Once upon a time, whiskey was the currency of cowboys and grandfathers. Then the story changed. Over the past two decades, Scotch, bourbon and Irish whiskey have become some of the fastest growing spirits in the world.
In the United States, it has become increasingly easy to find bars specializing in uisce beatha. (That’s Gaelic for “water of life” and the source of the word “whiskey”). Most feature bartenders who work in a sommelier-like capacity to answer questions and offer suggestions that best suit your preferences. Here are some of the best spots to slake your whiskey thirst. And curiosity.
Brandy Library: New York, New York
There’s a casual elegance that pervades the Brandy Library, which opened in 2004, earning it the badge of first whiskey bar in New York. (As legend has it, owner Flavien Desoblin christened it “Brandy Library” instead of “Whiskey Library” because when he opened the place, whiskey wasn’t a fraction as cool as it is now and he worried it might turn people away.)
Brandy Library, in the posh Tribeca neighborhood, is a full-immersion experience. Shelves line several walls in the sepia-toned, living-room-like bar. Add to that copper lighting fixtures inspired by liquor stills and a gorgeous leather-bound menu arranged by region, and you have a Mecca-level destination worth a pilgrimage.
Silver Dollar: Louisville, Kentucky
There are many reasons to visit the Silver Dollar. Architecture junkies will be intrigued by how this 1890 fire house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was transformed into one of Louisville’s hippest hangouts. (Yes, the fire pole is still standing.)
Music-lovers will appreciate how it stands as a tribute the Bakersfield Sound, the classic country music style credited to Buck Owens, who, in the 1950s, infused Nashville’s popular swinging country with the strumming Mexican conjunto music he discovered in his local California bars. The fact that bartenders play country music on vinyl only elevates the vintage vibe. Similarly, the southern regional cuisine on the menu has a spicy Mexican accent. And then, of course, there is the American whiskey, which is in no shortage here in the bourbon capital of the world.
Jack Rose Dining Saloon: Washington, DC
The Jack Rose is less whisky bar and more whisky kingdom, of sorts, offering a range of environments for imbibing in Washington, DC’s, vibrant Adam’s Morgan neighborhood. The main bar and dining room is a handsome dark-wood-and-leather affair lightened with soaring ceilings, tall windows, and a marble bar. Those high ceilings are necessary to house the nearly 2700 brands of whiskey, many of which are accessible to the bartenders only by ladder.
Not sure what you like? No pressure, you can buy anything as a half-ounce pour here so go on and experiment. Upstairs is a seasonal tiki bar as well as an open-air terrace with a bar of its own featuring a barbecue pit area equipped with heat lamps so you can chill out in the winter. Speaking of barbecue, food here leans southern and hearty, with fried green tomatoes and cornmeal fried oysters playing leading roles on the menu.
Seven Grand: Los Angeles, California
If there’s one thing you should know about Seven Grand, it’s that its whiskey menu is 44 pages long. Yes, 44 pages. You could say that this antique-y, dimly lit hunting-lodge-chic bar, which opened in 2007, is the antithesis of Los Angeles, where so many bars and restaurants are airy and light. Or you could argue that Seven Grand is quintessentially LA, what with its transportive movie-set-like ambiance, complete with details like mounted deer heads and vintage furniture.
Regardless, it claims the biggest whiskey collection in the West, making it an attraction for aficionados and the whisky-curious. The whiskey list does soar to super-premium heights, but the vibe here is very down-to-earth. (See: pool tables, live music.) And for those in-the-know, there’s Jackelope, an intimate Japanese-style whiskey bar tucked away in the back.
Fiori D’Italia: Anchorage, Alaska
When an earthquake struck Anchorage, Alaska, in 2018, many of whiskey bottles from the collection of more than 400 at Fiori d’Italia hit the ground and shattered. Building the collection had been an ongoing pursuit for the young bar manager Ylli Ferati, whose family owns and runs the discreetly tucked-away Italian restaurant. But thanks to his perseverance and vast industry connections, he was able to rebuild the biggest whiskey selection in Alaska.
