In October 2019, I planned a trip to Portland, Maine with a plan to visit Blyth & Burrows. While I definitely visited family too, it was the spark I needed to plan a trip back home. While many large cities have a great selection of cocktail bars, there are many small town cocktail bars that are worth the drive. When we’re able to go out again, travel will likely be limited so we’ll need to get creative. I am planning some local and regional trips by car to start out. Since, I am definitely the kind of person who will travel to a country to visit a single bar, I will be planning short trips to visit the places in this post. Most of these places have yet to re-open, but I like to plan ahead to have things like these twelve cocktail bars to look forward to.
As precautions and mandates differ all over the country, you should call ahead to see if these cocktail bars have reopened. However, if you live relatively close to one of these places, many are offering to-go and bottled drinks. Most of these places are privately owned small businesses and all will need our support when they can reopen.
Worth the drive from Atlanta, Charlotte, and Orlando
Savannah, GA (population 145,862) – 218 miles from Charlotte, NC and 246 miles from Orlando, FL
In November 2017, my best friend and I headed to Savannah for a girlfriend getaway. We had lots of places picked out to explore and food and drink was no exception. On our last night we went to Artillery for a drink. It is such a gorgeous bar that occupies a restored, landmark building. Built in 1896, the interior design still reflects the building’s original architecture. I enjoyed one of the best French 75’s I’ve ever had, I still remember it three years later, and my friend enjoyed an espresso martini. I will be back there someday soon.
Sanford, FL (population 60,035) – 19 miles from Orlando, FL and 445 miles from Charlotte, NC
I don’t recall when I started following Bitters & Brass on Instagram but I know they hooked me quick. From gorgeous drinks to the way they’ve pulled together as a team to serve their customers during quarantine, they live up to high standards. I also really like their branding and the composition of their cocktails. They use interesting ingredients and I am intrigued that they refer to themselves as a ‘cocktails and absinthe house’ – yum! Finally, they seem very friendly and, to me, if you feel welcome to visit a bar even before you enter, that’s a win. I’ll keep you posted!
Chattanooga, TN (population 180,557) – 104 miles from Atlanta, GA and 349 miles from Charlotte, NC
I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Matilda Midnight on several occasions. However, since their menu changes frequently it feels like a fresh visit every time I am in town. Housed in the lobby of the Dwell Hotel, the bar is super cozy and dripping in gorgeous mid-century design. I really hope to stay at the hotel on my next visit through town, mostly because I want to go to sleep inside a magazine shoot (check out the hotel’s website and you’ll see what I mean). They also have delicious food on offer–making the trip extra worth it!
Worth the drive from Phoenix
Gilbert, AZ (population 248,279) – 18 miles from Phoenix, AZ and 218 miles from Mexicali, Mexico
When I was in Scottsdale, AZ last June, I enjoyed a day-trip to Gilbert. However, I missed checking out The White Rabbit since I wasn’t there very late. With an adorable downtown, Gilbert doesn’t entirely scream “speakeasy” but from the photos I’ve seen on Instagram and the reviews I’ve read, it seems worth a visit. You’ll need to join their VIP Club to obtain the password and the location of the secret door entrance. I love little touches like that.
Worth the drive from Omaha, Tulsa, and Kansas City
Des Moines, IA (population 216,853) – 123 miles from Omaha, NE and 180 miles from Kansas City, MO
I can’t decide which I like more, the neon signs or the slogan, “libations and damn fine times.” Either way, Hello, Marjorie reminds me of some of my favorite bars in Portland, OR but is a way shorter trip. From their beautifully designed website to their cocktail menu, it feels classic with a modern twist. Looking through their current menu, there are at least seven drinks that I would want to try.
This might be the perfect time to mention, that while the idea of this list is to drive to check out cocktail spots, one should never drink and drive. Find a local place to stay or bring along a sober driver.
