After a long day of geyser gazing and backcountry hiking, there’s nothing better than a cold one at a Yellowstone lodge. Here’s our review of the best places for a cold beer and cocktails in Yellowstone National Park.
The perfect Yellowstone National Park experience means living life to the fullest, and that means being totally active during the day and relaxing with friends and family in the evening. The public spaces at Yellowstone’s lodges and inns are designed to accommodate that experience, with many of the hotels featuring some unique and scenic watering holes.
Take, for example, the very zenith of Yellowstone hostelry, Old Faithful Inn. Since its opening the Inn’s lobby has served as the nerve center for Yellowstone visitors. It is one of the most pleasant atmospheres on the planet come dinnertime or later, with folks camped out in the second- and third-floor seating, where the people watching is almost as good as the geyser gazing. Indeed, time spent on the second and third floors of the Old Faithful Inn lobby is sometimes the best part of a vacation.
There are three ways to access an adult beverage while at Old Faithful Inn. First, you can bring your own, either from home or purchased at a Yellowstone General Store containing a grocery section. There is a wide variety of locally produced beers, wines and spirits carried at every general store, ranging from Wyoming Whiskey on the spirits side to beers from Red Lodge, Whitefish, Jackson Hole, Missoula, Big Sky and Bozeman. The beer is sold by the can/bottle or the six-pack. We’re especially partial to the Wheatfish Wheat Lager and the Wild Huckleberry Wheat Lager from Great Northern Brewing, Old Faithful Pale Golden Ale from Grand Teton Brewing, Moose Drool Brown Ale from Big Sky Brewing, Bozone Amber Ale from Bozeman Brewing, Salmon Fly Honey Rye from Madison River Brewing and Snow King Pale Ale from Snake River Brewing. For those not into craft beer, there are old standbys like Coors, Coors Light, Rainier, Bud Light and Lite. Many of these can also be found on tap in hotel bars as well. You can expect to spend $2-$2.50 per bottle in the General Store, $4.40-$5.15 at a hotel bar, either in the bottle or tap.
The second and third ways are inside Old Faithful Inn proper. There is a small bar located on the Inn’s second level, called the Mezzanine Bar, right next to the door leading to the seating area on top of the porte cochere in the front of the Inn. It’s open mid-afternoon through the evening, and there’s a very good selection of beers, wines and spirits, including many of the products listed above. Mixed drinks and cocktails both classic and trendy are also available. Many folks will stop off at this small bar before heading outside for a good view of an Old Faithful eruption. Like the lobby, this observation area over the Inn’s distinctive red front doors is set up for groups and families, with plenty of tables and benches. But you’re not limited to sitting outside: you can take a drink anywhere in the lobby, and on a chilly day it’s a treat to relax with a cold beer next to the fabled Old Faithful Inn fireplace.
If the lobby is packed—not uncommon during much of June, July and August—you can always retreat to the Bear Pit Lounge, located off the dining room and a lovely refuge on its own. With a limited menu and an expanded drink selection, the Bear Pit Lounge doesn’t sport the same sort of traffic you see in the rest of Yellowstone at the peak of tourist season. As a bonus, you have the famous glass etchings inspired by the original wooden Bear Pit murals. The original Bear Pit Lounge was built in 1936 in the space now occupied by the Bear Paw Deli. The small room was known for its wood-etched murals. Alas, not all the murals survived a move of the Bear Pit Lounge to its current location in 1962, but some glass etchings based on those original murals did. Look for the rowdy bears, including one bear spraying seltzer on another bear.
If the Old Faithful Inn lobby is a complete zoo—not uncommon when multiple bus groups descend—there’s a potential refuge in the Old Faithful Snow Lodge: the Firehole Lounge off the Obsidian Dining Room. Most of the folks there tend to be parked waiting for a table in the dining room and the surroundings aren’t scintillating, but there is one feature that makes the Firehole Lounge worth a visit: the comfy chairs in front of the fireplace. All of the bars run by Xanterra in the hotels offer pretty much the same things, but there are some variations from bar to bar, and the beer selection at the Snow Lodge Bar was different from those found at Old Faithful Inn during our last visit. Curling up with a good book and a good beer is the perfect way to end a Yellowstone day.
The other great area for beer and cocktails in Yellowstone National Park: Lake, where there are two outstanding options for evening relaxation—and they couldn’t be more different.
The Lake Hotel underwent a huge renovation this year and last, with an overhaul of the front lobby amongst the most noticeable public improvements. Lake has always been positioned as a high-end property, charging the highest room rates and sporting the Park’s Presidential Suite, and the lobby offerings definitely reflect that branding. Lake was always a popular spot for meeting at the end of the long day roaming the Park, and the new layout, with a bar outside the dining room, is even better. The lobby furnishings were also upgraded—goodbye, wicker!—and the padded chairs are set up to take advantage of the lake view as well as the foot traffic in the lobby. Wait staff is there afternoons and evenings, or else you can belly up to the new bar. This is perhaps the most civilized spot in Yellowstone, and one where it feels appropriate to be sipping on a Perfect Manhattan or Dirty Laydie instead of a huckleberry cooler.
On the other side of the coin: the small bar at the Lake Lodge, outside the cafeteria. The selling points here: the comfy couches and chairs in the hotel lobby, and the rocking chairs on the porch. This area fills up with folks waiting for the cafeteria line to wind down, looking to relax after dinner or winding down before calling it a night at a lodge cabin. Add some atmospheric lighting and lobby fireplaces, and you have a place where your worries can waft away.
We do have some favorite places for respite outside Old Faithful Inn and the Lake area:
- Another great place to kick back with a beer or cocktail is the Roosevelt Lodge, either before or after dinner. The front porch is already known by many as a popular meeting spot, with the rocking chairs add an air of relaxation to a rather pedestrian view of the parking lot. Still, with a small bar located inside the lodge and a great dining room, you won’t mind the wait for a table.
- At Canyon, a 1970s-era lounge is tucked between a gift shop and the Canyon Lodge Dining Room. A huge fireplace with a distinctive copper top dominates the space.
- A small Art-Deco-styled bar in the Mammoth Dining Room may not be the most relaxed spot (lots of churn as folks come in and out as they wait for dinner tables), but unless you want to head up to Gardiner and deal with the bars there, it’s your only choice in the Mammoth Hot Springs area.
- Finally, we have the ultimate in hideaways: the small bar off the Grant Village Dining Room. Again, it’s designed more as a spot to park diners than to serve as a real watering hole, but it will work in a pinch.