Lexington, Kentucky
Though lauded by connoisseurs as one of the choicest whiskey bars in all creation, this welcoming pub, adjacent to DeSha’s restaurant smack in the heart of downtown Lexington, refuses to cop an attitude about it. The bourbon list numbers some eighty strong, from Old Rotgut to Pappy Van Winkle’s 23-year-old Reserve.


Mac McGee
 in Decatur, Georgia
This appealingly grungy Decatur Square bar calls itself an Irish pub, but whiskey knows no nationality here. The glorious list meanders from Ireland to Scotland, with a lengthy detour through the South, Canada, and elsewhere. Order a flight of three so you can compare the smoky powerhouses of the Scottish islands, or taste your first Welsh and Japanese whiskeys alongside a single-malt Michael Collins from Ireland.

Writers’ Retreats

City Grocery Bar in Oxford, Mississippi
Faulkner’s gone, but Oxford writers still need whiskey. Enter City Grocery Bar, a magnet for both visiting literati and a prodigious crop of local talent. At this dark second-story spot, bartenders pour grown-up drinks, says chef-owner John Currence. “And those soothe the demons in a writer’s soul.”


Under the Volcano
 in Houston, Texas
A block from Brazos Bookstore, Houston’s leading indie, Under the Volcano is where you’ll find star authors hanging with the cognoscenti after a reading and signing, comfy in the appropriately steamy patio—especially after a couple of exquisite strawberry basil mojitos.