Bar Food Paradise
Raise a Glass to Bar Food's Best
If you're seeking good food without reservations, nothing beats the simple satisfaction of bar food. Oysters, potato skins, buffalo wings and nachos all go well with a pint, so belly up to the bar and enter Bar Food Paradise.
Union Oyster House
In one of the country's oldest cities is the oldest restaurant with continuous service in America. The Union Oyster House, located just off the Freedom Trail, served its first oyster in 1826. However, for almost 110 years before it was a restaurant, it was a meeting place for many of the founding fathers. The restaurant is full of history -- one of its first regular customers was American statesman Daniel Webster. Oysters are abundant in the shallow waters off the Eastern seaport, and the bartenders at the Oyster House are master shuckers. Patrons enjoy the salty mollusks with a squirt of lemon, cocktail sauce or Tabasco. Not to be missed is the signature clam "chowdah."
Jimmie Kramer's Peanut Bar
Oysters aren't the only popular bar snack to come in a shell. Jimmie Kramer opened the Peanut Bar in 1933 and began serving peanuts as part of a happy accident. Reading is also known as "The Pretzel City," and that's just what Kramer served at his bar until one night in 1935 when the delivery van ran out of pretzels. Jimmie sent someone across the street to a peanut roaster and procured a 50-pound bag of peanuts. Kramer's didn't officially become the Peanut Bar until 1958, but patrons have been tossing shells on the floor since that night in '35.
West Hollywood, California
Barney's Beanery is a classic L.A. roadhouse, established in 1920 when Prohibition made alcohol illegal. On the outskirts of the city, liquor laws were rarely enforced, and before there was a West Hollywood, there was Barney's. Over the years, Barney's has served such cultural icons as Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. The true star of Barney's is the menu, which features 1,000 items including burgers, hot wings, pizza and a stacked PB&J. The one item everyone must try is the chili, the namesake of Barney's Beanery. Meaty and spicy, you can still get a bowl for free if you bring in your license plate. Big spenders can order a foot-long chili-cheese dog served with a bottle of Dom Perignon for $195.
Piedras Negras, Mexico
El Moderno is the birthplace of the communal table favorite: nachos. Victory Club's manager, Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya, spontaneously invented the dish for customers after the kitchen was closed. After the Victory Club shut down, Nacho took his signature dish to El Moderno, where the dish is still served -- by none other than Nacho, Jr. The original nachos consisted only of chips, Wisconsin cheddar cheese and pickled jalapenos, all made from scratch. These days, beans, guacamole, chicken and beef can all be added to the original recipe.
J. Gilligan's Bar and Grill
In 1979, nachos underwent an Irish rebirth. At J. Gilligan's Bar and Grill, Irish potatoes, cheese, peppers, onions and jalapenos are combined in a skillet to create an unlikely bar food favorite. The dish caught on instantly, and now J. Gilligan's goes through 3,600 potatoes and 80 pounds of cheddar a week. Whether it's your game-time snack, your dinner or a late-night indulgence, the Irish nachos never fail to satisfy.
Santa Monica, California
Sunny Santa Monica may seem a bizarre setting for an Irish pub, but Finn McCool's is the genuine article. Owner Geraldine Gilliland painstakingly brought every piece of the famous bar over from Ireland, including the timber for the bar, the artifacts on the walls, and the lads and lasses slinging pints behind the bar. It's not just the Irish cheer and the Guinness that bring people to Finn's -- it's their potato skins. The secret ingredient that makes these skins so good is lean Irish bacon. Topped with freshly grated horseradish in sour cream, they simply can't be beat.
Buffalo, New York
In 1964 at the Anchor Bar, Teresa Bellisimo created the beloved buffalo wing. Improvising one night for a group of her son's friends, she created the spicy treat that is now a bar food phenomenon. The celery and blue cheese were her idea, as well -- in case the wings were too hot for some. The sauce sets the Anchor Bar wings apart from all others, a secret recipe that's been well-guarded for over 40 years. Choose from mild, medium, hot or -- if you dare -- suicidal. If you order the medium, you'll enjoy the same dish Teresa whipped up in '64. Most patrons say you haven't had buffalo wings till you've had them at Anchor Bar, so make sure you shuffle off to Buffalo and see for yourself.
Buffalo Wing Festival
Buffalo, New York
This year marks the seventh annual Buffalo Wing Festival that brings over 30 of the country's best wingers together for the ultimate bar food showdown. As we know, Buffalo is home to the original buffalo wing recipe, but at this festival, variety is king. Choose from sweet and sour sesame, Louisiana liquor, raspberry, honey mustard and teriyaki sauces, just to name a few. The festival offers plenty to eat and do -- bobbing for wings in a pool of blue cheese, wing-eating contests and, of course, the crowning of Miss Buffalo Wing.