There are many lists of the best Whiskey Bars in the United States. I always take them with a grain of salt because bars, like Bourbon, are all a matter of personal tastes. However, many people have asked me about my favorites Bourbon bars and I thought I would list my favorite five. I am sure there are other bars that people will say are better than these, but that is for their own list. These are my favorites.
- Delilah’s in Chicago, Illinois: I like Delilah’s for many reasons. Back in the 1990s Susan Reigler of the Courier-Journal newspaper wrote an article stating that Delilah’s was the best bar in the world for Bourbon lovers. At that time she was correct. Mike Miller, the owner of Delilah’s, loves Bourbon and his bar was a Bourbon and Whisky bar before Bourbon and Whisky were cool. They have an excellent selection of Bourbons, including many hard to find brands and personal selections. Delilah’s is also a place where distillers and other people in the industry go to drink when they are in Chicago. Every time I have been there, I have run across at least one of my friends in the industry. The staff is well trained and are willing to help with selections.
- Bourbons Bistro in Louisville, Kentucky: I met the owners, Jason and John, when I did a class on Bourbon history at Bellarmine University the year before they opened Bourbons Bistro. They were enthusiastic about Bourbon and its heritage and wanted to learn more before they opened a bar and restaurant centered on Bourbon. They have a great selection of Bourbons and even before the law was changed, Jason was collecting vintage bottles and would often open one and share it with patrons. Bourbons Bistro was the first restaurant to make Bourbon an important ingredient in the food they served as well as having a great bar. They have a well-trained staff that can help the novice with selections.
- Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C.: Jack Rose is the best whiskey bar in the United States as far as selection is concerned. Since they are located in the nation’s capital, they never had to deal with State liquor laws and could easily sell pours from vintage bottles giving their patrons a chance to taste a little history. The restaurant has excellent food and whiskey is often a component of the food. The staff is well trained and your server will offer advice as to what whiskey will pair best with the dish you have ordered.
- The Crunkleton in Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Gary Crunkleton loves Bourbon and has a great deal of knowledge about all spirits. He opened The Crunkleton as a bourbon and Whiskey bar and then started to work to get North Carolina liquor laws changed to allow him to sell pours from vintage bottles. North Carolina is a control State so this actually made it easier for him to do this – there was only the state to deal with instead of multiple distributors. The Crunkleton has an excellent staff, well trained in Bourbon and its heritage. Combine this with an excellent selection of current and vintage bottles, a friendly atmosphere and a beautiful bar, it is one of my favorite places to have a drink.
- The Century Bar in Dayton, Ohio: Ohio is a control State and most people in southern Ohio travel to Kentucky to get their Bourbon. The selection in Kentucky is better. However, Joe Head, the owner and manager of The Century Bar has worked wonders in Dayton. He started working there as the bar manager and convinced the owner to make it a Bourbon bar. He created the best selection possible from what was available from the Ohio liquor program and decided to only serve three cocktails – the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan and the Flip. It changed the makeup of his patrons but it also increased patronage of the bar. He has changed some things over the years – he now has a broader cocktail list, but it is still a Bourbon bar. Joe has an excellent palate and often picks single barrels for the bar. He is very knowledgeable and keeps his staff well trained in all matters Bourbon. The atmosphere is very friendly and the antique bar, stained glass light shades and an attractive bar mirror make you feel like you just stepped into a 19th-century tavern.
These are my top five favorite bars. There are many other bars I love to visit for a drink, but I have decided to keep this list to my top five. Other places that could have made this list are The Silver Dollar, Dish on Market, The Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar, The Miller House, The Raven Club, Lilly’s Bistro, The Flatiron Room, The Brandy Library and Match Cigar Bar to name a few. The number and quality of such bars is growing and the future is bright for Bourbon enthusiasts who want to visit a place for a good bourbon.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl, Rosemary Miller, Michael Veach, and Delilah’s