America's Best Outdoor Bars
After all, the basic ingredients are simple—sun, cold drinks, and a dash of atmosphere. But the best outdoor bars rise to Trester’s challenge and make a lasting, inimitable impression. A fantastic view, creative cocktails, perks like Ping-Pong or contemporary art installations, and comfort food help our favorite outdoor bars edge out the competition.
Related: America's Best Cities for Nightlife
There’s a great outdoor bar to match your mood, from a dolled-up night on a Chicago rooftop to a lazy Texas afternoon kicking back with beers and live music on a patio. And if the crowd makes a difference, so, too, does a bar’s location and trappings. “Every place with a liquor license and a concrete slab tries to put an umbrella up and serve drinks; if you’re going to be outside, be somewhere cool and fun,” says Trester.
Somewhere like the Frying Pan. Plenty of bars lure you with water views, but this outdoor divey bar one-ups them with the novelty and fun of drinking on a boat while right in Manhattan—and not just any boat. This 1929 lightship sunk in the Chesapeake Bay before being salvaged and eventually docked on a railroad car barge on the Hudson River.
Other city-dwellers in need of a quick nature fix can turn to Forest Room 5 in Denver, where a brook babbles past the tree-shaded patio and a projector screens wildlife footage.
Even the rooftop bar Blue at the Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles doesn’t rely on its scene and sleek pool alone. There’s a 147-square-foot garden that cultivates herbs, fruits, and plants used in seasonal cocktails like Verbena Lemonade with Ketel One Citroen Vodka (kalamansi, lemongrass and verbena). “Having a drink outside is an escape,” says Klaus Puck, the beverage director, and the fresh cocktails only add to that refreshing feeling.
Plot your own escape to one of America’s best outdoor bars and raise a toast to summer. We’ve got your beach bars and beer gardens covered, too.
Zed451 describes itself as an “unconventional steakhouse,” and its libations—poured on a rooftop with a killer view of high rises around Chicago’s Near North neighborhood—are just as creative. Consider the Spiced Strawberry Margarita, made with El Jimador Reposado, house-infused habanero simple syrup, fresh strawberries, Cointreau, and housemade sour. Or make your go-to summer cocktail the Dirty Pyrat (fresh strawberries, blackberries and lime muddled with Pyrat Rum, served over ice with a splash of Sprite). If that famous wind picks up, head for one of the tables with a built-in fire pit.
The Yard, Iron Horse Hotel, Milwaukee
Crowds do pack The Yard, but it has an open, spacious feel, spreading out along the hillside beneath the Sixth Street Viaduct with couches, tables, fire pits, even a brick pizza oven. Colorful shade sail canopies and twinkle lights add a festive touch, while other design choices reflect the historic, still active railroad and 1907 warehouse nearby; tables are made from salvaged wood and factory carts and the two outdoor bars from reclaimed original fire doors. So why not go for the Old Fashioned? (Iron Horse’s own limited-edition Barrel 1907 Rye Whiskey and Amarena cherries). Just be prepared: motorcycle fans take over on Thursdays for Bike Nights.
The Foundry, Dallas
A former garage was reborn in early 2012 as this outdoor bar enclosed by industrial metal and decked out with picnic tables, four massive semi-truck trailers, and a stage constructed from wooden warehouse pallets. If watching live music while sipping southern brews like Dixie Lager or Southern Star Pale Ale makes you hungry, wander to the adjoined Chicken Scratch. It’s the latest concept from acclaimed chef Tim Byres, and makes The Foundry likely the best outdoor bar anywhere for rotisserie chicken.
Sky Blue at Sky Lodge, Park City, UT
This rooftop bar delivers year-round panoramas of the Wasatch Mountains and historic downtown Park City. During the winter months, some guests cozy up under complimentary blankets around fire pits, après-ski cocktails in hand. After a few, they may be emboldened to shed their parkas and join the hardy souls in the Jacuzzi. Come summer, the rooftop benefits from the humidity-free weather, making it a true pleasure to hang out here. Take your pick among beers ($5 to $22), wines ($9 to Opus One), and a full, hand-rolled cigar menu.
