August 14, 2019

50 St. Louis Area Bars We Love

In our past bar guides, we’ve offered various guides to various bar genres: best craft breweries (2015), best dive bars (2016), best cocktail bars (2017) and best neighborhood bars (2018). That just about covers everything, so for this year’s guide, we decided to get a whole lot more subjective. Rather than choosing this genre or that, we decided simply to present 50 bars we love.

—Sarah Fenske

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Brennan’s
Cheeky, cosmopolitan Brennan’s (4659 Maryland Avenue, 314-497-4449) has something for everyone. There are cigars in the private club upstairs, ping pong in the basement below, and whiskey and wine throughout. There is sidewalk seating and bar stool seating and intimate little tables with still more seating. There is food, which includes not only a burger, but “Limoncello Gooey Buttercake.” And now, thanks to the BHIVE, which opened in 2015, Brennan’s even has a coworking space. You might stop by in the morning and never actually leave, which, whether or not you actually set up your office here, is very much a Brennan’s thing. How many times have you met a friend for a drink on the sidewalk only to end up staying for a flatbread or two, then moving upstairs for more drinks and then downstairs for a game or two and then finally ending things at 1 a.m.? Far more than it’s prudent to admit, but that’s the charm of this Central West End mainstay. Kevin Brennan was 33 when he first opened the place and had no inkling it would become the juggernaut it has. “I didn’t really want to open a bar,” he says. “It just happened over time.” As he tells it, it was originally a store that also had a bar, and all the various levels and extra rooms have simply flowed from there as demand kept increasing and he and his staff kept tinkering. Sixteen years later, not only does the tinkering continue, but Brennan’s remains the bar of choice for many of the city’s most discriminating drinkers. 	 -Sarah Fenske
Photo credit: RJ Hartbeck
Brennan’s

Cheeky, cosmopolitan Brennan’s (4659 Maryland Avenue, 314-497-4449) has something for everyone. There are cigars in the private club upstairs, ping pong in the basement below, and whiskey and wine throughout. There is sidewalk seating and bar stool seating and intimate little tables with still more seating. There is food, which includes not only a burger, but “Limoncello Gooey Buttercake.” And now, thanks to the BHIVE, which opened in 2015, Brennan’s even has a coworking space. You might stop by in the morning and never actually leave, which, whether or not you actually set up your office here, is very much a Brennan’s thing. How many times have you met a friend for a drink on the sidewalk only to end up staying for a flatbread or two, then moving upstairs for more drinks and then downstairs for a game or two and then finally ending things at 1 a.m.? Far more than it’s prudent to admit, but that’s the charm of this Central West End mainstay. Kevin Brennan was 33 when he first opened the place and had no inkling it would become the juggernaut it has. “I didn’t really want to open a bar,” he says. “It just happened over time.” As he tells it, it was originally a store that also had a bar, and all the various levels and extra rooms have simply flowed from there as demand kept increasing and he and his staff kept tinkering. Sixteen years later, not only does the tinkering continue, but Brennan’s remains the bar of choice for many of the city’s most discriminating drinkers.

-Sarah Fenske

Photo credit: RJ Hartbeck
33 Wine Shop & Bar
Wine Shop & Bar (1913 Park Avenue, 314-231-9463) is miles from cookie-cutter suburban chains with their sugary drinks and forced gaiety. The walls are cool and white, the light pours in from the street-facing windows and the prevailing sound is that of conversation. Like the dive bars I frequented in my youth, this is a place where you could have a drink or get drunk, but it’s also a place where you could explore. The list of wine by the glass is tightly, smartly curated and changes frequently. You’re meant to talk to the bartender about your preferences, not look for something obvious that you already know. As for these barkeeps, they tend to be both entirely approachable and very wise; tell them you like a white Burgundy from France and they’ll steer you to something that is neither a Burgundy nor French, but somehow just right. This is what wine bars are for, or at least should be: exploration. Read more about 33 Wine Shop & Bar here.
-Sarah Fenske
Photo credit: RFT file photo
33 Wine Shop & Bar

