“We are seeing growth in bars specializing in higher-end beers,” says the Brewers Association. These bars have one thing in common: a “challenging” beer list that goes beyond Stella Artois and Blue Moon. Says Gatza, “A great beer bar includes a mix of local, regional and national offerings, and some mechanism for matching beers and menu items.”
These esteemed alehouses are sprouting across America, from Brooklyn’s shabby chic Spuyten Duyvil, which serves ultra-rare Belgian ales paired with fine cheese, to Seattle’s industrial-cool Brouwer’s Café, featuring homemade sausages, decadent ice cream-and-beer floats and luxe brews like the wood-aged Scaldis Prestige strong ale.
These bars have one thing in common: a “challenging” beer list that goes beyond Stella Artois and Blue Moon. Says Gatza, “A great beer bar includes a mix of local, regional and national offerings, and some mechanism for matching beers and menu items.”
Blind Tiger Ale House - New York, NY
- Grab a rare seat at this woodsy, clamorous pub, and savor enough suds to keep you cemented to your chair till 4 a.m. The focus here is strictly beer (not a drop of liquor is sold), including 32 rotating drafts, a few cask ales and a cellar featuring vintage rarities such as a Belgian-style, 2004 Ommegang Abbey aged in caves. Hungry? Order a plate from world-famous Murray’s Cheese Shop, flavor-matched to your chosen beer.
The Brickskeller - Washington, DC
- With more than 1,000 bottled beers on offer, this circa-1957 saloon’s brew list spans the alphabet, from Louisiana’s Abita Turbo Dog down to Bulgaria’s Zagorka lager. The downstairs bar features beer-barrel stools, while decorations include a veritable museum of brew cans, bottles and memorabilia—not including ancient libations aging in the basement vault, such as a 1988 Thomas Hardy’s Ale. Too tired to head home after a long tippling session? Stumble upstairs to the adjoining five-story Brickskeller Inn.
Toronado Pub - San Francisco, CA - Pooches, punk rockers and beer geeks alike congregate at this epitome of cool California pubs located in the legendary Haight-Ashbury District. Until 6 p.m. daily, this heavily stickered spot discounts most of its massive tap selection—weighted toward California treasures from the likes of the experimental Russian River Brewing Company and the brawny Bear Republic Brewery—down to $2.50. Sample to your stomach’s content, then spend your leftover bucks on several bottles of your favorite Belgian import to escort home.
Brouwer’s Cafe - Seattle, WA
- Don’t let the industrial, ex-warehouse setting intimidate you: This sleek, spacious drinkery is a sophisticated sanctuary featuring more than 60 taps, 300-plus bottles and an A-list menu that includes patés, mussels and ice cream floats filled made with Guinness or fruity Lambics. The beer list is populated with scarcities such as the super-hoppy Norrebro Bryghus North Bridge Extreme, as well as the champagne-esque Malheur Brut Reserve, an insanely carbonated splurge.
Brick Store Pub - Decatur, GA
- Deep in the heart of football and Budweiser country, the pleasantly subdued Brick Store—no neon, no blaring TVs—is an upscale oasis offering 17 craft beers on tap, including Atlanta’s unfiltered SweetWater IPA; and about 75 bottles, such as Denmark’s Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast, a double stout redolent of espresso coffee and dark chocolate. Fill up on pasta with homemade pesto before heading upstairs to the Belgian Room annex featuring more than 100 bottled beauties.
Spuyten Duyvil - Brooklyn, NY
- Obscure imports, not massive American microbrews, dominate this Eurocentric brew paradise carved from a former railroad apartment. Analyze the chalkboard for the hand-scrawled selection of the finest Belgian libations this side of the Atlantic, including spontaneously fermented Lambics and countless monk-made treasures. Paper-thin charcuterie is sliced before your eyes, paired with pungent cheeses and homemade pickles. Not sure which beer will wet your whistle? The encyclopedic bartenders will gladly offer a sample, or four.
Great Lost Bear - Portland, ME
- Maine is a craft-brewing mecca, and there’s no better place to sample the Northeast’s bounty than this nearly 30-year-old institution offering a mind-boggling 52 taps. The beers are broken down into style (from floral India pale ales to powerful stouts), and five-ounce taster glasses are available for a buck apiece. To keep from getting too pie-eyed, the kitchen serves 18 different char-grilled burgers, including the dangerously decadent French-herb cheeseburger.
Falling Rock Tap House - Denver, CO
- Coors Light has no home among this stately, brick-faced Denver saloon’s nearly six-dozen taps. Falling Rock’s expertly curated selection focuses on American microbrews, including Colorado standouts such as Oskar Blues’ creamy Dale’s Pale Ale and Avery’s high-octane Hog Heaven barleywine, as well as nuanced gems like New Belgium Brewing Company’s La Folie—the champagne-corked indulgence spent three years aging in burgundy-wine barrels, resulting in amber-hued, heavenly sour bliss.
The Publick House - Brookline, MA
- It’s two bars in one at this Massachusetts masterpiece: The Publick House caters to craft-beer fans while the Monk’s Cell offers enough Belgian brews to appease overseas drinkers. Add to this a menu featuring beer-infused foods—such as mussels in an Allagash White broth or a rib-eye with Arrogant Bastard Ale butter—and brew fans are well-sated long after last call.
Hopleaf Bar - Chicago, IL
- Windy City hops-heads flock to this TV-free alehouse with grub that’s as classy as the quaffs. Beer-braised rabbit legs, venison meatloaf and Flemish stew are ideal accompaniments for selections from the sprawling 13-page, globe-spanning beer list. Midwest outfits (including robust Alpha King Ale from Indiana’s 3 Floyds and hometown heroes Goose Island’s muscular Bourbon County Stout) are offered beside German wheat beers and big bottles of farmhouse ales ideal for sharing with fellow drinkers.