Poste Moderne Brasserie, Washington, D.C.
Housed in the original 1841 General Post Office building, Poste’s Parisian-style courtyard overflows with plants and herbs that are used to infuse vodkas for its Punch Bar. The outdoor fun continues in winter, when Poste sets up a hot cocktail and fondue bar outside with heaters, blankets and fire pits. Cocktails include This Little Piggy (bacon-infused Bulleit bourbon, spicy cayenne chocolate, milk and toasted marshmallow), and Mother’s Warmth (hot mulled apple cider made with Pyrat rum, mulled apple cider, and brandied cranberries).
King’s Hardware, Seattle
This patio near Salmon Bay is plain, but the burgers aren’t. There are 15 options—including the After School Special with peanut butter and bacon—to complement its 36 varieties of bottled and canned beer, among them, the Czech Staropramen and Montana’s Moose Drool. Wooden tables, a brick enclosure, and a rustic, plywood-covered bar create a hipster-cool vibe. It’s only natural as this is the city T+L readers rated best for hipsters (have we mentioned this bar hosts skee-ball?). If beer isn’t your thing, opt for one of the classic cocktails, like the Sazerac: rye, Peychaud’s bitters, simple syrup, and absinthe.
Lustre Pearl, Austin, TX
Bypass Austin’s better-known 6th Street, nicknamed “Dirty Sixth.” You’ll find this pearl-in-the-rough on Rainey Street in a wonderfully dilapidated house. With an old jukebox, Ping-Pong tables, and lounge chairs on a spacious gravel patio, it’s a laid-back place to get a Black Eye—the drink, that is (Shiner Bock, a Texas beer, with a shot of Jack Daniels). The outdoor front porch is for people-watching and provides easy access to a food truck selling tacos, nachos, and other comfort foods for when the munchies set in.
Feelings Cafe, New Orleans
The main attraction of this café is its piano bar, which was once the slave quarters for the D’Aunoy Plantation. But Feelings’ owners believe their establishment is one of the most romantic in New Orleans because its small brick courtyard evokes, well, feelings. Sheltered by palms, banana trees, and high walls, patrons can sip wine on the patio under the moonlight while still being able to hear live music from the piano bar, separated from the courtyard by a row of French doors.
Graffiti Bar, Sampan, Philadelphia
Philly spray-paint artists Distort, A Lot and Rune tagged the walls and tables at this colorful 30-seat bar. The look is a little rough—enclosed by chain-link fencing at the back of the Asian restaurant Sampan—but the seasonal cocktails are clean and crisp. Try the refreshing Sampantini (Hendricks Gin, aloe vera, and cucumber) and time your visit to happy hour for $2 satays and a cocktail of the day (Monday–Friday 4–7 p.m.). A clear enclosed ceiling keeps the party going even on rainy days.
Blue at Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles
The pool and dressed-to-impress crowd will grab your attention first, but Blue’s more original feature is its 147-square-foot garden plot growing more than 15 fruits, herbs, and plants used in the seasonal cocktails. It’s not uncommon to actually see them plucked by the beverage team for that day’s farm-to-glass concoctions, such as Verbena Lemonade with Ketel Citroen Vodka (kalamansi, lemongrass, and verbena), and the Pineapple Mojito (Bacardi Superior Rum, pineapple, and fresh mint).
The Frying Pan, New York City
Now here’s a treat: soaking up water views from a boat, without leaving Manhattan. This 1929 lightship sunk in the Chesapeake Bay before being salvaged and sailed in 1989 to New York, where it’s docked on a railroad car barge at Pier 66 Maritime on the Hudson River. It made the New York State and federal Registers of Historic Places because only 13 of 100 total floating lighthouses remain. The exterior was restored to its original appearance, with umbrellas and café tables added to the top deck, while the boat’s barnacle-covered interior solidifies the dive vibe. So in dive fashion, take up a stranger in a foosball or a Ping-Pong game, domestic light beer in hand.
