The perfect beer bar. It has Heady Topper and every Russian River seasonal on tap. There’s an excellent beer garden out back with a bonfire and lawn darts. Yes, lawn darts.
The bartenders all have PHD’s in hopology management. They’re so smart, that they gauge your mood based on your gait and facial expressions and have the perfect beer waiting for you when you sit down at the bar. Half the time, it’s a new beer you’ve never tried. And they’re hot.
Nobody’s a snob. Well, there’s one dude that’s kind of lame, but he always brings homemade pretzels and fancy mustard his wife crushes by hand for everyone, so you let him slide.
The perfect beer bar goes beyond the traditional beer/food pairings, and offers all sorts of innovative couplings: Imperial stout and bike jousting. Hefeweizens and hot stone massages.
The perfect beer bar texts you first when they get a new seasonal on tap. Before they even update their Facebook page. There’s always a grilled cheese food truck parked out front.
The perfect beer bar is within walking distance of your home and your office. And they have an intern that takes you home in a pedi-cab pulled by a moped.
There’s no dancing in the perfect beer bar—unless it’s break dancing.
The perfect beer bar isn’t really a brewery, but they do brew one small batch beer that’s not on the menu, and only served to their favorite customers. Just you and maybe six other people.
We’re not sure if the perfect beer bar exists, but we know there are some great beer bars out there doing their best, with crazy smart bartenders offering thoughtful, well-curated beer lists in fun, low-stress environments. We’ve pooled the Paste brain trust—reader suggestions, staff recommendations, editorial favorites—and developed our list of the 40 Best Beer Bars in America. They probably don’t have lawn darts, but on second thought, that’s probably for the best.
What we’d order on tap: Avondale Vanillaphant Porter
The pour: Alabama’s craft beer scene is blossoming after a change in beer laws, and breweries new and old turn to the J. Clyde Hot Rock Tavern and Alehouse to peddle their brew.
What we’d order on tap:
The pour: Ostensibly a pizza joint, this pub near The University of Arizona has 46 taps and draft prices to match a college budget. $5.50 for 16 oz. of Nitro Milk Stout? There might just be money left for a pie.
Toronado (San Francisco)
What we’d order on tap:
Pliny the Elder?
The pour: California is blessed with some great breweries, and their beers often occupy more than half of the nearly 50 taps at San Francisco’s Toronado. It’s a dive bar—cash only, not much in the way of food, metal music on the juke box—but the selection of American beer is nearly unmatched. And now, there’s a Toronado in San Diego too.
The Monk’s Kettle (San Francisco)?
What we’d order on tap: The 2007 Samichlaus Doppelbock Braurei Schloss, which is cellared to age at the pub.
The pour: As amazing as the beer selection is, The Monk’s Kettle has made a name for itself as a foodie heaven.
The Trappist (Oakland)
What we’d order on tap: St. Bernardus Christmas ?
The pour:The Trappist is the opposite of a hole-in-the-wall. Inside the 1870s Victorian building is a pub modeled after Belgian and Dutch pubs, just like the many of the American beers they serve. And their new Provisions offers the same practically trademarked sense of upscale beer in a sparse taphouse/bottle shop.
Father’s Office (Santa Monica)
What we’d order on tap:The aged 2011 Russian River Sanctification.
The pour:The chef competes on reality TV, because, you know, it’s L.A. The beer is good (36 beers on tap), but it’s the combo of the beer and food that makes this a great beer bar.
Falling Rock Taphouse (Denver)
What we’d order on tap: Avery Old Jubilation
The pour: Falling Rock has been Denver’s favorite craft beer emporium for years. Denver is lousy with hip craft beer bars, but the newcomers haven’t been able to topple Falling Rock for King of the Hill status. Of the 80 taps, you’ll find plenty of Colorado beers to choose from.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Churchkey (Washington, D.C.)?
What we’d order on tap: Devils Backbone Swhwartzbier?
The pour: My favorite thing about this Capitol City beer monument is that all of their many draft beers are available in 4 oz. servings, meaning I could sample seven different Mikkeller Single-Hop IPAs for $28. If President Obama is going to learn about good beer, someone needs to drag him here after his 33rd round of golf.
Meridian Pint (Washington, D.C.)
What we’d order on tap: Troegs Dreamweaver
The pour: Meridian only serves American craft beers, all part of their low carbon foot print mission. There’s also some composting, and most of the staff walks to work, but more importantly, the 24 taps are user friendly and the 100+ bottle list is really well curated.
Red Light Red Light (Orlando)
What we’d order on tap:
?The pour: No offense, Floridians, but it’s refreshing to find a place with this much soul in Orlando. This isn’t EPCOT Belgium; it’s an internationally acclaimed beer bar with a love for farmhouse ales and Flemish sours and 20 well-chosen taps. Just what you need after a trip to Disney World.
Brick Store Pub (Decatur, Ga.)?
What we’d order on tap: Evil Twin Hop Flood
The pour: The unofficial pub of Paste magazine, Decatur’s Brick Store introduced our editor-in-chief to the world of good beer, even before the restrictions on high gravity beer loosened in Georgia. The pub is the very beating heart of Decatur, on the downtown square, and you’re likely to see city officials, pastors, artists and businessmen all coming together on a Tuesday afternoon or a Saturday night. There are no TVs except during the World Cup, when three HD screens materialize in the Belgian Bar upstairs.
Trappeze (Athens, Ga.)?