Wine Shop & Bar (1913 Park Avenue, 314-231-9463) is miles from cookie-cutter suburban chains with their sugary drinks and forced gaiety. The walls are cool and white, the light pours in from the street-facing windows and the prevailing sound is that of conversation. Like the dive bars I frequented in my youth, this is a place where you could have a drink or get drunk, but it’s also a place where you could explore. The list of wine by the glass is tightly, smartly curated and changes frequently. You’re meant to talk to the bartender about your preferences, not look for something obvious that you already know. As for these barkeeps, they tend to be both entirely approachable and very wise; tell them you like a white Burgundy from France and they’ll steer you to something that is neither a Burgundy nor French, but somehow just right. This is what wine bars are for, or at least should be: exploration.

Read more about 33 Wine Shop & Bar here.

-Sarah Fenske

Photo credit: RFT file photo
Amsterdam Tavern
Every weekend morning from early August to late May, an occasional cheer will shatter the 7 a.m. silence of Tower Grove South. The source of the hubbub is Amsterdam Tavern (3175 Morganford Road, 314-772-8224), and it’s where soccer fans make a weekly pilgrimage to watch matches broadcast from England, Germany, Spain and wherever else the Beautiful Game is played. Whoever’s playing, you’ll see fans decked out in their club’s colors enjoying a pint. Almost everyone has a beer, no matter how early the game starts. There’s always a good range of local craft beers on tap — the bar has collaborated with breweries including Urban Chestnut and Civil Life on soccer-themed beers — as well as session lagers for just a few dollars. Counter-service sister venue the Dam offers burgers, hot dogs and appetizers, which you can bring into the bar. Read more about the Amsterdam Tavern here.	 -Iain Shaw
Photo credit: Iain Shaw
Amsterdam Tavern

Every weekend morning from early August to late May, an occasional cheer will shatter the 7 a.m. silence of Tower Grove South. The source of the hubbub is Amsterdam Tavern (3175 Morganford Road, 314-772-8224), and it’s where soccer fans make a weekly pilgrimage to watch matches broadcast from England, Germany, Spain and wherever else the Beautiful Game is played. Whoever’s playing, you’ll see fans decked out in their club’s colors enjoying a pint. Almost everyone has a beer, no matter how early the game starts. There’s always a good range of local craft beers on tap — the bar has collaborated with breweries including Urban Chestnut and Civil Life on soccer-themed beers — as well as session lagers for just a few dollars. Counter-service sister venue the Dam offers burgers, hot dogs and appetizers, which you can bring into the bar.

Read more about the Amsterdam Tavern here.

-Iain Shaw

Photo credit: Iain Shaw
Angad Rooftop
When the A.R.T. Angad Rainbow Terrace (634 North Grand Boulevard) opened for business a few months ago, it represented the final piece of the city’s most fashionable new hotel: a rooftop bar. The stylish environs (magenta barstools, low-slung couches) would be at home in any of the world’s chic cities, but the terrace is also 100 percent St. Louis in all the best ways. The friendly service is one major reason, but right up there, too, is the pricing. No, most of these drinks aren’t cheap, but the cocktail of the day is. For just $5, you can sip an expertly crafted, balanced drink specially concocted by the hotel’s effortlessly cool beverage directors. The bar also boasts CBD-infused cocktails and regular Friday night live music performances. Even so, those seem utterly unnecessary when gazing out from a bar stool perched on the perimeter of the Angad’s rooftop. The view from the top is the only mood lifter we need.
-Sarah Fenske
Photo credit: Ryan Gines
Angad Rooftop

When the A.R.T. Angad Rainbow Terrace (634 North Grand Boulevard) opened for business a few months ago, it represented the final piece of the city’s most fashionable new hotel: a rooftop bar. The stylish environs (magenta barstools, low-slung couches) would be at home in any of the world’s chic cities, but the terrace is also 100 percent St. Louis in all the best ways. The friendly service is one major reason, but right up there, too, is the pricing. No, most of these drinks aren’t cheap, but the cocktail of the day is. For just $5, you can sip an expertly crafted, balanced drink specially concocted by the hotel’s effortlessly cool beverage directors. The bar also boasts CBD-infused cocktails and regular Friday night live music performances. Even so, those seem utterly unnecessary when gazing out from a bar stool perched on the perimeter of the Angad’s rooftop. The view from the top is the only mood lifter we need.

