When a bar has a history as, um, intimate as these five bars, there's no way all that atmosphere is simply going to vanish—even now that you don't have to risk going to jail just for walking in. The hangouts below, all with checkered pasts, are worth stopping in for the vibe and the mystique, not to mention the unmissable cocktails.
Midnight Cowboy, Austin
Although former building occupant Midnight Cowboy Modeling Oriental Massage was shut down by the FBI in 2011 for operating as a massage parlor, there’s still an air of mystique in the air thanks to current occupant Midnight Cowboy, open since 2012. It’s reservations only at this speakeasy-like bar, whose roster of drinks includes old-school standbys as well as new inventions like the Total Eclipse of the Lemonhart (dry vermouth, rum, lemon juice, vanilla-brown-sugar syrup and tiki bitters). If walk-in tables are available, you'll notice that the vacancy sign above the entry will light up. That is, if you can find the place. It’s marked only by a red light bulb hanging above the doorway and a buzzer labeled “Harry Craddock.” Photo courtesy of Midnight Cowboy/Facebook.
May Baily’s Place, New Orleans
From a 19th century bagnio in the New Orleans red-light district to a present-day cocktail bar with rumored ghost sightings, May Baily’s Place isn’t your typical neighborhood pub. Now connected to the Dauphine Orleans Hotel, the bar serves up a must-try Pimm's Cup in a Victorian-inspired setting. Reminders of its sordid history remain, including a framed copy of a bordello license displayed on the wall, portraits of madams by New Orleans photographer E.J. Bellocq, a red light shining in the courtyard, and alleged visits from a wayward female ghost who occasionally has fun locking gentlemen in the men’s room. Photo courtesy of dauphinorleans.com.
The Saloon, San Francisco
Although it caught fire in 1906, the then-cathouse was saved by firemen, and the building still stands. The Saloon, a blues joint with an eclectic crowd including an occasional celeb like Boz Scaggs and Johnny Depp, offers stiff drinks and beer on tap, not to mention live music and solid jukebox tunes. Photo courtesy of The Saloon/Facebook.
Earnestine & Hazel’s, Memphis
The Memphis joint takes its name from its former owners, sisters Earnestine and Hazel, who ran a first-floor sundry store in the 1930’s, while a bordello with rooms available by the hour operated upstairs. Today, the bar serves up a roster of beers, a killer house burger, and spirits of a different kind: The jukebox is known to start playing by itself, often choosing a song in correlation with current conversations. Photo courtesy of Earnestine & Hazel’s/Facebook.
Ear Inn, New York City
Now a popular dive bar, this long-time Manhattan staple launched circa 1770 as a brothel. The name came about in the 1970s after the letters on a sign marked “Bar” were changed to say “Ear.” Classics abound on the current menu, from burgers to drinks like the Moscow Mule. Photo courtesy of earinn.com.
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