Mapped: The Best Beer Bars in the USA.

USA

According to some people, these are the best beer bars in the contiguous USA. Granted, I took this list from a 2010 publication of Beer Magazine (I think), so it may be a bit dated, but you can’t manufacture historical whimsy, so at least some of these must still be right. I have only visited those with a blue label, so there’s much to look forward too.

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Candidate #14- The Alehouse, Reading, England.

Reading, the ‘Paris of The Thames’*. All that French Rococo and Neo-classicism can really make a person thirsty.

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Pubs in London don’t have to try very hard- there’re so many people, they’ll get the custom and pay the bills, resulting in an effusion of vanilla (or mauve) pubs cynically decorated with purchases from pubulike.co.uk (bar 4-5 exceptions. But that’s not many for 12 million people). So take the train to the provinces where customer loyalty is important, and enjoy all the benefits that engenders.

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One only needs to go twenty minutes away to Reading, where The Alehouse can be found hiding in plain sight on a commercial street. It’s full of all the sorts of people you’d expect in a real ale pub, and they indulge in a real community feel.

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The tap rotation is extraordinary (see beer labels just about everywhere) with 5 guests at any one time, and they are brilliantly kept. There are even a few choice foreign imports outside of the obvious: Belgoo, St Bernadus and Maredsous, for example. Also, Zero Degrees has a branch in Reading, so there are at least two reasons visit.

Venue: 8/10

Brilliant partitioning to maximise space. Unfortunately, its still in Reading.

Beer: 8/10

Great ales and choice internationals. Evidently, the tap rotation is vast.

Worthy? Yes

A gem on a faceless high street.

 

*Said no one, ever.

134. The Bell, Aldworth, Berkshire, England

Some people just can’t let things go. Like pubs; The Bell Inn has been in the same family for five generations: more than 250 years. Take that, inheritance tax.

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Many British pubs look quaint and akin to a film set from the outside, but are all too often trashed by tasteless interior renovations that currently seem to involve painting the walls ivory or mauve and filling two-thirds of the place with shiny mass produced furniture and calling it a ‘restaurant’. The Bell doesn’t subscribe to this nonsense. The interior seems to be vaguely centred around a wooden cubicle of sorts, from which the staff serve you through a window; the menu is a series of paper notes haphazardly affixed to the walls.

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The Bell is the proud winner of the 1997 Best Sandwich Pub Award (which is a thing, apparently). For a mere £3.50, you can chose a warmed roll stuffed with a doorstop of goats cheese and a side of olives, or a hearty handmade soup.

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Aldworth, the village which The Bell serves, has approximately 8 houses. I visited for the lunchtime opening slot (it closes in the afternoon, just like in yore) and every single resident and their friends must have stopped by since it was bustling. The next nearest village has four houses, and the local ‘town’ (maybe 100 houses and a Post Office) is over an hour walk away. There are no busses. No phone signal, and a phone box that doesn’t take cash but gladly accepts BT Phonecards, whatever they are. So just quite where all these people came from I don’t know. The 1940s, probably.

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Half of the pub is the old tap room and features a set of long benches for packing in large groups and making new (old) friends. The best seat (above photo) is in a recess that used to be the fireplace.

Best stay inside.

Best stay inside.

The Gents toilets are worth a mention: one literally relieves oneself on the wall outside, exposed to the elements, only a wooden fence separating your back from the car park. Efficient use of space.

Venue: 10/10

The definition of ‘real pub’.

Beer: 7.5/10

Small range, but still diverse and, of course, well-kept.

Worthy? Yes

Stands out amongst even the top tier.

Candidate #13- The Free Press, Cambridge, UK.

The Free Press is the pub that Cambridge deserves. This college town is both cosy and strikingly imposing. After walking the grounds of Trinity College and gawking at the cathedral of Kings College, it’d be a real shame to have to refresh yourself at Wetherspoons.

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The Free Press is not a proud, lonely bastion either. Cambridge has a bunch of great pubs, if you know where to look: even one famous for the discovery of the DNA double helix (beer makes you smart). But I always end up here at some point.

