Bucket List Bars: Historic Saloons, Pubs and Dives of America, a new entry in the popular must-do-before-death genre, aims to reveal a city’s character, including its past, by pointing thirsty travelers—business or leisure– to 40 “authentic” drinking places in 12 cities– New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, Denver, Tucson, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Authors Clint Lanier and Derek Hembree, friends and drinking buddies since college, choose their bars based on history and patrons.
“Each of us believes that the soul of a neighborhood is its local bars,” says Lanier, an assistant professor of English at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico. “We want all travelers to get out of their hotels, away from the faux-Irish pubs dotting the nation and into the places where the locals drink and history has been made.”
To help visitors make the most of their nights-out, Lanier and Hembree’s brew mixes a summary of each bar’s past, and a signature drink list with a current description, and garnishes with QR codes that link to videos so that potential patrons can eyeball the place.
A Denver pick, the Buckhorn Exchange, dates to 1893 and, the authors admit, receives more notice for its steak, Rocky Mountain oysters (bull testicles) and game than for its drinks. But Teddy Roosevelt and Buffalo Bill Cody were among the era’s notables who bellied up to the carved oak bar. Cody, told by his doctor to limit alcohol, sipped tall glasses of rye whiskey and apple cider on the rocks. The current Buckhorn version mixes bourbon with apple juice.
Among Lanier’s favorite bars is Chicago’s Green Mill. Opened in 1910 as the answer to Paris’ Moulin Rouge (Red Mill), the Green Mill originally featured dancing girls, a ballroom, a restaurant and live music. Downsized during Prohibition, the place became the favorite speakeasy of gangster Al Capone.
“After Prohibition the bar went legit and quickly became one of the best jazz clubs in the U.S.,” says Lanier. “Today the layout remains the same as it was…with little or no change in the décor. Drop by almost any night of the week, grab a seat in Al Capone’s booth, order up a gin martini and be whisked away to the roaring twenties.”
Such choices make the typical hotel bar seem blasé.
Details: Bucket List Bars: Historic Saloons, Pubs and Dives of America (Austin, TX: Emerald Book Company, 2013), $16.95.