American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Historic Taverns Across America, Part 2
On Thursday, I mentioned two of my favorite historic taverns – Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, a National Historic Landmark in the New Orleans French Quarter, and Captain Tony’s Saloon in Key West’s Old Town district. Both are rich with history and atmosphere, and each were once the preferred hangouts of some of my favorite American writers, including Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, and Robert Frost.
America, however, boasts a plethora of other famous watering holes – the kind of establishments that have lured countless celebrities (from actors to presidents) and witnessed several curious events in this country’s history. Although some are long gone – such as Nuttall & Mann’s No. 10 Saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota, where Wild Bill Hickok met his untimely fate – plenty of old-time joints still operate as bars. Here are three more of my favorites:
McSorley’s Old Ale House
Established in 1854, McSorley’s Old Ale House (15 E. 7th St., 212/473-9148, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Mon.-Sat., 1 p.m.-1 a.m. Sun.) claims to be New York City’s oldest continuously operated saloon, having enticed the likes of President Abraham Lincoln, Woody Guthrie, and John Lennon over the years. Supposedly, Guthrie even inspired the union movement from this very tavern – a tavern, by the way, that didn’t allow women (including a longtime female owner) until civil rights attorney Faith Seidenberg won her Supreme Court case in 1970.
McSorley’s – which began as “The Old House at Home,” an Irish-style, men-only public house, and was later named after the original owner, John McSorley – has been immortalized in Life magazine, numerous paintings by John Sloan, and an essay collection called McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon. In 1890, McSorley put his son, Bill – ironically, a teetotaler – in charge of the business. Both father and son customarily bought the final round for their patrons, and McSorley’s was so popular among local politicians that it continued to operate during the Prohibition era. Although the tavern is no longer owned by the McSorley family, the place still resembles its early days, complete with weathered newspaper clippings on the walls and sawdust on the floor. One major change, however, is the addition of a kitchen, which serves reasonably priced pub fare.
John Barleycorn Memorial Pub
As with New Orleans and New York, Chicago contains a wide array of historic bars, pubs, and taverns, including Lincoln Park’s infamous John Barleycorn Memorial Pub (658 W. Belden Ave., 773/348-8899, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Tues.-Fri., 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Sat., 9 a.m.-2 a.m. Sun.). Erected in 1890, the building that now houses Barleycorn’s originally served as a different saloon (owned by a Chicago policeman of Irish descent), which, during Prohibition, technically closed to the public. Of course, patrons could still enter the speakeasy through a rear Chinese laundry that served as a front for bootleggers. During this era, the saloon’s most notable patron was John Dillinger, the well-dressed bank robber who would often buy a round for his fellow drinkers.
Over the years, the building housed various saloons, until an eccentric Dutch proprietor purchased the property in the early 1960s, transforming it into the pub that exists today. Filled with a variety of artifacts, paintings, and handmade ships from all around the world, Barleycorn’s is a terrific spot to chat with friends, sample a variety of libations, and munch on some excellent pub grub, including soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and specialties like hickory-smoked ribs.
Not to be outdone, Los Angeles has its own share of celebrity hangouts, such as Boardner’s (1652 N. Cherokee Ave., 323/462-9621, 4:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Thurs., 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Fri.-Sun.), a Hollywood legend since 1942. Of course, as with most Hollywood legends, it’s hard to know what to believe. For instance, some say that Boardner’s was “the last bar where Elizabeth Short drank before she stepped into the night and became the Black Dahlia” (Steven Mikulan, “Hollywood, Straight Up,” L.A. Weekly, May 2000). Other curious patrons have included W.C. Fields, Errol Flynn, and Robert Mitchum. Before becoming Boardner’s (named after former owner Steve Boardner) in the 1940s, this historic building, erected in 1927, served as a beauty parlor (possibly a front for a gambling speakeasy), a social club, a restaurant, and a gay bar.
Today, the lively hotspot, also known as the B52 Club, isn’t the neighborhood dive that it once was. Besides an art deco-style social room with an antique bar and several spacious booths, it offers a large dance floor, an upstairs lounge, and a New Orleans-style patio. The self-described “local hangout for the Who’s Who & Who Cares” allows patrons to bar-hop in one location – an ideal place to sip cocktails, dine on various delectables, listen to the well-stocked jukebox, or dance to a range of DJ sounds, from ‘80s music on Monday to alternative tunes on Saturday. Although there’s a cover charge for such events, you can save a little money by visiting during “classic hour” (4-8 p.m. daily), when you’ll find $3 beers and half-priced appetizers.
For a comprehensive listing of America’s bars, taverns, saloons, and brewpubs, consult Beer Travelers. Just remember to call each establishment for up-to-date information, and while I hope you enjoy your pub crawl across America, please don’t ever drink and drive.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me at laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.