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Hogwarts Academy for the Wealthy and Privileged.

 

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It’s cosy and dark, so in wintertime it excels. There is a little section of the pub mostly screened-off and large enough for just one table, which you will be lucky to find free, and the roof of this dominion is pasted with old newspaper clippings from monumental events in history: Royal weddings, State funerals.

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The range of ales is more than a sessions worth, unless you are really committed, and even the pumps look cool. The service has been great whenever I’ve visited too. Without being uncomfortably busy, this place is no secret, so even lunchtimes can be generally full. If you want a quiet pint, go for the mid-afternoon lull.

Venue: 8/10

Plenty of rustic, old-England charm, just a short walk through quaint Cambridge suburbs from the centre and colleges.

Beer: 8.5/10

Well kept, well-poured; hard to stop.

Worthy? A good call.

It’s hard not to just choose 150 British pubs, if they’re your thing.

The Best Beer Bars in the World.

A precarious, tentative, inchoate ranking of the best beer bars in the world I have visited, so far:

1. Bierproeflokaal In de Wildeman, Amsterdam, Holland 9.5/10

=2. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, London, England 9/10

=2. McSorley’s Ale House, New York, NY 9/10

=2. U Fleku, Prague, Czech Republic 9/10

=5. Falling Rock Tap House, Denver, CO 8.5/10

=5. Kelham Island Tavern, Sheffield, England 8.5/10

=5. Brouwerij ‘t Ij, Amsterdam, Holland 8.5/10

=5. Zum Uerige, Dusseldorf, Germany 8.5/10

=9. Sunset Grille & Tap, Boston, MA 8/10

=9. Charlie’s Bar, Copenhagen, Denmark 8/10

=9. The Olde Mitre Tavern, Ely Court, London, England 8/10

=9.  Nederlands Biercafe ‘t Arendsnest, Amsterdam, Holland 8/10

13. PINT Bokbierfestival, Amsterdam, Holland 7.5/10

=14. Redbones Restaurant, Somerville, MA 7/10

=14. Blind Tiger Ale House, New York, NY 7/10

16. The White Horse Pub, Parsons Green, London, England 6.5/10

=17. McMenamins Kennedy School Hotel, Portland, OR 6/10

=17. Olympen Mat og Vinhus, Oslo, Norway 6/10

=17. The Brickskeller, Washington, DC 6/10

20. The Gravity Bar, Guinness St. James Gate Brewery, Dublin, Ireland 5/10

=21. Pivovarsky Klub, Prague, Czech Republic 4.5/10

=21. Au General Lafayette, Paris, France 4.5/10

=21. The Wynkoop Brewery, Denver, CO 4.5

24. The Dubliner, Washington, DC 4/10

25. Kulminator, Antwerp, Belgium 3.5/10

=26. The Market Porter, Stoney Street, London, England 3/10

=26. Belgo Central, London, England 3/10

=28. The Publick House, Brookline, MA 2.5/10

=28. d.b.a., New York, NY 2.5/10

=30. Brauhaus Sion, Cologne, Germany 2/10

=30. Brasserie Federal (Hopbahnhof), Zurich, Switzerland 2/10

=30. Gösser Bierklinik, Vienna, Austria 2/10

33. Fruh au Dom, Cologne, Germany 1.5/10

34. Heineken Brewery, Amsterdam, Holland 0.5/10

35. Blue Moon Brewing at the SandLot, Coors Field, Denver, CO 0/10

 

Throughout, I have tried to create some sort of bell curve from the rankings: a few at the bottom of the pack, a rising amount in the middle 4-6/10 range, and then a handful of exemplary bars in a class of their own. This makes sense, because this is a (largely) thoughtfully compiled list of elite venues, so if I were to compare them to all the beer bars of the world, then the rankings would almost always be 8, 9 or 10 out of ten, and therefore unilluminating.

