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Skyrim Bar Crawl

The Skyrim Bar Crawl

A survey of the best pubs, speakeasies, and other watering holes in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

By Drew Toal • February 20, 2013

No two players experience the world of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in exactly the same way. Gameologist Joe Keiser, for instance, sees it through the lens of the game’s wide-ranging literature. John Teti, on the other hand, lauds the rough “incongruities” you find in the chilly climes of Skyrim—as he wrote, “You might be anointed by an ancient priesthood as the greatest warrior in all the land, only to walk 10 yards down the road and get slaughtered by a stray bear.” As a subscriber to the idea that beers are preferable to bears and that your chances of a random mauling go way down while setting on a barstool, I tend to engage the game through the world’s many watering holes, both the bustling taverns and the remote, windswept dives. The following is a brief survey of my favorite Skyrim bars, where every Nord knows your name. (It’s Dragonborn, for the record.)

Best Brewery
Skyrim: Honningbrew Meadery

Considering the town’s central location and the fact that it’s home to a large band of heavy-drinking werewolf mercenaries, you’d think that Whiterun would have a better tavern than The Drunken Huntsman, a dreary hovel named for the time one of its owners got drunk and accidentally shot his brother—the bar’s other owner—in the ass with an arrow (by light of the full moon, naturally). Fortunately, right outside of Whiterun proper is the Honningbrew Meadery, where I once did a favor for a guy and can now get an unlimited supply of this high-king’s nectar straight from the frost troll’s teat. Those interested in the mead fermenting process can tour the adjacent boilery, but don’t stray too far—I recommend not getting yourself eaten by the giant vermin lurking in the basement.

Best New Bar
Skyrim: Retching Netch

One of the problems with being a barfly in Skyrim, as in many places in Tamriel, is that often the experience is unremarkable—getting shitfaced on Black Briar Reserve at the Four Shields Tavern in Dragon Bridge is, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable from guzzling wine at the Moorside Inn over in the forgettable hamlet of Morthal. And the people…if I have to hear one more sob story about how business is bad or this person’s mother was slaughtered by rampaging undead, I’ll just scream. Skyrim’s citizens might be awesome at forging Orcish helms and collecting odds and ends and that sort of thing, but their talents don’t usually manifest in the realm of interior design or cheerful bonhomie.

For a less depressing night out, you have to leave Skyrim entirely. Jump on the party boat Northern Maiden and head to Solstheim, the ash-demon-infested Cancun of this world. Here, the Retching Netch—named for an incident involving a naked elf, a tentacled cattle, and projectile vomit—offers a nice getaway from the relentlessly depressing low-lifes propping up Dead Man’s Drink in Falkreath.

Best Conversation
Skyrim: Silver Blood Inn

Markarth is far and away my favorite city in Skyrim. Instead of the usual Skyrim building materials of thatch and horse turds, this mining city is made entirely out of stone, and it sits on the kingdom’s mountainous far western border. Its citizens are generally pretty surly, and that suits me fine.

In a town full of insular jerks, my favorite malcontents run the Silver Blood Inn. Upon entering, you’re greeted by the innkeeper Kleppr, who promises strong drink and clean rooms. But his wife, as Felix to his Oscar, promises instead rotten furniture, “cheap and soaked with ale.”

I could watch these two lovebirds go at it all day, but there is a huge fireplace in the back that demands attention. Around its warm embrace, you can almost always find a great conversation with a random traveler or terse local. I’ll never forget the time a not-unattractive orc woman asked me, “What’s a milk drinker like you doing here?” Milk drinker! I love mammal humor.

Best Music
Skyrim: Winking Skeever

It’s not all smelling of stale beer and bar fights. Sometimes I like to class it up a little, and for that, there’s the Winking Skeever in Solitude, Skyrim’s largest burg. Instead of wearing my usual rags, for a night at the Skeever I’ll put on my Sunday finest—the royal clothes I stole from the still-warm corpse of the Emperor of Tamriel after I assassinated him on his private yacht. Sure, there are still a few spots of arterial spray around the collar, but you just don’t see threads like this every day.

