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Bars, Ranked

There are many different types of bar in which a person can drink alcohol. The order in which I prefer them is presented below.

18. Karaoke
I don't like karaoke bars, because I don't like karaoke, which is one of those deceptively tricky things like old-man softball and blogging where you're not sure how seriously you should take it. The only thing you know for sure is that all the other motherfuckers out here are trying either way too hard or not hard enough. The only thing worse than the people who do vocal exercises and lung stretches and shit before trying to out-Adele Adele are the gaggles of drunken assholes who insist on preening through all 48 choruses of "Livin' on a Prayer" in a manner that lets you know they're way too cool to do this shit, even though here we all are, watching them do this shit. Karaoke makes me irrationally angry, and I'm sure I would like it more if I had a prettier voice. This is a biased ranking. Sorry, karaoke bars, and buzz off.


17. Hotel
I hate hotel bars. The "ever-changing cast of mysterious travelers cobbling together a temporary life outside their normal boundaries" element never produces anything interesting. Instead, you just get a bunch of displaced frumps drinking overpriced wine by the glass while they dick around with their phones.

16. Nudie
They smell much better than you'd expect, and some of the homier ones offer free lunch buffets. But you need to eat an awful lot of complimentary strip-joint meatballs to offset the $9 bottles of Miller Lite.


15. Off-Duty Rock and Roll
I try to avoid live-music bars when there's no live music playing. When there's no band onstage, a rock bar is just a dive with delusions of coolness and $5 PBR. (When the rocking is in session, it's a whole other unquantifiable matter based on how much you like the band.)

14. Biker
I've only been to a handful of biker bars, but that's enough to convince me they're all the same, because all bikers, at least when they're in public-cosplay mode, follow the same handful of rules: Take up too much space, punctuate aggressive silence with occasional bursts of high-decibel gibberish, feign great offense at two randomly selected slights per shift (usually having to do with your raggedy-ass jacket). The bars that choose to stage this old-school geek theater don't cater to normal people, and regulars don't let outsiders participate in the weekly football pool or the daily Yankee swap of pain pills and prescription pads. Still, though, the drink prices are usually fair.


13. Sports
Sports bars aren't really my thing, but they have their strengths, including many flavors of chicken and probably hostesses with sexy sneakers and whistles or some shit.

12. Cop
Like biker bars, except the LARPers carry guns instead of screwdrivers and no one ever shuts up. I don't mind cops in general—I don't like the way a lot of them are practicing their craft these days, but I mean as an overall class of people, the cops I've known are no better or worse than the barbers, doctors, and drug dealers I've known. But when you get too many of them in one room full of booze, the macho posturing can be overwhelming. On the plus side, cop bars tend to host the most vibrant and egalitarian illegal-bookmaking operations.


11. The Club
I mean the kind few Deadspin readers (or writers) ever go to, the ones with bottle service and sexy dancers and special VIP fuck dungeons for rappers and models. Seems pretty expensive and otherwise troublesome, but I can see the upside, too. It'd be cool to run into a drunken step-Gronk or whatever in the bathroom.

10. Gay
My limited experience as a cultural tourist doesn't qualify me to address gay bars in any meaningful way, but I figure they belong on the list. Let's just stick them in the middle for now and hope someone can shed more light in the comments.


9. Chain Restaurant
These aren't always as bad as we make them out to be. The bartenders are pleasant and competent, and while I steer clear of their "signature cocktails"—no one needs to pay $8.79 for a giant trough of tequila and elderflower liqueur with a sriracha-salted rim—chain bars are pretty good places to drink beer. The sell huge volumes and pay at least cursory attention to quality control, so they show even cruddy beer in the best possible light. A TGI Fridays Budweiser is the best Budweiser a Budweiser can be, and chain bartenders are more likely than their low-flair counterparts to not only compliment your wise choice of beer, but also ask if you'd like to upgrade to the special 99-Ounce Bladder Buster Supreme. You would.

