THE BEST BARS IN ATLANTA RIGHT NOW
In Atlanta, it’s a known fact that bars come and go faster than a Soundcloud rapper’s career. And depending on how you feel about said bar, that may not be a bad thing. But there’s something special about the ATL bars that can withstand the test of time and trends. They represent us as a community. A place to grab a pint and hold court on anything from MARTA to how bad our drivers are, and frankly, that’ll never change.
That’s why we’ve created this list. It’s a handy, regularly updated guide to where you should be drinking and why. You’ll find bars both old and new here that run the gamut of low-key cocktail lounges perfect for a date to raucous dives where you should bring your cousin Tevin from out of town who, for some unknown reason, still drinks Goldschläger. The next round’s definitely on him...
OLD 4TH WARD
ATL’s favorite bar to commiserate over politics
The crowd at this recently renovated, famously Democratic, 60-year-old political watering hole may have been on the sadder side of drinking as the Election Night 2016 results came in, but that doesn’t mean Manuel’s won’t survive many local, state, and federal political movements for years to come -- they'll always be ready with a standard, un-fancy cocktail and plenty of Poncey-Highland tradition.
A beautifully bluesy bar for fun, dirty drinking
In a boxy space that looks almost literally like a hole in the wall, Northside Tavern stands in bluesy, smoky, dirty opposition to every newly developed property along Howell Mill and throughout the greater westside area. The amazingly strong drinks don’t get fancier than two or three ingredients, but that’s only because the booze is basically an accomplice to the live blues and dirty dancing you’ll either participate in, or view from the back corner pool tables.
OLD 4TH WARD
Edgewood’s all-welcoming Italian food and drink staple
There’s dancing, drag, and good drinking to get involved with at the Italian restaurant that some folks don’t even know plates delicious food. That’s only because the beer selection is super-solid, the cocktails were crafty and delicious long before Edgewood and Boulevard became a thing, and when you’re drinking, it’s totally cool to think about your grandmother, since that’s who the owner named the place after.
OLD FOURTH WARD
The rooftop bar in Ponce Street Market that comes with a carnival
With the panoramic views from the rooftop of PCM, 9 Mile Station sets an already high atmospheric bar (pun intended), but takes the actual bar part even higher by giving you a beer garden where you can pick your pour from 12 often-rotating craft draft taps, choose from their full assortment of liquors and classically prepared cocktails, or try one of several champagnes and sparkling wines from the “sparkling bar.”
OLD FOURTH WARD
Where the Jetsons would drink… if the Jetsons drank
You’d almost think this mid-century-themed spot that’s currently the only place to buy drinks on PCM’s second floor is a bit conceited, but then you drink their stuff and realize they deserve to be one level up. Owned by the folks who opened The Pinewood Tippling Room in Decatur, The Mercury puts a glamorous twist on American classics like the Aviation and French 75, prepares drinks for four right next to your table (gin or vodka Martinis, Glenlivet 12yr Rob Roys, etc.) and has a superb wine selection that runs the gamut from the Russian River Valley to France, Napa, Argentina, and Oregon.
OLD FOURTH WARD
Amazing mai tais and other masterfully made libations in PCM
We think pretty highly of Sean Gleason who, in an establishment marketed to sell the air-dried, charcuterie-ish, South African version of beef jerky, has created a truly outstanding bar program. Even if you don’t really drink much, you can’t go wrong with cocktails with names like “Absinthe Father” and “Bizarre Love Triangle,”or those with names that are easier to attach to autumn, such as the bourbon/pumpkin/pecan punt e mes “Harvest Moon” which is finished with a dash of fall spices.
Bartending overlords tirelessly improving your drinking palate
The two bartending all-stars (Greg Best and Paul Calvert) made TC an instant classic, and part of the reason is because at just over a year in age they’re still kicking ass with season-appropriate drinks like the “Dream Lover,” which includes aged rum, moscatel sherry, Gran Classico, and orange and Angostura bitters. Also try the geniusly balanced “Pencil Shifting,” made with Banyuls fortified dessert wine, espresso liqueur, lime, salt, and Pineau des Charentes French aperitif.
Monumental cocktails that raised the bar in Midtown
Hugh Acheson is cool, but as far as reasons for visiting ESS, bar manager Kellie Thorn’s beverages are just as important. Pretty much all the cocktails have an ingredient you either have to Google or you're not sure how it works with other ingredients, but then you try it and say words like, “Hot damn,” although with great class, flair, and sophistication. It’s a particularly good spot to enjoy inventive rum drinks, such as the herbal and bubbly Exile on Martinique, which also has green chartreuse and sparkling wine mixed in, or the sweet and spicy Rum the Jewels, with pineapple rum, ancho, elderflower, and sherry.