Blind Tiger, Charleston
You can still see parts of the 1803 building’s original structure from Blind Tiger's courtyard on Charleston’s historic Broad Street. Its name references illegal drinking parlors (“Blind Tigers”) from the late 19th century, when South Carolina's one-eyed governor, Ben Tillman, was out to squelch Charleston's teetotaling ways. An admission fee granted entrance to see said imaginary creature, with cocktails served to the crowd at no cost (to avoid a newly created tax on alcohol sales). Now, patrons enjoy live music out in the open with no gimmicks—but no freebies, either.
Ides Bar, Wythe Hotel, Brooklyn, NY
This former barrel factory re-opened in May 2012 as a 72-room hotel just one subway stop from Manhattan and within walking distance of Williamsburg’s best restaurants and bars. But why stray when you can head upstairs to the Ides Bar, a sixth-floor wrap-around roof deck with views of the Manhattan skyline that stretch from Midtown to Wall Street and around to the rest of Brooklyn. While early buzz means that lines are starting to form, don’t be put off immediately, as the no-frills space is larger than your average roof deck.
The Rooftop at Marvin, Washington, D.C.
Marvin rubs shoulders with other trendy U Street neighborhood hangouts like Ben’s Chili Bowl and Busboys & Poets. The bistro’s mix of Belgian and southern soul food pays homage to Marvin Gaye, who grew up nearby and later moved to Belgium to escape his troubles and work on his comeback album. DJs spin on the partially covered rooftop deck, which serves more than 30 Belgian ales and blondes, as well as exclusively organic, sustainable, and biodynamic wines.
Rocks on the Roof, Savannah
Patrons walk through The Bohemian Hotel's sultry, vintage-inspired lobby of rich golds, browns and reds to reach its rooftop lounge for Savannah Iced Teas and southern-style tapas: Reuben spring rolls, fried green tomatoes, and coriander seared beef tenderloin. Not to mention fantastic views of the Savannah River and historic district.
Woodys Rum Bar, Baltimore
It’s easy to forget you’re in a major city while hanging around this sun-drenched third-floor deck in waterfront Fell's Point. Woodys carries more than two dozen types of rum, served to patrons sitting at hand-painted steel drum tables. If that rum punch makes you feel a little tipsy, don't feel guilty—you’re not alone. Woodys was awarded the Best Bar to Get Day Drunk and The Best View of the [Inner] Harbor by a local magazine.
Hotel San Jose Courtyard Bar, Austin, TX
A small pool, vintage reclining chairs, and tall plants make this intimate courtyard bar an easy, breezy space to while away a few hours in Austin’s South Congress neighborhood. If a drink makes you so inclined, grab a Polaroid camera or antique typewriter—available on loan from the hotel—and start recording some memories. Just be sure someone holds your spot because seats are hard to come by after 6 p.m.
Roadside Attraction in Portland, OR
The mostly covered, tin-roofed pavilions at local favorite Roadside Attraction provide shelter from the sun—and, for those chilly, rainy Portland days, a fire is always on. Soak in the backyard-barbecue ambience by nabbing the weather-beaten porch swing and a $2 domestic pint. It feels almost as if you've pulled over to stop at a friend’s house.
Cat & Fiddle, Los Angeles
This rocker haunt on Sunset Boulevard was the brainchild of Kim and Paula Gardner and dates back to the 1970s, when Kim, a bass player of the British Invasion generation, was recording an album with Jackie Lomax and George Harrison. So naturally the menu pays tribute to English favorites like Young's Double Chocolate Stout, Fullers ESB, Heinz Beans, English chocolates and Marmite. It's currently run by Paula and her daughter, who ensure that this former film studio remains a low-key Hollywood institution.
Six Feet Under Rooftop, Atlanta
Folks come for the atmosphere, mostly because a martini just tastes better under twinkle lights and in view of the Atlanta skyline. Heck, make that a Filthy martini (chilled Vox Vodka, extra dirty, with dry vermouth and blue cheese olives). The menu’s got something for every price point, from Miller Light to Dom Pérignon. But when in the South, why not go for something decidedly local: a Bobby Jones (sweet tea vodka and homemade lemonade). Of the two locations, we’ve got a soft spot for the Westside.
