Whiskey-focused—or, rather, whiskey-appreciative—bars can seem a dime a dozen these days. But if you’re looking for something a little different, never fear. These are some (relatively) new kids on the block and under-the-radar favorites that will take your brown liquor sipping experience to an entirely different level, whether through a stellar playlist or the addition of ice cream.
When the day comes that you feel yourself inching over the line from bourbon lover to bourbon obsessive, it’s time to start planning a pilgrimage to Gamlin Whiskey House in St. Louis. Like a sports team where every player is star material, the roster of whiskeys is not only meticulously curated but mind-bogglingly deep. The bar also isn’t afraid to push the envelope when it comes to whiskey cocktails, from an entire category of drinks known as Champiskey (Champagne and whiskey) to ice-cream-anchored whiskey desserts like the Coffee & Cream, which pairs Rebel Yell whiskey and crème de cacao with coffee and vanilla ice cream cubes.
With leather-and-dark-wood décor inspired by Chicago’s former Whiskey Row, Baptiste & Bottle has been luring in bourbon enthusiasts since opening inside the Conrad Chicago hotel in November 2016. While classic bourbon-based cocktails and newfangled concoctions are plentiful, it’s the Bourbon Baron Program that draws in whiskey nerds looking for a certificate of, um, “achievement” for their tippling enthusiasm and the ability to score a few free bottles along the way as they level up.
Come for the bourbon, stay for the jukebox at The Pearl of Germantown, where Louisville “whiskey by the drink” slinger Larry Rice has built quite possibly the perfect neighborhood bar. Opened in late summer of 2016, there’s a decidedly throwback feel (think: hodgepodge décor and retro movie posters) that extends all the way down to the drink prices, and single-barrel offerings are never in short supply. Oh, and that amazing jukebox stacked with Merle and Motown? It’s free to play.
For whiskey drinkers at Portland, Ore.’s Bit House Saloon, it’s all about two things: brilliant plays on the classic Boilermaker (shot and a beer combo) and some ingenious Old Fashioneds. If you’re trying to find a method to your madness, work through the menu like so: Try the Bit House Boilermaker (Bit House ale and J.T.S. Brown bourbon) followed by the Make It So (Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition whiskey and WhiskyBack Red ale), then end the night with the Ace of Spades Old Fashioned, which combines Jack Daniel’s, apple-smoked cola syrup and house-made Motorhead bitters. Oh, and have Lyft on speed dial.
When The Watergate Hotel reopened its doors after extensive renovations last year, there were plenty of bells and whistles to coo over. For imbibers, though, the new bar festooned with illuminated walls featuring 2,500(!) whiskey bottles stole the show. Beyond the swanky ambiance, though, The Next Whisky Bar has set out to distinguish itself in a city rich with bourbon-loving spots by keeping things top-shelf but simple: choose a whiskey, choose an ice (if that’s your thing) and get ready for a healthy two-ounce pour among the amber glow. Our recommendation? The Yippie Ki-Yay, a syrah and vermouth cask rye from High West Distillery.
The self-described “guardians of fine whiskey” at Julep take their work seriously: Whiskey flights are thoughtfully curated, whiskey tastings are organized regularly, and whiskey storage lockers are available for housing your most precious bottles for safe drinking. Heck, whiskey is even written on their window out front. A stellar back bar means that it’s hard to go wrong, and curious ingredients like pickled peppers often wind their way into bourbon-based concoctions. But on your first visit, swing for the fences and try the Ultimate Old Fashioned, made with Julep’s private WhistlePig 10-year-old single barrel.
Mixing your cocktail