The bar that made Buckhead actually bearable
You always want to try every drink on the menu at the not-too-bourgeois Buckhead bar -- and not just because you’ve heard how well they pair with cheeseburgers. It’s intimately sized and welcoming to all, whether you’re wearing a sport coat or an Adidas track suit. They take their time making drinks, whether you order a classic boulevardier or something creative like the Beatrix Kiddo, made with mezcal, pineapple, lime, and yellow chartreuse. And don’t forget to grab a free pen on your way out.
Everybody’s favorite Blade Runner-inspired drink spot
Just like the name itself, this place is hard to stay out of. The iconic neon “LT” sign has a life of its own on social media, and you might be surprised by how great the small plates of shishitos, Asian buns, spicy wings, and meats on sticks are. But the drinks are where it gets special, and the music is fantastic. It’s hard to trust the availability of their online menu at any given time, but just ask for a Paper Plane or The Biggest Bird, or whatever they’re doing with bourbon at the moment. Become a regular and they might just pour you a shot of sake when you check in at the bar.
Sophisticated Spanish drinking in Krog Street Market
The Castellucci Hospitality Group, who’ve given us Cooks & Soldiers, Double Zero, and other great bars and diners, figured we didn’t drink enough Spanish wine in ATL, and they were right. Since opening a few months ago in Krog, this vibrant, brightly colored bar (inspired by Madrid food markets) has become an instant Eastside favorite. They’ve got 22 reasonably priced wines by the glass (from $5 red to $14 sherry), the notorious Spanish mixture of Tempranillo and Coca-Cola, and funky cocktails that range from sangria to rum punch.
New Orleans and Vietnam had drinks together and then made a bar baby
You’ve gotta love Bon Ton just for the silliness of its website, but even if you don’t have their outstanding Vietnamese-Creole food, you’d be crazy not to try one of partner -- and long-respected ATL bartender -- Eric Simpkins’ drinks. He’s put together offerings like tapped Sazeracs, drinks that sound crazy but taste/feel great like the Hanoi Hurrah (rum, brandy, orange, cinnamon, and Vietnamese coffee), a frozen Pimm’s Cup, “Beer and a Shorty” combos like Tokyo Black Porter and Fernet Branca Menta, and a ton of tapped, canned, and bottled beers, including a few 750 milliliters. They also have an amazing red neon sign against one of the gray concrete walls that simply says “Fancy Service.” It’s a great place to have good times without rolling to Louisiana.
A tiki party across from Ponce City Market
Inside the restaurant 8ARM, you’ll find a minimalist, white-walled and wood-tabled den with delicious food by the plate. Outside, next to a covered patio, you’ll find fruity, boozy tropical drinks under tiny umbrellas, coming from a bar built into a renovated shipping container, which is covered with weird murals and funky lighting. This spot is also the site of a weekly jam hosted by DJ Ree de la Vega called Chaka Khan Hacienda. You're still in Atlanta after all.
Consistent center-town cocktail creativity
Bon Ton partner Eric Simpkins is in charge of the drinking tools at this Juniper Street bar, which he and his notable partners have maintained as one of Midtown’s most reliable institutions. Everything’s pretty adventurous, with unexpected flavor mixes and infusions highlighted in stuff like “You Won’t Like Me When I’m Angry,” which is green-apple-mint-infused Bristow gin, Chareau Aloe, St. George absinthe, lemon, cucumber, and black pepper. They make other neat stuff like lemon-corn-infused Karlsson's potato vodka (for “The Leader”), coconut-oil-infused repo tequila in “Kiss The Girl,” and Earl-Grey-tea-infused vodka in “The Resurrection of Jean Grey,” which you should be careful drinking because we all saw what she did to her X-Man. Get it? She killed Cyclops in that movie when she came back as the Phoenix... Anyone? Whatever, I’ve been drinking.
The BeltLine’s best place to stop in for sipping
When you think of BeltLine drinking, you should automatically include Ladybird, which kinda kicked off the entire idea of stopping along the trail for a respectable beverage. They’re big on local, whether it’s beer from Scofflaw, Arches, Reformation, Wild Heaven, SweetWater, and the other usual suspects (at press time they have Creature Comforts’ Koko Buni milk porter, which is a mythical yeti of beers). And there’s always a seasonal punch for outdoor group sipping properly priced at $100 for 16 servings, or eight drinks for $55. They also tiki, with the bayou-spiced rum and peach liqueur “Broken Compass.” Don’t worry, you’re still on the BeltLine -- it just feels breezier with booze like this.
