The International Yacht & Athletic Club (IYAC) is serious enough to have its own flag (and boats!), not to mention wildly popular parties in this New England yachting capital. Sailors in town for big regattas always gather here, as do the local crews, plus folks who work in the boatbuilding, design, and other maritime trades. While membership based, the tiny bar is open to the public, and you might find yourself joining. It’s that good; 401-841-5250 or iyacnewport.com.
2. Boatyard Bar & Grill, Annapolis, Maryland
Former investment banker Dick Franyo created this place for those who love the Chesapeake Bay lifestyle―especially from the deck of a sailboat. The formula was a watertight one: Sail magazine has named the Boatyard one of the world’s top 12 sailing bars. No wonder. Sailboat photos, ship models, and other sea-theme paraphernalia fill the bright, airy space. Even landlubbers will feel welcome, thanks to the friendly service and tasty seafood; 410-216-6206 or boatyardbarandgrill.com.
3. Sloop Tavern, Seattle, Washington
Start with a great dive bar. Then add an owner who has no boat, but figures it’s time to launch a yacht club for the ascot-averse. The magic has been rolling like the tide for 30 years now at the Sloop Tavern, in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Whether you’re up for joining the Sloop Tavern Yacht Club and participating in recreational sailing and racing, or just up for excellent fish and chips, this is the port of call for you. And don’t miss the 33.8-ounce “Sloopersize” draft beer… it’s a house specialty; 206-782-3330 or theslooptavern.com.
4. Sam’s Anchor Cafe, Tiburon, California
The name on the sign is apt: Sam’s has indeed anchored the waterfront of Tiburon, across the bay from San Francisco, since 1920. The wood-paneled front room harkens back to another era when, the story goes, founder Sam Vella prospered by taking a decidedly casual approach to the enforcement of Prohibition. These days, most patrons favor the enormous over-water deck out back. There, they enjoy great seafood, fabulous views, and Sam’s signature (and, since 1933, perfectly legal) Ramos Fizz, which features an ounce and a half of gin; 415-435-4527 or samscafe.com.
5. Pink Pony Bar & Grill, Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac, a Victorian resort island, offers quiet charms. And then there’s the Pink Pony, which isn’t quiet at all. Competitors from the Port Huron-to-Mackinac and Chicago-to-Mackinac yacht races always end up here, where stories of their boats’ speed and the wind’s ferocity grow with each new round of drinks. The Pony provides excellent food, live entertainment, great views of Lake Huron, and, for the convenience of its sailing clientele, a private dock; 800-241-3341 or chippewahotel.com.
6. Maddie’s Sail Loft, Marblehead, Massachusetts
Why have sailors returned to Maddie’s, generation after generation, since its founding in 1946? It could be the location, less than a block from the harbor. It could be the highly regarded clam chowder, seafood entrées, and steaks. It could be the friendly, welcoming atmosphere. Or, just maybe, it’s Maddie’s reputation for serving the strongest mixed drinks in New England, and possibly on the entire Eastern Seaboard; 781-631-9824.
7. Harbor Pub, Honolulu, Hawaii
Harbor Pub draws relatively few tourists―except for itinerant yachtspeople. The pub overlooks Ala Wai Marina, so it’s handy for everyone from fishermen to island-hopping blue-water cruisers. Locals love the pizzas. The rest of the menu runs toward sandwiches and such typical bar fare as nachos and wings, but, oddly, almost no seafood. Apparently, the patrons would rather catch fish than eat it, but for a cool local hangout way off the beaten path, you can’t do better; 808-941-0985 or harborpubhawaii.com
8. M&M’s Café, Oriental, North Carolina
East Coast sailors already know the charms of Oriental, a nautical village near the mouth of the North Carolina’s Neuse River. Newcomers seeking to learn should head for the bar in this rambling old house just an anchor’s throw from the waterfront. Whatever the question, whether it concerns anchorages or sail repair or which Chardonnay goes best with the crab cakes, someone will have the answer; 252-249-2000 or pamlico-nc.com.
9. Fiddler’s Green, San Diego, California
One admiring Internet reviewer describes a visit here as “sort of like going to the yacht club without the membership fees.” Half-hull boat models and nautical gadgets scattered around the dining room contribute to the ambience. Seafood dominates the menu. All in all, it feels like a comfortable home port for anyone bewitched by the siren song of water; 619-222-2216 or fiddlersgreensandiego.com.
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