Not only does the Skeever cater to a better class of drunk, it also happens to be located in the same area as the famous Bard’s College, which usually makes for great music. Last time I was there, I requested a bard named Jorn play a rousing rendition of Journey’s “Wheel In The Sky,” but all he seemed to know was a patriotic diddy called “The Age of Oppression.” Classic Skyrim.

Hipster Hangout
Skyrim: Bee & Barb

Traditionally, hipsters—the postmodern yuppies—are expected to be on the forefront of a neighborhood’s gentrification wave. They infest the city’s less-affordable areas, gradually pricing out families that have lived there for decades. (This only partially explains their popularity with locals.) Soon enough, vegan coal-fired pizza, bike shops, and used-record stores pop up like smallpox. Riften, the crime-infested cesspool in Skyrim’s southeastern corner, is a prime candidate for such a flannel-wearing influx.

And the Bee & Barb is preparing to capitalize. The B&B’s brewmeister, Talen-Jei, has already introduced three new craft beers: “White-Gold Tower” (heavy cream, layer of blended mead, lavender, with Dragon’s Tongue on top); “Cliff Racer” (wine, brandy, flin, and the stamina-boosting potable Sujamma); and “Velvet LeChance” (blackberry, honey, spiced wine, and a touch of nightshade). What’s next? A Skyrim Apparel selling skintight, unisex greaves?

Best Speakeasy
Skyrim: Ragged Flagon

Riften hasn’t been totally ruined for normal folks. The Thieves Guild still maintains a presence there, and the dandified gentrifiers should at least provide them with a host of new marks. The Ragged Flagon, located in the Ratways underneath the city, is difficult to find, but it will soon be the only not-insufferable establishment in town. Like any good speakeasy, you have to know where to look for the secret entrance, but once you’re in, you’re in. Vekel The Man (possibly Skyrim’s finest nickname) will serve up good dishonest, non-local fare, and no one will hassle you as you unwind after a hard day of stabbing. Funny story: once I made the mistake of striking up a conversation with a bar patron named Dirge. After exchanging pleasantries and death threats, he informed me that he was “too tired” to punch my face in. I love this place.

Best Expatriate Bar
Skyrim: New Gnisis Cornerclub

Skyrim’s Nords, a race of cold-weather-loving, human-like warriors, are notoriously distrustful of outsiders. Mixing that xenophobia with alcohol can be unhealthy for out-of-towners who patronize Nord saloons. The New Gnisis Cornerclub, nestled in a dark corner of Windhelm, offers safe haven for the oft-persecuted outsider to get a drink free from the worry that a hopped-up Nord will pick a fight. Sometimes the Cornerclub’s oaken door is all that stands between a hapless visitor and certain doom. I remember this one time, a fellow at the bar asked me to help him out of a bind. An assassin was after him, as reprisal for a bit of harmless diplomatic espionage, and he was afraid to walk around in the open. Well, if there’s one thing I detest, it’s financially motivated murder. (If you’re going to murder in Skyrim, it should be murder for its own sake.) I went and had a “talk” with this ruffian, and let’s just say that no one was going to be assassinating anyone after that. For the Dragonborn, defending the downtrodden can be a 24/7 job.

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  • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle

    This made me recall that pretty decent Daedric artifact quest that can only be started in a random tavern… some chap challenges you to a drinking contest and you end up in a Dude Where’s My Car type situation. I recall a temple being trashed, goat larceny and other wackiness. When i did this quest I blacked out in Winterhold yet awoke in Markath, which I think was about as far away you can go on the map. That’s a big night. I’m surprised you don’t get savaged by wolves while desperately scavenging the wilderness for late night Horker meat burgers and sweet rolls.

    • Effigy_Power

      That’s Sanguine’s Daedric Quest and it’s just lovely.
      It’s completely nonsensical, doesn’t require that much combat at all and most importantly it makes you lug around items for no reason at all. It’s about as bro-humorous as I want Skyrim to get, but for what it’s worth, they did a great job there.