Lahaina Beach House, San Diego
This beachside deck is the place to go in Pacific Beach to watch the sunset, and locals cherish the opportunity to indulge in $20 beer towers while playing favorite tunes on the jukebox. The crowd is heavy from 3 p.m. until the sun. Take care of your waitress—she’ll likely be the only one there—for the best service.
The Top at Crowne Plaza Key West – La Concha
It was in Key West that Ernest Hemingway fell in love with the sea, and later decided to stay for the friendly people. And you'd be crazy if the sea view from Crowne Plaza La Concha's rooftop didn't persuade you, too, to stay awhile. From The Top, watch one of the East Coast's most beautiful sunsets while enjoying a classic tiki drink aptly named Sunset Celebration.
Neons Unplugged, Cincinnati
This Over-the-Rhine neighborhood establishment makes a day out of drinking a beer. It’s a playground for those looking not only to unplug, but to unwind—between the bocce ball court, live music, and giant Jenga game. And there’s plenty of room. Even pooches are allowed to roam freely around the 4,000 square-foot patio, which free-standing chimneys help keep warm at night.
Jones, San Francisco
Just three blocks west of Union Square and adjoined by a 1929 building, Jones provides elevated views of the bustling streets from its patio, while large, evergreen planters supply a bit of nature. Perhaps curiosity brings guests back—there’s a daily changing menu—or maybe the refreshing TL Punch on a summer day (10 Cane Rum, La Pinta pomegranate tequila, pomegranate and lemon juice with bitters and ginger beer). There's plenty of indoor drinking space, too.
The Beach Bar, Honolulu
Located at the Moana Surfrider Hotel, the Beach Bar faces famous Waikiki Beach and provides customers with unparalleled views of the sand and water from beneath its signature banyan tree. A popular stop for both hotel guests and tourists wandering along the beach, the bar serves tropical cocktails, including mai tais, piña coladas, and daiquiris, alongside sandwiches, burgers, and snacks, like “drunken” soy beans and Pele’s lava wings. The island atmosphere is made complete with the addition of live music from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.
Grab a Bloody Maria (sub vodka for tequila) with Sunday brunch on Devlin’s patio, a crowd-pleasing, brick-enclosed oasis in Brighton Center. There’s plenty of room to spread out, and even for a jazz band at Sunday brunch. On late afternoons in the summer, switch tomato juice for light and fresh lemon juice in the sweet basil martini (basil, gin, lemon juice, simple syrup).
Forest Room 5, Denver
The candlelit interior’s rustic timber bars, walls, and mismatched chairs set a log-cabin tone accented by the kinds of multimedia art you’d expect from a contemporary art gallery. But it’s the patio by fire pits and a babbling brook in the lower Highlands area that makes Forest Room 5 extra special. Patrons can sip cocktails like the Beez Neez or Spiced Pear Tree Martini in tree-shaded alcoves, bird-watch, and enjoy projections of wildlife-themed film clips. The bar also hosts monthly viewing events for artists.
Altitude, San Diego
Altitude Sky Lounge is an open-air bar on the rooftop of the 22-story San Diego Marriott Gaslamp Quarter. Views of the city's skyline are the main attraction at this bar, where specialty cocktails such as chocolate martinis are served and a DJ plays hip-hop and house music. PETCO Park ball games are visible from seats along the edge of the bar. Altitude also provides blankets, heaters, and an outdoor lava fire pit to keep guests warm.
Avalon Grille, California
At the new, laid-back Avalon Grille, accordion windows frame a panoramic view of the water and, in the distance, the California coast. Slide into a rattan seat and watch the ferries glide by—preferably with an order of Avalon’s Grog, made with two kinds of rum and fresh juices, guava nectar, and Falernum, a sweet syrup.
Buoy Bar, Hilton Head Island, SC
Join a spirited crowd beneath the live oaks at Buoy Bar, an extension of the Skull Creek Boathouse restaurant.The imaginative cocktails include frozen Java Colada, starring rum from nearby Pawley’s Island, blended with fresh pineapple and coconut cream.