-Sarah Fenske

Photo credit: Ryan Gines
Atomic Cowboy
What more can be said about Atomic Cowboy (4140 Manchester Avenue, 314-775-0775)? It’s a staple, a mainstay, a destination for drinkers and music lovers and foodies alike. Some would say it’s a huge reason the Grove has become the nightlife hotspot that it is today (though those folks should definitely apologize to the gay bars that were there first). But Chip Schloss’ sprawling entertainment empire deserves every commendation it gets. With three bars, a huge outdoor stage, a sizable attached indoor venue and a DJ spot with its own dance floor, Atomic is more than equipped to keep the party popping well into the night — 3 a.m., to be exact. And its stacked concert calendar ensures that it does just that. Raise a glass to a St. Louis institution.	
-Daniel Hill
Photo credit: Ryan Gines
Atomic Cowboy

What more can be said about Atomic Cowboy (4140 Manchester Avenue, 314-775-0775)? It’s a staple, a mainstay, a destination for drinkers and music lovers and foodies alike. Some would say it’s a huge reason the Grove has become the nightlife hotspot that it is today (though those folks should definitely apologize to the gay bars that were there first). But Chip Schloss’ sprawling entertainment empire deserves every commendation it gets. With three bars, a huge outdoor stage, a sizable attached indoor venue and a DJ spot with its own dance floor, Atomic is more than equipped to keep the party popping well into the night — 3 a.m., to be exact. And its stacked concert calendar ensures that it does just that. Raise a glass to a St. Louis institution.

-Daniel Hill

Photo credit: Ryan Gines
BJ’s Bar and Restaurant
A bar as old as BJ’s Bar & Restaurant (184 West Washington Street, Florissant; 314-837-7783) carries a certain pedigree of unpolished excellence. Rough on the outside and warm within, BJ’s is a veritable temple to generations of Florissant drinkers. It’s still owned by the same family after more than 60 years — a lifespan that predates Provel, as evidenced in the bar’s celebrated mozzarella-topped thin-crust pizza. A stripped-down dive this is not: The menu is stacked with cheap appetizers and sandwiches, cocktails are poured strong into Mason jars, and cans of beer are two-for-one on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. And if the drink menu isn’t speaking your particular booze language, BJ’s package license means you can take the fun home with you, or even set yourself up for a night with your new best friend, a $22 gallon of Ten High. Refined? Not at all. But for all manner of fun, look for the bar with the giant marquee Stag sign out front. You can’t miss it — that is, until you finally have to leave. 	-Danny Wicentowski
Photo credit: Danny Wicentowski
BJ’s Bar and Restaurant

A bar as old as BJ’s Bar & Restaurant (184 West Washington Street, Florissant; 314-837-7783) carries a certain pedigree of unpolished excellence. Rough on the outside and warm within, BJ’s is a veritable temple to generations of Florissant drinkers. It’s still owned by the same family after more than 60 years — a lifespan that predates Provel, as evidenced in the bar’s celebrated mozzarella-topped thin-crust pizza. A stripped-down dive this is not: The menu is stacked with cheap appetizers and sandwiches, cocktails are poured strong into Mason jars, and cans of beer are two-for-one on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. And if the drink menu isn’t speaking your particular booze language, BJ’s package license means you can take the fun home with you, or even set yourself up for a night with your new best friend, a $22 gallon of Ten High. Refined? Not at all. But for all manner of fun, look for the bar with the giant marquee Stag sign out front. You can’t miss it — that is, until you finally have to leave.

