10 Bars Where You Can Drink Up American History

From an Al Capone hangout to a haunted saloon in Nevada, these watering holes all have a story to tell.

By: Jed Portman
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White Horse Tavern | Newport, Rhode Island | 1673

No tour of America’s historic bars would be complete without a stop at the three-century-old White Horse — named by proprietor Jonathan Nichols in 1730, but operating as a tavern since 1673, in a 1652 building that hosted meetings of the Rhode Island General Assembly. It could easily be coasting on its history at this point, but it’s maintained its reputation as a community gathering place over the years. The dining room menu straddles 1673 and 2018 with fresh produce and seafood from New England suppliers.

'76 House | Tappan, New York | 1755

This sturdy watering hole has seen centuries of American history — and, probably, General George Washington, who made his temporary headquarters at the nearby DeWint House in 1780. It was a makeshift prison for the British officer John André, who conspired with Benedict Arnold. Today, restored to its cozy 18th-century appearance, it’s a destination for cold beer and live music.

Talbott Tavern | Bardstown, Kentucky | 1779

Just minutes from the Heaven Hill, Barton 1792 and Willett distilleries, this former stagecoach stop is older than any of the sights on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail — and, for that matter, the state of Kentucky. It’s hosted Daniel Boone, Jesse James, a young Abraham Lincoln and the exiled French King Louis Phillipe. You can belly up to the bar and choose from a selection of more than 200 Kentucky bourbons.

McSorley's Old Ale House | New York, New York | 1854

The year 1854 is on the sign out front, but this storied pub’s history is, appropriately, fuzzy. Whatever the truth, McSorley’s has been resisting change in New York City since at least the end of the Civil War — to the extent that its proprietors refused to admit women, in keeping with a generations-old policy, until a city ordinance forced their hands in 1970. The beer still comes in only two varieties: light and dark. Nothing has left the cluttered walls since 1910, and the pub just gave up its mouser cat — again, under pressure from city officials — in 2011.

Menger Bar | San Antonio, Texas | 1859

Theodore Roosevelt recruited Rough Riders here, at the oldest bar in town — renovated in 1887 to be a replica of the House of Lords pub in London. According to the marker out front, it’s been the site of more cattle deals than any other building in Texas. Go drink-for-drink with the tycoons at the cherrywood bar, then stumble to your room at the equally historic Hotel Menger.

Scholz Garten | Austin, Texas | 1866

Founded by German immigrant August Scholz, this throwback biergarten has been under the care of the Austin Saengerrunde—a German singing group and social club — since 1914. An easy walk from the University of Texas campus, it’s a popular place to toast the Longhorns. (According to local legend, Texas’s football team raised glasses to its very first undefeated season at Scholz back in 1893.)

Tujague's | New Orleans, Louisiana | 1856

In a city full of historic spots to wet your whistle, many of which come with dubious or blatantly invented backstories, Tujague’s is the real deal — thanks in part to its famed head bartender, Paul Gustings, a 30-plus-year veteran of New Orleans’s food and beverage scene who’s curated a cocktail program as timeless as the 1856 French mirror behind the cypress bar. Gustings specializes in the classics. Here, you want to order a Sazerac or a Ramos Gin Fizz. And, for dessert, a Grasshopper, the mint-chocolate-chip brandy drink invented here in 1918. (P.S. It’s pronounced "too-jacks.")

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge | Chicago, Illinois | 1907

This retro hangout came under the ownership of Al Capone flunky Jack McGurn during Prohibition. Capone was a regular. Supposedly, the building is still riddled with tunnels for smuggling booze and high-ranking mobsters. Nowadays, it’s one of the best places to pair classic cocktails and live jazz in the Windy City.

Pioneer Saloon | Goodsprings, Nevada | 1913

The centerpiece of the once-thriving mining town of Goodsprings, just 45 minutes from downtown Las Vegas, the Pioneer Saloon has weathered more than 100 tough years. It shows, from the bullet holes in the original pressed-tin walls — manufactured by Sears & Roebuck — to the cigarette burns in the 1860 bar, supposedly left by a drunk and distraught Clark Gable as he awaited news of the nearby plane crash that killed his wife, actress Carole Lombard. Some of the regulars report sharing cocktails with the ghosts of long-gone prospectors.

Tiki-Ti | Los Angeles, California | 1961

Ray Buhen was the head bartender at Don the Beachcomber — the first tiki bar in the United States — before he opened the Tiki-Ti, run today by his son and grandson, Michael and Mikey. The second- and third-generation tiki bartenders have mastered more than 90 cocktails. You can count on a textbook Mai Tai or Navy Grog, of course, but the house favorite is a passionfruit and rum cocktail called the Ray’s Mistake. (Tip: If you hear patrons shouting "Ooga booga" or "Toro, toro, toro," that means they’ve ordered either an Uga Booga or a Blood and Sand, respectively, and they know the house rules.)

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