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.
Savannah, GA (population 145,862)
- 125 miles from Jacksonville, FL
- 218 miles from Charlotte, NC
- 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.
Shawnee, KS (population 65,845)
- 9 miles from Kansas City, MO
- 167 miles from Omaha, NE
- 211 miles from Tulsa, OK
Since I live in the Kansas City metro area, I often hear about new bars opening. Drastic Measures opened in June 2020, and has quickly become one of my favorites. If you also live in the area, I wrote a longer post about cocktail bars in Johnson County that includes more photos of this impressive spot. From inventive drinks, to the chill atmosphere, this place needs to be on your list. It’s the only place like it in the area and grabbing a drink there is a real treat. They open at 4pm too, so if you’re just passing through, you won’t have to wait until dark.
Chattanooga, TN (population 180,557)
- 104 miles from Atlanta, GA
- 135 miles from Birmingham, AL
- 349 miles from Charlotte, NC
I’ve been lucky enough to have visited The Bitter Alibi for lunch but never drinks. This is something I need to remedy soon. The place is cozy and inviting. With a food menu comprised of Southern and Asian comfort foods, I have no doubt the drinks are delicious. I just need to go and check it out for you, just to be on the safe side.
Gilbert, AZ (population 248,279)
- 18 miles from Phoenix, AZ
- 218 miles from Mexicali, Mexico
- 275 miles from Las Vegas, NV
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.
Des Moines, IA (population 216,853)
- 123 miles from Omaha, NE
- 180 miles from Kansas City, MO
- 234 miles from Minneapolis, MN
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
- 165 miles from Tulsa, OK
- 229 miles from Memphis, TN
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
- 190 miles from Kansas City, MO
- 246 miles from Memphis, TN
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.
Superior, WI (population 26,101)
- 131 miles from Saint Paul, MN
- 283 miles from Madison, WI
- 396 miles from Chicago, IL
During some recent roadtrip research, I came across the Spirit Room. The bar serves craft cocktails and small plates. Prior to the bar opening, the building was home to the former Superior, Wisconsin’s Old City Hall. The bar is full of handcrafted touches with a custom-built bar and woodwork throughout the space. I am so looking forward to checking this place out!
Lee’s Summit, MO (population 98,461)
- 17 miles from Kansas City, MO
- 183 miles from Omaha, NE
- 226 miles from St. Louis, MO
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.
Starkville, MS (population 25,309)
- 116 miles from Birmingham, AL
- 137 miles from Memphis, TN
- 246 miles from Baton Rouge, LA
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!
Jackson, WY (population 10,429)
- 275 miles from Boise, ID
- 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
- 354 miles 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.
I know most people aren’t going to just jump in their car and drive to visit one or two bars. (Although you would be a soul mate of mine if you did.) In the spirit of finding other fun things to check out and places to stay, here are a few resources that will help when planning your full trip:
This book, and accompanying website, is the perfect place to find quirky, interesting things to see all over the world. I always start my trip planning with a peek into the book. It has helped me to see the Banff Merman and Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley in Belize, and The Evoluon in Eindhoven, Netherlands.
EATER is a fantastic resource for places to eat and drink across the United States. In addition to great articles about food and drink culture, they have great updated guides on where to grab a meal. I have never been steered wrong by their recommendations.
I know depending on where you live, and what the rental property market has done to specific places, there are some mixed feelings about Airbnb. That said, I have had such amazing and unique experiences with my Airbnb stays. Here are just three of the morning views I’ve had in the past couple of years. Not too bad!
So that’s my current list of 12 cocktail bars worth the drive. 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!