    • OldeFortran77

      He’s Nic Cage’s worst most recent nightmare!

  • caspiancomic

    Say what you will about this Bee and Barb’s drink menu, but they apparently consider an entire head of lettuce on a plate to be appropriate pub food. Dealbreaker right there.

    • Effigy_Power

      So just like any pizza place you can order salad at?
      Translation: One head of lettuce, chopped in half. One tomato, chopped in half. Dressing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=579674289 Morgan Filbert

    “Your chances of a random mauling go way down while setting on a barstool.”

    Clearly Mr. Toal hasn’t been going to any of the Khajit bars in town.

  • djsubversive

    Awesome. I just started Skyrim for the first time a few days ago, and I’ve already gotten in some travel time. The Drunken Huntsman isn’t the bar, it’s the archery supply store. 

    Falkreath is a pit. Riften could be all right if the guild wasn’t just a glorified street gang. Haven’t met Maven Black-briar yet, but I hope that she’s actually got some long-term plans and not just “I’m rich and evil.”

    Whiterun is all right, I suppose. I made it up to Windhelm, and now I don’t think I like the Stormcloaks as much. They sound more like Nords-First terrorists who managed to get some power. The Imperials are just assholes, though – they were going to execute me for being an Argonian on a Friday night (I don’t know the elder scrolls names for days, or the joke would have been better). 

    I’ve fought two dragons since the first one showed up. I’ve nearly frozen to death of snowstorms and lack of shelter (finally managed to get to Windhelm at midnight, almost completely frozen to death, and almost nothing was open so I had to walk around shivering until I found the inn). My horse is loaded with books and gemstones. I’m wearing fur armor, a padded hood and a cloak that I made because it gives me the best protection from weather. And I just found some orc daggers on bandits hiding out in a dwarven ruin. None of these are bad things.

    Dwarves were pretty awesome, from the two ruins I’ve found.

    I’m somewhat disappointed that there isn’t more racial stuff. I’m a green lizard-man. Why are the Nords trying to recruit me into their war? Why aren’t more people suspicious of me? I was allowed to just walk into Windhelm when I heard somebody mention that Argonians aren’t even allowed inside the walls. Somebody said that Ulfric wanted to see me, so they couldn’t have had the gate guard say “yo, Argonian, normally your kind isn’t welcome here, but Ulfric told us to look out for you specifically. You can go in, but don’t fuck with anything or we will take you down.”

    I’m getting sick of Lydia’s sarcasm. There better be someone a little more shady that I can recruit, and it better not be one of those assholes from the Riften Mob. The only two who I don’t want to stab are Vex and Devlin, and they give me jobs. Oh, and Rune doesn’t seem so bad, I guess.

    And, finally, my screenshots, for those of you who aren’t on my steam friends list (or in the Gamelogical Society chat room, where I update the regulars on my progress and ask stupid questions).

    Thanks Effigy and Hobbes and Kyle and… Rygel, I think? for all the mod suggestions. I haven’t done much as far as changing the gameplay yet, other than Frostfall (weather and exposure stuff) and More Complex Needs (hunger, thirst, sleep requirements). I’ll save the big stuff for the second playthrough.

  • Chum Joely

    I still have the whole Elektra: Assassin series tucked away in a bookshelf somewhere…

  • Captain Internet

    “∅ ≅ ∋”

    The empty set is approximately equal to contains [missing operand]?

  • DrFlimFlam

     The Gothic Castle?

  • http://pseudonymjones.com/ Pseudonym Jones

    By the woman “missing the skin on the bottom half of her face”, do you mean Keevara, the Argonian bartender of the Bee & Barb? Because that’s just how Argonians look, you racist!