What we’d order on tap: Duchesse de Bourgogne
The pour: Athens, Ga., supposedly has the highest per-capita number of bars of any town in the country. But you won’t find $1 Jaeger shots at Trappeze—just a bar full of beer geeks there to discover and enjoy. With nearly three dozen taps, there’s usually more than a couple extra special entries, like a pair of Mikkeller single hop beers from Denmark.
The Porter Beer Bar (Atlanta)?
What we’d order on tap: Brouwerij Bavik Petrus Pale Ale
?The pour: Some of the best pub food in Atlanta pairs with more than 300 beers, including a carefully curated draft list in the heart of Little Five Points. But then, what beer doesn’t pair well with house-made brats and Belgian fries?
What we’d order on tap: Founders Sweet Repute
?The pour: Chicago’s Hopleaf boasts a wonderful restaurant in the back, but I’ve never found reason to travel past the bar in the front room, where the draft list is full of surprises and the bottles include “aged” beers. Just be careful with that vintage Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout.
The Map Room (Chicago)?
What we’d order on tap: Three Floyds Permanent Funeral Imperial IPA
The pour: Burning the candle at both ends, The Map Room begins each morning as a coffee shop and transitions into “a traveler’s tavern” at 11 a.m. With a monthly beer school, 26 taps and a rotation of cask-conditioned ales on hand-pump, we think that transition is pretty smooth.
Twenty Tap (Indianapolis)
What we’d order on tap: Bloomington Krampus
The pour: Okay, don’t let the name fool you, there are almost 40 taps to choose from (heavy on the Midwest), most of which are under $5, and you can get halfsies for even cheaper. Think, craft beer house meets dive bar. And they serve fried cheese curds.
Holy Grale (Louisville)
What we’d order on tap: Stillwater Stateside Saison
The pour: The beer bar took over a turn of the century church in 2011, and turned it into a place of beer worship. Go for rare finds, the brewer’s brunch on Sundays, and beer geek events like Saint Sours Day. Then stay in the bar’s new bed and breakfast, the Gralehaus.
Bukowski Tavern (Cambridge)
What we’d order on tap: Lagunitas Brewing Hairy Eyeball
The pour: Right on Inman Square, Bukowski Tavern is a paean to writers like Gertrude Stein, Anais Nin and ol’ Charles B. himself, with an atmosphere to match. And, of course, the pub hosts a “Pint and Pen” essay contest each March.
The Moan and Dove (Amherst)
What we’d order on tap: Allagash Big Little Brother
The pour: Amherst may be off the beaten path, but that doesn’t mean the town doesn’t deserve a world-class beer bar. From the knowledgeable staff to the selection that includes a short list of “Nostalgia Series” beer for the less adventurous (PBR, Schlitz), they’ve got it.
Mitten Bar (Ludington)
What we’d order on tap: Harbor Brewing Hop Town Brown
The pour: All Michigan, all the time, Mitten Bar is an homage to beers produced within the Great Lakes State (aka, the mitten state).
If you’re local, become a mug member for $2 off on Wednesdays.
Hopcat (Grand Rapids)
What we’d order on tap: New Holland Monkey King
The pour: The interior of this upscale Grand Rapids pub is gorgeous, decked out with comfy chairs in the “living room” corner. And the draft list is ridiculous—from “the lawnmower” PBR to J.W. Lees’ Vintage Harvest Ale ’10.
What we’d order on tap: Fulton Sweet Child of Vine IPA
The pour:You’ve got two Republics to choose from (Seven Corners and Calhoun Square), but both have 56 taps, no TV’s, a rotating art program, and the Better Beer Society University, where you can get a legit beer education. It’ high class, without the snobbery.
What we’d order on tap: Brooklyn Fire and Ice (on cask)?
The pour: The idea of a beer pub with retro video games struck me as an amusing novelty, but Barcade takes its beer seriously. Plus it runs fully on windpower and specializes in handcrafted small-batch liquors. And who knew craft beers paired so well with games from our childhood, like Asteroids?
Blind Tiger (New York)
What we’d order on tap: Blue Mountain Blitzen?
The pour: A “blind tiger” was a term for any fake attraction that customers would pay to see in order to get their complimentary beverage when blue laws ruled the land. But craft beer is the main attraction at the Blind Tiger on Bleeker Street. And while the brewers may all look familiar, the offerings tend to the obscure, making it easy to order something you’ve never had before.
Burp Castle (New York)?
What we’d order on tap: Southern Tier 2X Stout?
The pour: “Quiet please,” says the sign on the door of the East Village’s Burp Castle. “Beer Worship in progress.” If you love beer, but don’t like big, noisy places, this is your Temple of Beer. As a Burp Castle bartender says, “Yelling would make your throat sore, and then the beer wouldn’t taste its best.”
Spuyten Duyvil (Brooklyn)?
What we’d order on tap: Freigeist Geisterzug Gose
The pour: I can’t think about the Spuyten Duyvil (pronounced Schpite & Dye’-vul, according to my friends in Brooklyn) without remembering the amazing plate of meats I had with my beverages. But the beer list lives up to the “rare and obscure” boasting with more beers from the Netherlands than the U.S. of A.
The Stag’s Head (New York)
What we’d order on tap: Keegan’s Mothers Milk
The pour: I wasn’t aware of The Stag’s Head—or, frankly, the far east side of Midtown—until the pub contacted us about a party celebrating Paste’s 25 Best American Breweries. Impressively they had the vast majority on tap for the celebration, which was only mildly dampened by the blizzard that hit New York. Since then, the lodge-style bar has reached near permanent status on the perennial best beer bar lists that magazines are prone to create, and deservedly so.