Such a simple word, bar, but so packed with meaning. Bars encompass history and culture, community and coming of age, good times and sad times, romance and bromance, sass and sisterhood, affirmation and escape. New Jersey Monthly set out to celebrate the state’s finest examples of each sector, from sophisticated parlors to hipster hangouts, beer halls to sports bars, retro to gleamingly contemporary, bar bites to exceptional cuisine. We narrowed the overwhelming field by eliminating brewery and distillery tasting rooms, brewpubs (which we’ve written about in depth) and places that are primarily wine bars. Our picks were made on the basis of recommendations by NJM staffers and food-and-drink writers, dives into social media, conversations with hospitality professionals and cocktail-and-beer cognoscenti, finally backed by visits to the most promising places. Just as all politics is local, so is one’s choice of a bar. Thus we present the bars by region (and alphabetically by town within region), and encourage you to take a designated driver.