    (Or it’s possible I’m miscounting, because the fourth picture down by my count doesn’t have a woman in it)

  • Fluka

    I enjoy Skyrim quite a bit now, but when we first got it and before it got transformed via the power of mods, it felt like a dull, grey slog of rote repetition, once the thrill of discovery wore off.  I can’t even imagine playing it on console, without mods and the ability to open a console to fix a bugged quest. That, and the natural law of backlash, and the awfulness of reddit, are probably were the ill will is coming from.

    Also.

    “Animated Prostitution.”

    *Furrows her brow oh so very deeply.*

  • Effigy_Power

    None of the characters are terribly remarkable. But they never have been in any Bethesda game. Not in Fallout, not in the Elder Scrolls.
    The star is always the land, the map you cross to talk to these inconsequential NPCs. That’s just the type of game this is.
    And yes, Christopher Plummer played Arnsgeir, one of the Grey Beards. And Joan Allen and Max von Sydow were there too.

  • Fluka

    I have good memories of Candlehearth Hall, as the place where I came solely to find some poor mercenary to sacrifice for Boethiah.  I can just picture my character talking to her crew of followers…

    “Hey.  I need you guys to just hang out here for a few days.  I’ll be back soon.  I need to take care of some business just outside town.  Uh, this new follower is gonna help me.  Don’t worry, don’t worry.”

    *Fluka’s character returns two days later in the middle of a snowstorm, alone, slightly bloodstained.  Followers furrow their brows.*

    And then I robbed the place blind.

  • Bakken Hood

    Yeah, I played Skyrim on Xbox because I bought my system six years ago for $400, played current games for six years and counting, enjoyed the graphics without giving a shit about how much better they could be, and never paid a cent for hardware upgrades.

    Would I still have played Skyrim, or any other Bethesda game, on Xbox in all its mod-free glory if I had a gaming PC?  Well, I’m cheap, not stupid.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504218666 Daniel Philip Robinson

    Also, if you’re a Mac user, the best you can hope for are full-priced ports of games that came out on PC and consoles four or five years earlier. Console it is.

  • Fluka

    @Moonside_Malcontent:disqus Damn it, I really need to get around to playing New Vegas one of these days.  It keeps sounding like…well, what I’m looking for.  NO TIME!

    (And hey!  You’re alive!  Welcome back to the living!)

  • Effigy_Power

    Bullock: “I hope it’s the boy.”
    Steve: “Why?”
    Bullock: “I ENVY YOUR YOUTH!”

  • Effigy_Power

    I guess they had him recording for a very short time and then made some retcons… I didn’t actually notice it, but then I hardly ever wait for the NPCs to finish their speeches at their leisurely pace and click right through it, subtitles providing. Damnit, I can’t wait for you to finish talking, I have shit to murder!

  • Effigy_Power

    I couldn’t bring myself to sell her out to the Alik’r… those guys just seemed too douchey.

  • Effigy_Power

    That’s Old Hroldan. Those out of the way Inns are a fun addition that’s a bit ruined by the fact that they all look exactly the same.
    The really memorable thing about these minor inns is the terrible female “bard” working in one of them. The voice-acting for her shitty singing makes me snort like a tool every time.

    PS: The system determining loyalty is pretty funny anyways. There is a guy in Morthal walking around wanting to be a guard. You can beat 3 types of snot out of him via some insults and then some fists… whereafter he will respond to you with “You’ve been a good friend to me.”
    That’s imitateable!

  • http://pseudonymjones.com/ Pseudonym Jones

    I have Skyrim for the PS3 because I don’t have the spare funds to assemble a computer that could run it. I’ve played Fallouts 3 & NV with little trouble, but I haven’t even been able to complete the story in Skyrim because whenever my character is submerged in water up to his head the game locks up (the same happens even when reloading old saves from before the problem started).

    I LIKE the game and it’s even fun to visit on occasion when I can pretend my character has developed intense hydrophobia. But I understand the hate. I have indulged in the hate, privately.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=579674289 Morgan Filbert

     Is that your site, Fluka?

  • Fluka

    @HobbesMkii:disqus They won’t talk to me, ever since I robbed them blind. :(