Dive! Dive! Dive! 10 Great Dive Bars in the USA

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Wednesday 13th October 2010
In this article
  • Defining dive bars.
  • Ten of the best ones across the country.
  • The inside scoop.

How do you define a dive bar? Answers vary:

"You have to be a little afraid when you go in."

"You have to feel at home."

"Nobody can know about it but the locals."

" It can be popular, but has to retain its character."

"It has to be packed with bikers."

Clearly, a dive bar is a state of mind as well as a place. Some are skanky, some are just little neighborhood holes-in-the-wall, but, like art, you’ll know one when you see one.

Ten Beloved Dive Bars Across the United States — by City:

Atlanta, Georgia: Buckhead Amusement Center

(30 Irby Avenue NW; (404) 237-9152)

Atlanta has come into its own as a cosmopolitan center over the last decade or so, yet somehow the weirdly named Buckhead Amusement Center has escaped being dragged along with the times. This billiard hall has been in business since the 1950s. Happy, drunken locals have worn through two layers of tile around the pool tables, which apparently haven't been moved since the bar's inception. Come for the beer. Come for the game. Leave the burgers to the brave.

Austin, Texas: The Poodle Dog Lounge

(6507 Burnet Road; (512) 465-9468 )

Be afraid. Be very afraid. The large French Poodle painted on the front belies the rough and tumble atmosphere inside. This is a working class bar, so if you come in with an attitude, you’ll leave with an injury. Oh, yeah, and don’t order anything but beer.

Baltimore, Maryland: Café Tattoo

(4825 Belair Road; (410) 325-7427)

Local cool music, huge portions of barbecue ribs and chili and a humongous beer list makes Café Tattoo a favorite among the Baltimore beer guzzlers. Friendly regulars are ready to discuss philosophy and politics over a brew anytime.

Chicago, Illinois: Betty’s Blue Star Lounge

(1600 W. Grand Avenue; (312) 243-8778)

Aahhhh, Chicago — so many dives, so little time. Betty’s wins out because it has a 5:00 a.m. liquor license, which makes it a hit with the very loud tattooed crowd. DJs are on board most nights, but some of the "theme nights" can go really wrong. Better to stick with the jukebox, which has everything from Dolly Parton to the Cramps to Engelbert Humperdink.

Detroit, Michigan: Post Bar

(408 W. Congress Street; (313) 962-1293)

The Post is proof positive that a dive can become popular and still retain its skanky character. This Detroit hangout, with its graffiti-scarred interior, has lines out the door these days, but remains humble. A little post-teen angst makes this more frat house than jailhouse, but the graffiti is sterling.

Los Angeles, California: Boardner’s

(1652 N. Cherokee Avenue; Hollywood; (323) 462-9621)

This place was a speakeasy in the 1920s — and some of the customers appear to not have left their bar stools since. But don’t worry, you’ll fit right in. The walk from the door to your seat will ensure that you’ll need a stiff drink once your rear hits the chair. On Saturday nights you’re thrown into a parallel universe as Boarder’s becomes a dark "Goth" club. This is a great place.

New Orleans, Louisiana: Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop

(941 Bourbon Street; (504) 523-0066)

You can’t go wrong bar-crawling in New Orleans, but Lafitte’s is so dark, so scary (in a haunted kind of way), so New Orleans-ish, that it shouldn’t be missed. Legend has it that the pirate Jean Lafitte planned his loutish escapades here. If so, he must have had better lighting. The fact that a Haunted New Orleans Tour kicks off here at midnight should tell you all you need to know.

New York, New York: Rudy’s Bar and Grill

(627 9th Avenue; (212) 974-9169)

Rudy’s is a neighborhood bar in Hell’s Kitchen, so it has a head start in the dive department. Struggling writers rub elbows with 60-year-old drag queens. The jukebox is an eclectic marvel — blues, jazz, rock ‘n roll. Rudy’s also serves free hot dogs. Not great dogs, but after two pitchers of beer, who cares?

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Dirty Frank’s Bar

(347 S. 13th Street; (215) 732-5010)

Philadelphia has two dive bars that ran neck and neck for Dive Bar of the City — Dirty Frank’s and The Friendly Bar (1039 8th Street). Frank’s won out because "Dirty" is a better adjective for a dive bar than "Friendly." No doubt a bad influence on the college students in the area, Dirty Frank’s is dingy and dark and decorated with hubcaps. Perfect.

Seattle, Washington: The Brick Tavern

(100 W. Pennsylvania Avenue, Roslyn; (509) 649-2643)

We didn’t recommend Hogs ‘n Heifers or Coyote Ugly (both in NYC) because they were too well known to be considered dives in our book. Die-hard fans will probably chase us down the street with an empty beer bottle for recommending such a known entity as The Brick, but this dive must be given its due. The Brick was the prototype for the bar of the same name in the TV series Northern Exposure, but the REAL Brick has a spittoon that runs the full length of the bar. That makes it dive-bar heaven as far as we’re concerned. They specialize in a burger called "The Brick." Spit and eat — these people know what they’re doing.

Dive bars — in a city near you. For the love of God, get out there and DRINK!

This article last updated on Wednesday 13th October 2010
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