 

 

 

104. McSorley’s Ale House, New York, NY

Step back in time: before ruining a good old pub with plastic tables and blank walls went by the insidious name of ‘gentrification’, before every beer had a comically large handle to thrust their advertising in your field of vision even once you have ordered their damn Rocky Mountain water-brewed beer and before women were allowed in (their motto was once “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies”. You can still get the onions.) and forced us to re-invent our public house etiquette (OK, not so much that one).

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Staggeringly, not at all ruined by the ‘cool kids’ (count the beards below: very few).

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The walls are the end-product of years of collecting and hanging all sort of excellent crap: former presidents, flags, pins, and never removing anything since 1910. And underneath, some fine, dark, probably original, wooden panelling.

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McSorely’s is the oldest ale tavern in New York City, probably dating back to 1861, and as such sustains a few myths and legends. One that may be true is that the wishbones hung behind the bar were placed there by soldiers on their way to WWI, to be removed upon their return.

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The usual suspects of literary figures are thought to have drunk here: Hunter S. Thompson, E. E. Cummings, Brendan Behan et al., and a roll of presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, and also a guy called William Tweed, who used to own the third most land in NYC and chose to spend much of his time on this bit. But don’t listen to them, listen to Beckiboo1983 on TripAdvisor who had her feelings hurt by the bar staff and didn’t like it, so she gave the whole place a 1 out of 5. Because what Beckiboo1983 doesn’t know about customer rotation, the cut-throat line between profit and loss in prime Manhattan real estate without the spongy cushion of outlandish food profit margins, about continuing an 150 year old legacy, about the festering languishing of tourists for an hour over each drink and forcing other cash-filled tourists to walk on by, well, what Beckiboo1983 doesn’t know about that, frankly, isn’t worth knowing.

Venue: 10/10

Resisting gentrification since 1854 (and women, until 1970).

Beer: 8/10

Enjoy the simplicity of their options: dark or light.

Worthy? Yes.

As trite as this sounds: it’s an institution.

 

127. The White Horse Pub, Parsons Green, London, England

The White Horse Pub is in the garden of London- Fulham. After a few stops hemmed-in on the underground, accountants and actuaries emerge after a busy day of sitting into a leafy suburb. A short stroll brings you out on Parsons Green, where the White Horse Pub sits proudly.

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There can be a certain uniformity to London pubs (Health & Safety Codes?). I get the feeling that The White Horse Pub is so close to an excellent interior, but the manager’s imagination is shackled by the need to accommodate the huge amount of foot-traffic and certain idiosyncrasies Londoners have come to expect. The outdoor area is fantastic- not simply a post-smoking ban renovated yard, but an open area overlooking a park with a guy grilling meat over an open flame. This works.

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But let’s get down to business: beer. They are certainly not shy. The offerings include a decent selection of traditional draft ales, of course, and also a bold range of international (in style or origin) beers served from the right pumps, at the right temperatures, in the right glasses. They get this very right indeed, better than anywhere else I’ve seen in London (happy to be proven wrong, of course).

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Not everyone enjoys beer and instead orders Fosters or Heineken or some other interchangeable yak piss. A publican can’t really avoid this without taking a hit (although the novelty might work in London?). Thankfully, The White Horse Pub have gone for a lager of real quality- Pilsner Urquell. Sometimes, an ale isn’t what you need (as you kick back on your yacht in the sun after a jog up the beach), and lager is the necessary thirst-quencher. Urquell is the boss.

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Venue: 5/10

Clean, undeniably, but perhaps to its detriment. The interior lacks that indefinable charm which so many others hold. Good outdoor space with grill.

Beer: 8/10

London doesn’t seem to understand foreign beers (or care?), but The White Horse Pub puts in a great show, without neglecting local local brews. World-class.

Worthy? Close.

I’m not sure you can unequivocally beat this international beer selection in London, but the décor is a little too spartan.

31. d.b.a., New York, NY

A largely unconvincing entry. It’s just a bar.