Springfield, MO (population 168,122) – 148 miles from Kansas City, MO and 165 miles from Tulsa, OK
When I first saw The Golden Girl Rum Club‘s Instagram feed I fell in love with their vibe. The bright and stylish Hawaiian shirts the bartenders wear and the gorgeous tiki drinks they serve put them on my list awhile ago. I’ve been to Springfield several times, as both of my brother-in-law’s graduated from college there, but I haven’t been in yet. Living in the Midwest, I am especially drawn to places that make me feel like I am in the tropics. I have no doubt that their scratch-made tiki drinks and small plates like elote and jackfruit rice bowls, will have me in a vacation state of mind.
Bentonville, AR (population 51,111) – 100 miles from Tulsa, OK and 190 miles from Kansas City, MO
Located in the basement of The Preacher’s Son, which is a restaurant in a beautifully converted church, you’ll find Undercroft. We spent a night down in Bentonville in February to visit the Crystal Bridges Museum and had a wonderful lunch at The Preacher’s Son. Sadly, there were no bartenders on site during lunch, and Undercroft didn’t open in time for us to stop in before driving back to Kansas City. But, we’ll make the trip again! They serve classic 19th century-style cocktails along with their own creations.
Tonganoxie, KS (population 5,065) – 27 miles from Kansas City, MO and 155 miles from Omaha, NE
My favorite bartender in Kansas City, Jill Cockson, told me about The Myers Hotel Bar. Sadly, it was not too long ago and with everything shut down, I haven’t had a chance to visit yet. I hope to change that soon. This bar is located inside a 140+ year old building, which is very old in this part of the US. Prior to the bar opening in 2015, the building was home to a diner, a cafe, a salon, and a hotel from 1894-1931. The bar serves a great variety of cocktails including classics and seasonal recipes using things from their bar garden. The menu changes at least twelve times a year. I am so looking forward to checking this place out!
Lee’s Summit, MO (population 98,461) – 17 miles from Kansas City, MO and 183 miles from Omaha, NE
It’s fitting that my last drink out before 8 weeks (and counting) of quarantine was at my favorite local bar and cocktail supply store, Libations & Company. While this place is not much of a drive for me, since I live in this town, I know many of my friends in the Kansas City metro have yet to venture South to try it out. Not only does Libations sell a great selection of spirits, bar tools, and mixers but you can also get a great drink from their seasonal menu five days a week. It’s a cozy, friendly place where you are bound to chat up locals and visitors alike. For now, they have a greatly expanded online store and you can pick up your ingredients at the door until it’s safe for them to reopen.
Worth the drive from Memphis and Birmingham
Starkville, MS (population 25,309) – 116 miles from Birmingham, AL and 137 miles from Memphis, TN
From what I’ve read, The Guest Room is definitely worth the drive. This cocktail bar is nestled under Restaurant Tyler and promises an authentic speakeasy experience. Two years ago they were named one of the best hidden bars in the US by Men’s Journal and is listed as one of Mississippi’s most unique bars. Since I spent a summer in college living in Hattiesburg, MS, I have often wanted to go back to the state to explore. This place gives me all the excuse I need!
Worth the drive from Calgary, Boise, and Denver
Jackson, WY (population 10,429) – 275 miles from Boise, ID and 388 miles from Denver, CO
It’s hard to believe it’s been five year’s since we visited Jackson Hole, but time flies. We went there to check off another state and to try dogsledding, which you can read about for yourself. One of my favorite places we visited was The Rose. This rugged, tourist town has a fairly competitive food and beverage scene. After a long day skiing, hunting, or shopping, people want to unwind. This restaurant and bar easily takes care of that wish. As the area’s first and only classically-inspired cocktail lounge, you can relax to the nightly entertainment.
Great Falls, MT (population 58,701) – 280 miles from Calgary, Canada and 354 from Boise, ID
Enbär is known for its handcrafted cocktails that feature Montana spirits. After a trip to the state in December for Christmas, I can say that while there’s a lot of open land, distilleries are popping up and they are drawing visitors from all over. With twenty distilleries along a trail, you could explore all the state has to offer, or you could sip and relax at this cocktail bar. Actually, at this point, doing both sounds pretty good to me.
So that’s my current list of 12 cocktail bars worth the drive for me. Now it’s time to start planning your own adventures. What cocktail bars do you think are worth the drive? I’m always looking for more off-the-radar places to check out. Maybe I’ll see you out there!