The restaurant, which is owned and run by Ylli’s parents, immigrants from Macedonia, is decidedly old-school Italian, and while they do indeed have a wine list, Ylli encourages exploring whiskey pairings with the food, a fine way to understand the spirit’s universal appeal.
Multnomah Whiskey Library: Portland, Oregon
There is a good chance that you’ll stop in your tracks the first time you walk into the Multnomah Whiskey Library in downtown Portland, Oregon, and behold its grandeur. True to its name, it’s set up as like a library reading room, complete with long tables and desktop-style lamps. But don’t expect quiet contemplation here. After all, its shelves are not packed with books, but with about 2,000 bottles of whiskey, plus a healthy assortment of rum, tequila and cognac.
If cocktails are your preference, you’re in for a treat: the service here involves a dedicated bartender who takes the order at your table and makes the cocktail tableside. While not a speakeasy, its entrance is a tad discreet, so stay on the lookout for the “Whisky Library” sign. And pro tip: It’s a spacious place and very popular, so arrive early to get your name on the list.
Delilah’s: Chicago, Illinois
For many years, the term “whiskey bar” conjured up images of high-end fusty affairs. The recent bourbon boom has made brown water a more democratic drink, but before bourbon became a hipster spirit, there was Delilah’s, which stood out – and continues to gather fans – for the way it uniquely captures whiskey’s freewheeling, rock’n’roll soul.
This Chicago hangout has a dive-y vibe, complete with weathered banquettes, Christmas lights, and live rock bands. You’ll find as much pretension here as you might in your local CVS. Yet the global whiskey selection is world-class and the bartenders can each provide a thorough whiskey education.
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St. Augustine, Florida - Coolest Small Town 2023
42 miles southeast of JacksonvillePopulation: 15,415 (est. 2020) As the oldest continuously inhabited city in the US, St. Augustine is rich in history and culture. Visitors can explore the historic downtown area, visit the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, and take a scenic boat tour of the nearby waterways. The town also has many beaches and outdoor activities, including kayaking and fishing. Cool facts about St. Augustine St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European-founded settlement in the United States, dating back to 1565.The town has a rich history, with many well-preserved Spanish colonial-era buildings and landmarks.St. Augustine is home to the "Fountain of Youth," a legendary spring that supposedly has the power to restore youth and vitality.According to onlyinyourstate.com, the town is home to the Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century fort that is said to be haunted by several spirits, including a Spanish soldier, a Native American woman, and a group of Seminole prisoners. Also Seen in… Burn Notice Poster - imdb.com "Burn Notice" (2007-2013) - a TV series that was set and partially filmed in Miami but features many scenes filmed in St. Augustine, including the historic Castillo de San Marcos fort. Best Time to Visit Best Time to Visit St. Augustine - Weatherspark.com The best time to visit St. Augustine is from March to May when the temperatures are warm, the flowers are in bloom, and the crowds are smaller. Budget for a long weekend Budget for a 4-day getaway with hotel, one good restaurant, and one activity: $606 3 nights at the Casablanca Inn On The Bay (3-star): $510 - Find more hotel deals at KAYAK!Dinner for 2 at The Floridian: $60St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum admission for 2: $36 Note: Prices vary depending on the time of year, availability, etc. Follow on Social Media Courtesy of St Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau Like St. Augustine’s Facebook page and realize that you don’t have to go all the way to the Caribbean islands to enjoy gorgeous beaches. You can get all that fun in the sun, art and culture, world-class cuisine and amazing history right there in St. Augustinis! Also checkout their Instagram profile to see gorgeous images & learn about events at Florida's Historic Coast! #staugustine Discover St. Augustine CARD WIDGET HERE Budget Travel's Coolest Small Towns in 2023 This year, we've elevated this important editorial feature and revamped our approach. Read the announcement and main article here. Bar Harbor, MaineBisbee, ArizonaFranklin, TennesseeGrand Marais, MinnesotaPort Townsend, WashingtonSedona, ArizonaSt. Augustine, FloridaTaos, New MexicoTraverse City, MichiganWoodstock, Vermont Honorable Mention: Asheville, North Carolina