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Filled on a Saturday night with yuppies and and shirted gents, barely a scenester in sight. I’m not sure what that is indicative of, perhaps that they have given it up for the masses. They probably weren’t particularly sad to see it leave.

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I might sound harsh; after all, they serve beer. But from the range to the decor, there is nothing extraordinary. Nothing that lets it hold a candle to the 150 best beer bars in the world, or even a bunch of others in the same city.

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Things on draft that don’t work on draft- Old Speckled Hen on nitro cask anyone? Thought not. It’s embarrasing to think this is what American’s think English ale tastes like. People have probably supped it and said ‘Nah, bro, I don’t really like English ale’. You are doing us a disservice.

Venue: 2/10

Maybe it suffered for being a Saturday night, but I felt very little rapport for the place. Would not like to idle away hours in here.

Beer: 3/10

Nothing exceptional.

Worthy? No

Vanilla.

144. The Dubliner, Washington, DC

The Dubliner seems to be an institution in DC, but it wouldn’t really stand-out in Ireland. Since this is a global list, it seems hard to justify this inclusion.

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In truth, the dive-bar Irish pub right next door was much more affable and relaxed and had a better beer selection AND live music too.

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On a summer night such as on my visit, the expansive outdoor seating is a boon, and the close proximity to the station  adds to the appealing location, especially for a swift half between trains or a first port of call after a long journey. I imagine it is popular with the suited 5-o-Clock-finisher’s from the surrounding downtown offices.

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The interior is split into two: restaurant and bar, the latter of which offers a long row of stools, sports on tv and attentive bar staff to help you while away some hours. But so does next door.

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Yes, that’s a lager served in a Guinness glass in the background. Come on people.

 

Venue: 5/10

Nothing extraordinary for Ireland, but a real good effort for the States.

Beer: 3/10

Very decent Guinness for this side of the pond, but a very limited selection otherwise.

Worthy? No.

From an American history perspective, perhaps. But not for the beer.

72. Blind Tiger Ale House, New York, NY

West Village, New York, a new beer movement.

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No more ostentatious tap handles, faux-craft beer (here’s looking at you, Sam), and well beer Wednesdays. Blind Tiger will guide you through the excellent emerging United Statian craft beer world. It could be argued that Blind Tiger not only predates the real beer movement, but was already a local institution whilst localised, craft brewing was but a twinkle in the hipster’s bourgeois eye.

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27 taps is not enormous for the States (Sunset Grille & Tap has 112), but it represents at least a days (ahem) effort. Europe is much more bottle-centric (400+ in Belgium is not uncommon; you need more like 800 to stand out, like Kulminator, Antwerp), so for Jonny foreigner, this array of taps is bewildering in all the right ways.

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Spot the hipster.

A fantastic quirk of Blind Tiger is the countdown to the tapping of a new brew: when I was there, the chalk board told me that at 5pm, a new saison will be opened for sale. Given that I decided to wait a few hours for this, I can’t remember exactly what this tasted like. Since I had been on a summer wheat/fruit beer binge, I think the saison fitted perfectly with my contemporary needs.

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If I’m being honest, which I’d rather not since I really liked this place, the layout of the venue needs some thought. I understand that space is at a premium in Manhattan, but Blind Tiger is bigger than many pubs in the Netherlands. The problem here is the large space in the middle, leftover from the awkward high tables by the window and the low slung benches by the wall. Maybe people can accumulate and drink vertically during peak times, but here you will find yourself clumsily in the way. A seat by the bar is a fine thing though.

A special nod must go out to the staff. On both visits, they were excellent and patient, despite being borderline understaffed the second time, with something of a Rain Man memory.

Venue: 6/10

A seat around the bar is an optimum place to sit, otherwise the void in the middle seems like a waste of space.

Beer: 8/10

Countdowns to new beer tappings? Brilliant. The staff are happy to showcase an excellent knowledge and passion, too.

Worthy? Yes

A bar for real connoisseurs, which doesn’t exude esoteric pretentiousness, unlike this sentence.