In a small mining-turned-tourist town tucked into the mountains near the headwaters of the Rio Grande, there’s a hole-in-the-wall bar with a crusty old bartender whose fish tales are as long as his graying beard. He greets you with a crooked smile and jovial laugh. The ultimate mountain man in the hard-to-forget bar that almost defines the town: Tommyknockers Tavern in Creede, Colorado. When I think of all my trips to Creede, that bar and that bartender, who poured so many drinks with Old Crow Medicine Show playing Wagon Wheel on the jukebox in the background, first come to mind.
Yes, a good bar can help define a city and can help define the experience you have in a new place, crafting memories tied to certain smells, sounds, quirky characters, and, of course, the beverage in hand.
South Lake Tahoe has these defining bars, and we want to help you on your journey to find that one that stands out years later when you reflect back on your trip.
First-off, there’s no right or wrong way to experience South Lake Tahoe. However, you need to decide what fits you, your mood and your group.
There are hidden Tahoe gems. Ones that take you living here for a few weeks, months or even years to stumble upon. Ones that you hear mentioned by someone in passing. These are the locals’ bars. (Don’t tell them I referred you, as I’d prefer not to be blacklisted for giving away these locations.)
Himmel Haus: You’ll bump into an array of locals, from snowmakers that have walked across the street after clocking out for a quick post-work pit-stop to non-skiing types who are there on Sundays for the bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys. Trivia nights on Wednesday are hugely popular, just know that it gets competitive, and Open Mic Night is on Mondays. With foosball, an array of games like knock-off Jenga and Cards Against Humanity, you’ll be sure to have some laughs with friends. Check their lineup for live music, or commandeer the jukebox to ensure your ears like what you hear.
Nepheles: Need some off-hill rescuing? This bar tends to be the go-to spot for weary ski patrollers looking to unwind and swap rescue techniques and tall-tales. The intimate setting will make you feel like you’re in someone’s house rather than a bar. Try the pulled pork sliders.
Blue Angel Café: If you’re looking to mull over those ski techniques with a professional, this convenient spot tends to attract instructors of all levels. The fireplace and couches add a cozy ambiance.
Divided Sky in Meyers: This one is for the people truly committed to making the trek to hang with low-key, outdoor enthusiasts. The food, all made in a toaster oven, is unforgettable, especially the homemade carrot cake, mmmm. Be sure to wear your best flannel shirt and trucker hat to this establishment, and don’t be scared to say hi when you see me hanging out there, sipping on some Fireball.
Lucky Beaver: One of the newer places in town, the Lucky Beaver has quickly moved its way up the popularity chain and for good reasons. Friendly staff, clever drink names, and delicious tator tots makes it a good in-between stop-off.
Cabo Wabo: Cabo takes the prize for having live music seven nights a week and, most of all, for catering to the international guests. To truly experience the locals’ scene at Cabo, go on a Sunday night. But don’t show up until 11:00-11:30 p.m. That’s when everyone comes out of the woodworks for $2 Coronas.
HQ Bar: Located inside MontBleu, HQ should stand for headquarters (not sure if it actually does or not), but it is the prime meet-up spot when arriving at the casinos and prepping for the nightclubs or a show. Not once have I gone there and not seen someone I know. Which means, no incognito action there.
Okay, okay. I could go on and on, but the point has been made. There are plenty of bars in Tahoe to choose from, and each one can provide its own memorable experience that you may or may not remember. Don’t forget to tip your bartender and maybe they’ll let you in on their favorite hidden gem.