Great drinks don’t always come from big bars. In fact, the smaller the venue, the better your chance of striking up a conversation with the bartender or the person next to you. Bay Area food writer and chef Illyanna Maisonet compares going to a small bar to seeing a band at a tiny club. “It’s way more intimate,” she says. “It’s like your own little nook.”
We scoured this vast nation for its littlest gems and think these six bars might just be the smallest in the country. But, hey, they’re big on personality.
Amor y Amargo (New York City)
One of New York City’s best bars is also one of its smallest. This place doesn’t even call itself a bar but a “bitters tasting room.” Every cocktail on the menu, as you would expect, boasts a distinct bitterness. While you will probably end up standing, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy your CIA, a creation by bartender Sother Teague containing Cynar, Punt e Mes and apple brandy.
M Bar (Portland, Oregon)
M Bar has been open for almost 20 years, although it can’t be from the foot traffic: It’s not easy to spot from the street. The banquette seating forces intimacy and doesn’t allow for even two-dozen people to sit comfortably, but the wine bar offers well-priced pours selected by owner and advanced sommelier Jeremy Campbell.
The Matchbox (Chicago)
Trust the name of Chicago’s tiniest bar, which clocks in at a snug 460 square feet. You can also trust in the bartenders, who know their stuff and mix pitch-perfect classic cocktails. The Matchbox has been operating for more than half a century, though its current incarnation has been going since 1995. Follow the locals, who pop in for after-work drinks and grab a seat outside if the weather allows.
The Mayflower (New York City)
Good luck trying to find this under-the-radar date spot. The entrance is through a small door off to the side of the Italian restaurant Aita, making it the perfect place to wait for a table before dinner. But the drinks are superb by their own right, despite the tiny backbar. You’ll likely find a locally made aperitivo or gin, and there are a couple nooks where guests are known to smooch it out. So look before you creep.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
Pop’s Liquor Cabinet (San Diego)
As advertised, this place is not much larger than a cupboard. You have to reserve a stool because it’s only 157 square feet and the capacity maxes out at 12. Even the bartenders have to hop over the bar just to get behind the stick. The cash-only spot does have a photo booth, though, and is well worth stuffing yourself inside.
Smallest Bar (Key West, Florida)
They didn’t think too hard about the name of this one, the tiniest watering hole in Key West, Florida. At 72 square feet, its website boasts of it being “about the size of a jail cell.” Expect a heavy dose of tropical vibes, of course, and plenty of drinks with rum and juice. And if home feels a little too far away, book a room at its guest house. (Don’t worry, the beds are normal size.)