Photo: Scott Suchman
Dark, sultry lounges with a dash of hush-hush
1. Midnight Cowboy (Austin, Texas)
Seedy massage parlor turned plush Victorian-era lounge. Reserve your spot on the website and, upon arrival, buzz the "Harry Craddock" nameplate (a shout-out to a famous 1920s barman) for entry.
2. The Patterson House (Nashville, Tennessee)
Quintessential Nashville minus the neon. Country music A-listers mingle with suspendered common folk. House Rules specify "no name-dropping."
3. PX (Alexandria, Virginia)
Flagship of Todd Thrasher, one of the first farm-to-glass barmen. If the blue light's on and the Jolly Roger is flying, the bar is open.
A gathering spot when your front porch just won't do
1. The Foundry (Dallas, Texas)
Twinkling strings of lights stretch across a beer garden lined with shipping containers.
2. The Garage Cafe (Birmingham, Alabama)
A scene out of American Pickers with a back patio surrounded by treasure-filled garage bays. Grab a table and hunker down under the wisteria vines.
3. West Alabama Icehouse (Houston, Texas)
A fresh-air honky-tonk where bikers, hipsters, and reformed frat boys commune over beers. Locals used to buy block ice here for the icebox; now, it's a sea of picnic tables and horseshoe pits.
Swank spots favored as much by locals as out-of-towners
1. Oak Bar (Nashville, Tennessee)
Dark wood-paneled sophistication in The Hermitage Hotel.
2. Ocho (San Antonio, Texas)
Hotelier Liz Lambert's sexy pan-Latin lounge in the Hotel Havana.
Toe-tapping joints worth the cover charge
1. D.B.A. New Orleans (New Orleans, Louisiana)
1880s cypress-lined hall in the Marigny with 100-plus beers and a nightly live sound track by the likes of the Rebirth Brass Band.
2. John T. Floore Country Store (Helotes, Texas)
Weekends-only dance hall that launched Willie Nelson's career. Look for up-and-comers such as Jason Boland & The Stragglers.
3. The Station Inn (Nashville, Tennessee)
The unofficial capital of pickin' and grinnin' since 1974. Even the seats along the back wall came from Lester Flatt's tour bus.
Go for the food, stick around for the drinks
1. City Grocery (Oxford, Mississippi)
Big-girl drinks in a sorority-girl town. John Currence takes his cocktails as seriously as his award-winning food.
2. Highlands Bar and Grill (Birmingham, Alabama)
Frank Stitt's homing beacon for Southern gastronomes.
3. Leon's Full Service (Decatur, Georgia)
House-made liqueurs and tinctures in a converted gas station. Soak up the alcohol with such bites as roasted marrow on semolina toast.
The unapologetically awesome down & dirty South
1. Earnestine & Hazel's (Memphis, Tennessee)
A bona fide institution with a storied past. (Psst: It used to be a brothel.)
2. The Griffon (Charleston, South Carolina)
Dollar-lined pub of the English persuasion. Charleston chefs make a beeline here after their kitchens close.
3. Pinkie Master's Lounge (Savannah, Georgia)
Longtime political haunt with a killer jukebox. Supposedly Jimmy Carter announced his bid for the Presidency here.
Where golden-hued love is doled out by the dram
1. The Bar at Husk (Charleston, South Carolina)
This carriage house, with 80 whiskeys, may be your best bet in all of the South to find Pappy Van Winkle.
2. Bird of a Feather (Baltimore, Maryland)
Hole-in-the-wall Scotch bar with 120 single malts.
3. The Bluegrass Tavern (Lexington, Kentucky)
A turn-of-the-century tavern with 244 different Kentucky bourbons.
Unforgettable drinks with recipes you'll never remember
1. Anvil Bar & Refuge (Houston, Texas)
Home to some of the first shots of the South's cocktail revolution.
2. The Crunkleton (Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
A serious bar without a trace of attitude.
3. T.N.T. Bar (Arlington, Virginia)
Both playful and badass: the bar equivalent of a "I Heart Mom" tattoo.
BEST TREND: COBBLERS
Our latest drink obsession: This low-proof, retro-inspired sipper typically combines fortified wine (port, Madeira, sherry) with sugar and fruit over ice. Here, three spots that do it justice.
1. Bellocq (New Orleans, Louisiana)
With an entire menu of cobblers, this spot in The Hotel Modern is an ode to early 19th-century drinks. thehotelmodern.com
2. Fox Liquor Bar (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Making use of seasonal fruits is de rigueur in the Ashley Christensen empire. ac-restaurants.com
3. H. Harper Station (Alanta, Georgia)
Sample from the rotating selection at this neighborhood favorite. hharperstation.com
BEST TREND: BITTERS
Today's menus are rife with bitters. Cocktail bitters (Angostura, Peychaud's) are the salt and pepper of the beverage world. Digestive bitters (Campari, Fernet Branca) give a botanical quality to drinks.
1. Holeman & Finch Public House (Atlanta, Georgia)
Bitters poster boy Greg Best liberally uses the aromatics. holeman-finch.com
2. Proof on Main (Louisville, Kentucky)
They temper bourbon's sweetness. proofonmain.com
3. Lockeland Table (Nashville, Tennessee)
Grapefruit and lavender bitters keep it interesting. lockelandtable.com
BEST TREND: SAZERACS
Featuring rye whiskey, bitters, and Herbsaint, this NOLA staple is said to be the first cocktail. And now it's hip to be nostalgic.
1. Carousel Bar (New Orleans, Louisiana)
This faithful execution comes with a spin: The bar completely revolves every 15 minutes. hotelmonteleone.com
2. Cure (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Known for its spirit-forward modern drinks, Cure delivers its own twist on the classic, using cognac instead of rye. curenola.com
3. French 75 (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Chris Hannah makes a perfect cocktail—every time. This is the answer to the swill of Bourbon Street. arnaudsrestaurant.com