Port Townsend, Washington - Coolest Small Town 2023
45 miles northwest of SeattlePopulation: 9.735 (est. 2020) Located on the Olympic Peninsula in western Washington, Port Townsend is a scenic town with many historic buildings and a thriving arts scene. Visitors can tour the historic Fort Worden State Park, visit local art galleries and shops, and explore nearby beaches and hiking trails. Cool facts about Port Townsend Port Townsend is a Victorian-era seaport town with many well-preserved 19th-century buildings and a lively arts scene.The town is located on the Olympic Peninsula, making it a popular destination for outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, and kayaking.Port Townsend is home to Fort Worden State Park, a former military installation that is now a popular recreational area.According to seattlereafined.com, Palace Hotel hosts a few permanent guests who come out at night to mingle with the living - the most famous story is the Lady in Blue. Also Seen in… Off The Map Poster - imdb.com "Off the Map" (2003) - a drama film that was partially filmed in Port Townsend and showcased the town's beautiful Victorian architecture and natural scenery. Best Time to Visit Best Time to Visit Port Townsend - Weatherspark.com The best time to visit Port Townsend is from June to September when the weather is sunny and mild, and there are many outdoor activities to enjoy. Budget for a long weekend Budget for a 4-day getaway with hotel, one good restaurant, and one activity: $528 3 nights at the Palace Hotel (3-star): $450 - Find more hotel deals at KAYAK!Dinner for 2 at Sirens Pub: $50Port Townsend Marine Science Center admission for 2: $28 Note: Prices vary depending on the time of year, availability, etc. Follow on Social Media Courtesy of Enjoy Port Townsend Go to Port Townsend’s Facebook Page to learn more about its fascinating history, admire its Victorian architecture, and maritime legacy. Their Instagram profile reflects the charm of this village-by-the-sea, its artistic soul, and world-class culinary venues. #porttownsend Discover Port Townsend CARD WIDGET HERE Budget Travel's Coolest Small Towns in 2023 This year, we've elevated this important editorial feature and revamped our approach. Read the announcement and main article here. Bar Harbor, MaineBisbee, ArizonaFranklin, TennesseeGrand Marais, MinnesotaPort Townsend, WashingtonSedona, ArizonaSt. Augustine, FloridaTaos, New MexicoTraverse City, MichiganWoodstock, Vermont Honorable Mention: Asheville, North Carolina
Franklin, Tennessee - Coolest Small Town 2023
20 miles south of NashvillePopulation: 83,454 (est. 2020) Franklin is a charming city located in Williamson County, Tennessee. It is known for its rich history, beautiful architecture, and vibrant downtown area. The city has a small-town feel with big-city amenities. Franklin is home to many unique shops, restaurants, and attractions that make it a great place to visit. Some of the popular attractions include the Lotz House Museum, Carnton Plantation, and the Franklin Theatre. The city also hosts many events throughout the year such as the Main Street Festival and the Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival. Cool facts about Franklin The population of Franklin has grown more than 500 percent since 1980 when the city began a commercial and residential boom.The small town of Franklin in 1799 was established and named for… yes! Benjamin Franklin.It has a vibrant music scene, lively festivals, and historic main street. Restorations and upgrades are happening as you read this. Most notably, there’s a major renovation of the Factory at Franklin (stores and restaurants).Local author Allen Sircy has compiled Franklin’s spookies ghost stories in his book Southern Ghost Stories Franklin, Tennessee. Also Seen in… At Close Range Poster - imdb.com "At Close Range” (1986). While the movie depicted incidents in Chester County