Old school decor and drinks for clubby nights out on the town
The Crescent Avenue area has always had a shifting bar scene. Enter Foxtrot. A bar that’s in the former Cosmopolitan Lounge space that placed plaid patterns and Ralph Lauren upholstery on barstools (and everything else) in order to create a lodge-like “elevated pub” atmosphere. It’s just basement-like enough to feel comfortable after you’ve had a few drinks. They’ve got a great smoked negroni on tap, and categorized cocktails like “Bright & Lively” (think fruitier sips), “Herbal Remedies” (drinks with fernet, sea salt, Green Chartreuse, etc.), and “Stranger Things,” like the “52 Pick-Up, which has Scotch, madeira, Drambuie, Angostura, and lemon oil. And if that’s too much, just go with their beer and shot pairings, which includes Wicked Weed Pacificmost gose and a mezcal/amaro mix, which together is called “Journeyman,” or lower-priced mini-cocktails like the Campari/Branca Menta “Little Red Corvette.”
A classic cigar bar with the novelty secret door, naturally
There’s a reason most of the 1920s-themed speakeasies that kept opening a few years ago have mostly failed: They were more concept than quality. Compare them to Red Phone Booth, which originated as Prohibition in Buckhead, then moved Downtown with a new name but all the same benefits. They still make some of the best cocktails in the city, have a highly respectable menu, and double as a cigar bar where you can sip some of the most exclusive bourbons and whiskeys in town. Just ask them to show you their Pappy.
A former train station serving up A+ cocktails and oysters
As one of the only places in Georgia to be nominated for a Beard Award this past year, Kimball House is the former train depot where brilliant barkeep Miles Macquarrie has built an unrivaled absinthe program and some of the most inimitable cocktails you can find in the area. Even simple classics like the French 75 are upgraded via carbonated muscadet, and they sell a bottled old fashioned made with cola bitters and a mix of bourbon and rye. The absinthe service goes through the entire process right in front of you, with the bottle dripping into sugar-cubed spoons for the smoothest sip possible. And of course there’s the fact that KH still has the city’s best (and best-priced) oysters, which you should already know and should be chasing with whatever your preferred beverage is.
A standing-only bar you’ll be back to time and time again
Don’t let your spirits sink just because AMER closed. In its place is a simpler sanctuary of beverages, with comfort and basic joy being the premise on which it was founded. It’s a bar-only setup where you’ll find murals of great musicians (Tupac Shakur, Biggie, Bowie, Prince) dressed as patron saints adorning the walls. You can also order up crazy drinks like the ODB (aged rum, vanilla, tobacco bitters, and a spritz of mezcal), and the super-boozed “Chasing the Dragon,” which includes gin, amaro, absinthe, and other things that will have you spitting that hot fire.
LITTLE 5 POINTS
THE beer destination for true connoisseurs
You know The Porter is one of the world’s highest-rated beer bars. You know they have every beer imaginable, which includes beers you haven’t yet imagined. And you even know they have amazing snacks, from the vinegar/salt popcorn to the fries (which might be the city’s best). But did you know they also have one of Atlanta’s most solid Bloody Marys? Their house-infused, four-pepper vodka makes all the difference (and the pickled okra doesn’t hurt). That said, you’ll still want to thumb through page after page of their beer list, which includes hundreds of suds. And keep up with happenings through their blog which will tell you when they’re hosting amazing events like Zwanze Day (September 17), a Flemish celebration at which there will be 50 first-come-first-served tickets sold to anybody that wants to taste one-of-a-kind lambics.
It went from almost-demolished to a boozy, gilded glamour
Of course you can still go way downstairs if you want cold PBR and toplessness (seriously), but for a fancier trip back in time, hit the Lobby Bar and Rooftop at Hotel Clermont, where the former makes a fashionable impression that pays homage to the hotel’s seedy roots but with a proper dash of modern class that doesn’t wash away the funk. Upstairs and outside you’ll find turf on the floor and beachy cocktails that will make you realize just how primed this building always was for a respectable renovation. You’ll also find unrivaled drinks, particularly if you like herbal things. Definitely try the Grey Lady (gin, lemon, lavender bitters, egg white, Earl Grey tea, and Gewürztraminer wine).
OLD FOURTH WARD
The music-driven drinkhouse that relaunched a neighborhood
You may or may not have been around when The Sound Table arrived on Boulevard and Edgewood, but there’s no denying that this is the bar that made the Old Fourth Ward intersection what it is today. Some of Atlanta’s best bar talent has worked here, from Navarro Carr to Keyatta Mincey to Paul Calvert, and on and on. And it’s still got some of the best DJs spinning from Wednesday to Sunday, because you can’t help but dance after you down strong stuff like the fruity rum-based Boulevard Zombie, or the unmistakably southern “The Little Law,” which mixes Hendrick’s gin, lemon, absinthe, Suze, and a sweet tea reduction.