-Danny Wicentowski

Photo credit: Danny Wicentowski
Broadway Oyster Bar
A slice of New Orleans in downtown St. Louis, Broadway Oyster Bar (736 South Broadway, 314-621-8811) has been an institution for more than 35 years, and one of the best New Orleans style restaurant/bar/music venues in the Midwest. BOB (as it’s known around town) is the place to go to always find a party or a crowd. There are often two live acts a night, except on Fridays when one featured band starts at 10 p.m. The live music is generally free, although more well-known acts come with a cover. The food is authentic Cajun — your best bet in town for fried oysters, crayfish or jambalaya. The two outdoor patios are covered and heated during cold or rainy weather, so the party doesn’t stop no matter what the time of year. Because of its close proximity to the ballpark, BOB is especially packed before and after Cardinals games, so be prepared to wait during baseball season and on weekends.  	-Ellen Prinzi
Photo credit: Mabel Suen
Broadway Oyster Bar

A slice of New Orleans in downtown St. Louis, Broadway Oyster Bar (736 South Broadway, 314-621-8811) has been an institution for more than 35 years, and one of the best New Orleans style restaurant/bar/music venues in the Midwest. BOB (as it’s known around town) is the place to go to always find a party or a crowd. There are often two live acts a night, except on Fridays when one featured band starts at 10 p.m. The live music is generally free, although more well-known acts come with a cover. The food is authentic Cajun — your best bet in town for fried oysters, crayfish or jambalaya. The two outdoor patios are covered and heated during cold or rainy weather, so the party doesn’t stop no matter what the time of year. Because of its close proximity to the ballpark, BOB is especially packed before and after Cardinals games, so be prepared to wait during baseball season and on weekends.

-Ellen Prinzi

Photo credit: Mabel Suen
Bubby & Sissy’s
Once or twice a month I’ll make the 45-minute trek from South Grand to Bubby & Sissy’s (602 Belle Street, Alton, Illinois; 618-465-4773), sometimes contemplating how many closer bars I’m passing on my journey. More than a hundred, easily. But none compares to the magic of that place, nestled beneath a bluff in downtown Alton — an area I refer to as “the Bi-Muda Triangle” due to the sexual fluidity of many of the town’s lively, diverse revelers. While gay-owned and operated, “Bubby’s,” as regulars call it, is truly a place without labels. Nobody is really sure who is what, and it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s just there to have fun. The variety of characters all mixing effortlessly — from the young and the beautiful to retirees, and from open-minded bros to sparkling queens — make this a place like no other. After one visit you’ll find your commute will be fueled by a feeling of delicious anticipation. 
-Chris Andoe
Photo credit: Justin Lehman
Bubby & Sissy’s

Once or twice a month I’ll make the 45-minute trek from South Grand to Bubby & Sissy’s (602 Belle Street, Alton, Illinois; 618-465-4773), sometimes contemplating how many closer bars I’m passing on my journey. More than a hundred, easily. But none compares to the magic of that place, nestled beneath a bluff in downtown Alton — an area I refer to as “the Bi-Muda Triangle” due to the sexual fluidity of many of the town’s lively, diverse revelers. While gay-owned and operated, “Bubby’s,” as regulars call it, is truly a place without labels. Nobody is really sure who is what, and it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s just there to have fun. The variety of characters all mixing effortlessly — from the young and the beautiful to retirees, and from open-minded bros to sparkling queens — make this a place like no other. After one visit you’ll find your commute will be fueled by a feeling of delicious anticipation.