and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, many scenes were actually filmed in Franklin, Tennessee. And yes, it also appeared in Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009). Best Time to Visit Best Time to Visit Franklin - Weatherspark.com The best time to visit Franklin is from April to June, or later in the Fall. But if you’re looking for the very warmest time, go in August for an average of 93º F and steamy nights at 70º F. Budget for a long weekend Budget for a 4-day getaway with hotel, one good restaurant, and one activity: $960 3 nights at The Harpeth Franklin Downtown, Curio Collection by Hilton (4-star): $915 (however, the Hyatt Place in Cool Springs (3-star) is about $375 and only 6 minutes away). - Find more hotel deals at KAYAK!Dinner for 2 at Puckett’s Historic Downtown: $45Franklin Battlefield: A National Historic Landmark and the site of one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles: FREE, donations appreciated. Note: Prices vary depending on the time of year, availability, etc. Follow on Social Media Franklin - Courtesy of Visit Franklin Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned Franklin adventurer, check out their Facebook Page for essential resources and up-to-date information about events. Their Instagram account showcases the charm, history, and people of this Cool Small Town. #visitfranklin Discover Franklin CARD WIDGET HERE Budget Travel's Coolest Small Towns in 2023 This year, we've elevated this important editorial feature and revamped our approach. Read the announcement and main article here. Bar Harbor, MaineBisbee, ArizonaFranklin, TennesseeGrand Marais, MinnesotaPort Townsend, WashingtonSedona, ArizonaSt. Augustine, FloridaTaos, New MexicoTraverse City, MichiganWoodstock, Vermont Honorable Mention: Asheville, North Carolina
Woodstock, Vermont - Coolest Small Town 2023
100 miles northwest of BostonPopulation: 3,048 (est. 2020) Nestled in the Green Mountains of central Vermont, Woodstock is a picturesque New England town with many historic buildings and charming shops and restaurants. Visitors can tour the Billings Farm & Museum, hike in nearby Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, and browse the town's many art galleries and antique shops. Cool facts about Woodstock Woodstock is a picturesque New England town with many historic buildings and charming shops and restaurants.The town is known for its covered bridges, including the famous Middle Bridge and Taftsville Bridge.Woodstock is home to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, which preserves the history and natural beauty of the area.According to woodstocktv.com, the town has a haunted history of vampires and ghosts. One of the most famous stories is about a family who exhumed their son's body in 1830 to stop him from feeding on his brother. Also Seen in… White Christmas Poster - imdb.com "White Christmas" (1954) - a classic holiday movie filmed in Woodstock and featuring many of the town's charming shops and buildings. Best Time to Visit Best Time to Visit Woodstock - Weatherspark.com The best time to visit Woodstock is from June to August when the weather is warm, and the town is bustling with outdoor activities and festivals. Budget for a long weekend Budget for a 4-day getaway with hotel, one good restaurant, and one activity: $1014 3 nights at the Woodstock Inn & Resort (4-star): $900 - Find more hotel deals at KAYAK!Dinner for 2 at the Red Rooster: $80Billings Farm & Museum admission for 2: $34 Note: Prices vary depending on the time of year, availability, etc. Follow on Social Media Courtesy of The Town of Woodstock Woodstock’s Facebook page is a window to gain local insights, get travel ideas, information, and to find out what's happening. Follow them on Instagram and get an inside look at life, locals, & lore in charming Woodstock, Vermont #woodstockvt Discover Woodstock CARD WIDGET HERE Budget Travel's Coolest Small Towns in 2023 This year, we've elevated this important editorial feature and revamped our approach. Read the announcement and main article here. Bar Harbor, MaineBisbee, ArizonaFranklin, TennesseeGrand Marais, MinnesotaPort Townsend, WashingtonSedona, ArizonaSt. Augustine, FloridaTaos, New MexicoTraverse City, MichiganWoodstock, Vermont Honorable Mention: Asheville, North Carolina