8. Dive
Dive bars have their obvious weaknesses, but they're good if you're broke or dirty or laying low, and what honest body isn't occasionally at least one of the above? Plus the better ones open early for all the third-shifters and no-shifters who need someplace to watch The Price Is Right. Just don't get carried away romanticizing unrepentant shitholes. Hostile bartenders and nasty-ass bathrooms can be overlooked if the other amenities are up to snuff—dollar drafts, yesterday's newspaper, free popcorn—but they are not positive attributes in and of themselves.


7. Craft Beer
These are tricky. The beer is better than at other bars, but the crowd is worse; plug these two constants into your personal-enjoyment equation however you see fit. If you're seriously into beer or have a specific itch that needs scratching, it might make sense to endure the poorly socialized beer blowhards and their incessant beard-measuring contests. But if you're just a regular person looking for a Sierra Nevada (or god forbid, a Coors Light) and a good time, the clean taps, knowledgeable staff, and deep menu aren't worth all the attendant bullshit.

6. Normal
You know, just a regular bar.

5. Amtrak Bar Car
Train travel is hands-down your best option if you have an unlimited budget and no real need to ever get anywhere. It's super comfortable and sometimes even scenic, and if you're on the right kind of train, they'll sell you Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA in the lounge.


4. Irish
I'm talking about real-Irish-person Irish, not just some strip-mall beer hut called McMalley's Celtic O'Boozehole. Irish joints don't always have the hippest beer selection, but since when were you too good for Guinness? There's usually some pretty good whiskey, and it can be fun to watch their weird sports in the middle of a rainy afternoon.

3. Fancy Cocktail
Classy bars that prioritize ingredients and process are well worth abandoning whatever reservations you have about waxed mustaches, arm garters, artisanal bitters, and all the other things for which Regular Guys™ mock the mixological set. High-end drink-making ain't rocket sorcery, but it's also not as easy as dumping a shot of rum into a can of Coke. I'll gladly pay $13 for a cocktail I couldn't make myself due to lack of ingredients, knowledge, and/or skill. And even if you're just drinking well whiskey on the rocks, it's nice to know that your glass and your ice are as fresh and clean as they can be.


2. Airport
I love airport bars, but it must be noted that I fly infrequently and almost exclusively for pleasure. I realize it's a lot less fun to pay $8.85 for a Michelob Amber (as I did at O'Hare last month) if you're just waiting out a connection to a sales conference in whichever is the least cool of Tennessee's mid-sized cities. But even if you're getting stiff while working, airport bars are still great places, because they're clean and they open early—a rare combination—and maybe you have one of those fly-around gigs where someone else pays for the drinks. Plus everyone knows flight attendants totally dig dudes with company-logo polo shirts. Buck up, tiger: You're only a wink, a nod, and a sixth Bloody Mary away from turning this whole thing around!

1. Dream
Mine's got a copper-topped horseshoe bar with 20 stools; a bench running the entire perimeter of the rectangular room; a maximum capacity of 70, with a crowd usually hovering around half that; a TV that's only turned on if there's something worthwhile happening (not every damn regular-season baseball game); music I happen to like played at my preferred volume; eight beers on tap, consisting of no more than two IPAs and zero crappy macros, though with at least one good gateway beer for the Coors Light drinker—a nice craft pilsner or wit, say; no blender, no car bombs, no commercial sour mix; a couple bottles of flavored vodka, because this is a populist place, but let's try to keep that shit to a minimum (and while we're at it, sure, Schlitz cans or Miller Lite bottles or whatever—can't waste a tap line on that stuff, but no harm in having a cheap, easy option); a lot of gin choices and a staff that can explain them; a good tequila selection chosen strictly based on flavor, not on how cool the bottles look on the back bar; free peanuts. You are all invited to open this bar for me, or to share your own version down below.


Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter@WillGordonAgain. Image by Sam Woolley.


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