-Chris Andoe

Photo credit: Justin Lehman
Bunker’s Tavern
You don’t have to squint all that hard to see Florissant’s historic past. There’s the Old St. Ferdinand Shrine, which still stands as a relic of 1700s missionary work; the town’s original general store, now converted into the quaint Hendel’s Restaurant; and the strip of buildings along St. Francois street, one of which used to hold the area’s house of ill repute. Though much has changed for those properties over the last few hundred years, Bunker’s Tavern (297 St. Francois Street, Florissant; 314-837-2601) remains the city’s living, breathing link to the past. Since opening around the turn of the twentieth century, the small, ivy-covered building has been Old Town Florissant’s undisputed watering hole — a place covered in antique mirrored beer signs, not as an ironic bit of nostalgia but because it’s what’s on offer. Belly up to the vintage wooden bar, and you’re likely to get a local history lesson from the bartender, some pro tips about Old Town Donuts and a raised eyebrow if you ask about the craft beer selection. 
-Cheryl Baehr
Photo credit: Cheryl Baehr
Bunker’s Tavern

You don’t have to squint all that hard to see Florissant’s historic past. There’s the Old St. Ferdinand Shrine, which still stands as a relic of 1700s missionary work; the town’s original general store, now converted into the quaint Hendel’s Restaurant; and the strip of buildings along St. Francois street, one of which used to hold the area’s house of ill repute. Though much has changed for those properties over the last few hundred years, Bunker’s Tavern (297 St. Francois Street, Florissant; 314-837-2601) remains the city’s living, breathing link to the past. Since opening around the turn of the twentieth century, the small, ivy-covered building has been Old Town Florissant’s undisputed watering hole — a place covered in antique mirrored beer signs, not as an ironic bit of nostalgia but because it’s what’s on offer. Belly up to the vintage wooden bar, and you’re likely to get a local history lesson from the bartender, some pro tips about Old Town Donuts and a raised eyebrow if you ask about the craft beer selection.

-Cheryl Baehr

Photo credit: Cheryl Baehr
CBGB
For all the first-rate restaurants of South Grand, you’re not going to find a wealth of bars. Maybe that’s because the district got it right 32 years ago with the opening of CBGB (3163 South Grand Boulevard). The wonderful dive is pleasingly dark, with a straightforward, L-shaped bar that was probably solid black before thousands of forearms rubbed the paint away. There are two rooms, but the fact that the dividing wall has been paired down to the studs really opens up the space. The women’s restroom famously features facing stools, and the whole bar is decorated with art of varying quality. Bartender Matt Wagner, who has managed the place for more than two decades, curates an excellent selection of beers and liquors. But he’ll never look at you sideways for maximizing your dollars on a Stag bottle or a literal bucket of gin and tonic. Live bands rotate through a lot of nights, and there’s trivia on Wednesdays. A front patio with weathered picnic tables provides front-row seats to the never-ending South Grand parade of humanity and all its hijinks. If you’d rather drink your gin bucket in peace, just head out to the back courtyard. Who needs anything more? 
-Doyle Murphy
Photo credit: Doyle Murphy
CBGB

For all the first-rate restaurants of South Grand, you’re not going to find a wealth of bars. Maybe that’s because the district got it right 32 years ago with the opening of CBGB (3163 South Grand Boulevard). The wonderful dive is pleasingly dark, with a straightforward, L-shaped bar that was probably solid black before thousands of forearms rubbed the paint away. There are two rooms, but the fact that the dividing wall has been paired down to the studs really opens up the space. The women’s restroom famously features facing stools, and the whole bar is decorated with art of varying quality. Bartender Matt Wagner, who has managed the place for more than two decades, curates an excellent selection of beers and liquors. But he’ll never look at you sideways for maximizing your dollars on a Stag bottle or a literal bucket of gin and tonic. Live bands rotate through a lot of nights, and there’s trivia on Wednesdays. A front patio with weathered picnic tables provides front-row seats to the never-ending South Grand parade of humanity and all its hijinks. If you’d rather drink your gin bucket in peace, just head out to the back courtyard. Who needs anything more?

-Doyle Murphy

Photo credit: Doyle Murphy