19 perfect dive bars

We need dive bars more than we care to admit. They are the counterweight to a world overflowing with upscale lounges and designer “mixologist” cocktails, a way to keep it simple, hang out with friends old and new and tip back our favorite beverage. Gadling is a big fan of dive bars too. That’s why we’ve put together this list of 19 of our favorites. Where’s your favorite dive bar? Leave us a tip in the comments.

Crystal Cafe – Raton, New Mexico
The most remarkable thing about Crystal Cafe is the light up dance floor. That and the decor make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time, and that a disco maniac in a polyester suit will walk through the door at any moment. The bar is entirely retro, but not because they’re trying — the owners just haven’t changed anything since when the small town its located in was more happening.

Norma’s (a.k.a. the Domino Club) – St. Croix, USVI
Norma’s
is famous for two reasons: beer drinking pigs and a local brew called Mama Wanna. Animal rights concerns resulted in the pigs getting switched to non-alcoholic beer, but the patrons aren’t so restricted. Mama Wanna is some kind of wonderful spiced rum drink, and the local proprietress of this island hut tucked away in the jungle hasn’t even been tempted to sell the recipe yet. It packs quite a kick, so the locals use Elephant beer as a chaser.

Madam’s Organ Blues Bar – Washington, DC

With a slogan like, “Where the beautiful people go to get ugly,” how could you not love Madam’s Organ Blues Bar? Despite the popularity this bar enjoys, they haven’t managed to clean it up too much. There’s live music most nights, and more old couches upstairs than a used furniture store. After the bar closes, the local tradition is to grab a giant slice of pizza from one of the nearby all-night sliceries.Salty Dawg Saloon – Homer, Alaska
The buoys strung up on the outside of Salty Dawg Saloon, found inside a plain log and thatch cabin, hardly scream party time, but the partiers on the inside sure as heck do. The walls have thousands of dollar bills stapled to them, each one uniquely decorated by the patron who posted it. In true Alaska dive style, the floors are covered in sawdust. If you’re feeling frisky, you could even order a Salty Dog. The bar isn’t named for the drink, but they do serve them.

Neptune’s Net – Malibu, California
Despite this bar’s location in upscale Malibu, Neptune’s Net is a bit of a dive. You’ve got to fight (sometimes literally) for a table, it’s crowded with bikers, and the restrooms are of the portable variety. But it’s got some amazing fried seafood and beers a plenty. Plus, the outside tables have gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean.

Crossroads Bar & Grill – South Royalton, Vermont
It’s dark, it’s dank, and it’s darling. Crossroads is the perfect dive bar where you could wile away a night, or an entire winter, given the local weather patterns. Set in the small and idyllic town of South Royalton, this bar is a meeting place for long time locals and cerebral students from the nearby Vermont Law School. There’s even a collection of offensive bumper stickers posted behind the bar, if you forget your reading material.

Gentleman Jim’s – Gaithersburg, Maryland
It’s not often you get a dive bar with two floors of drinking, but they’ve managed to make it happen in this industrial complex tavern. Upstairs is a small, windowless bar with a bit of a Cheers feel, since the variety of the patrons tends to be limited. Downstairs is the restaurant area with a service bar open to the public. What makes this place worth mentioning is the pizza — square, with sweet tomato sauce and a swiss cheese blend. Try it on a Monday or Tuesday for half price, and the happy hours are competitive as well.

The Alley Cantina – Taos, New Mexico
If it weren’t for the local crowd, a ratty old games collection, and $2.50 margaritas every day from 5 to 7, the Alley Cantina might not have even qualified as a dive. But thanks to the shuffleboard, crooked pool table, and some old french game where you’ve got to flick checkers around with your thumb, this is the perfect place to hang out and have a beer, or five. They’ve even got food, if you’re into fried.

The Broken Spoke – Austin, Texas

The Broken Spoke has become legendary, perhaps regrettably to its loyal local clientele. It’s claim to fame is its long affair with country music, with legends like Willie Nelson having made regular appearances through the years. It’s got a country dance hall vibe, and they even offer blue plate special lunches to stick with the theme. Not a bad place to have a couple beers and get rowdy.

Norton Rats – Cusco, Peru
You might not guess that you could find a biker bar in a South American town at an elevation of 11,000 feet but, lo and behold, you can. There is simply no explanation for Norton Rats other than divine providence. They offer a wide selection of beer, and a view of the main plaza in Cusco from the narrow balconies. Flags from a hundred countries are nailed to the ceiling, giving you something to look at when your drinks get to you early due to the altitude. Even if the place has a bit of a divey vibe, its a welcome respite for travelers who have made it this far into the wild.

— The above was written by Writing Kimberly, Seed contributor.



Malachy’s – New York, New York
Malachy’s might be the most miserable place on Earth. Horrendous lighting, depressed staff, despondent clientele and a perfect Guinness every time. The fat, juicy 1/2 lb. burger is real good too. Somehow, the cook has been spared.

Nolan’s – Long Beach, New York
A free standing shack made of old cedar, Nolan’s looks like even the faintest ocean breeze will knock it over. Trashed motocycles and cars litter the adjacent lot. Every lifer in the place is crusty and pissed off. Coldest bottle of Bud ever served. Step out into the sun, across the street and stumble to the beach.

The Goat Hill Tavern – Costa Mesa, California
The Goat Hill Tavern, an out-of-the-way hole in Los Angeles Southern California, might be the region’s greatest anti-attraction. Hundreds of tap beers, cramped quarters, stale smoke and that God awful dive bar smell. Top it all off with the wannabe screenwriter next to you stirring his vodka with his finger while plotting his next “murder the movie exec” thriller at one in the afternoon. Lights, Camera, Misery!

PJ’s Pub – Baltimore, Maryland
Is PJ’s Pub the best daytime watering hole in history? Homemade Bloody Mary’s and baskets spicy Old Bay dusted steamed shrimp at noon chase away any hangover. Hours pass effortlessly until the Johns Hopkins engineering geeks and Lacrosse studs start to file in for their nightly revelry. Guys, if you’re lucky, maybe a girl will even show up.

Mission Hill Saloon – San Francisco, California
Mission Hill is the “Cheers” of dive bars. Dark, dingy and depressingly plain – but the misery stops there. Ice, ice cold beers served by good people. Excellent jukebox and locals that have no problem making you feel like a local.

The Cat’s Eye Pub – Baltimore, Maryland
Ah, the Cat’s Eye Pub. You can’t move, you can’t breathe. Old salts stare you down and threaten with daggers. Old cougars troll for new meat. Killer blues bands play way too loud, right in your ear. The lost leg of a dead sea captain hangs above the men’s urinal. Fun!

The Bronx Bar – Detroit, Michigan
The Bronx Bar is in the “happening” part of town, whatever that means. Great tunes, cold beers. Ultimately, it just looks real cool and divey from the outside. Pure American depression. Rejoice!

Catacombs Bar – Boulder, Colorado

Catacombs Bar is huge hole in the ground – literally. On a weeknight, it feels like “Land of the Lost.” Spacious and desolate, an alcoholic paleontologist’s dream. Tunes echo from the juke, drinks are served by pretentious, cruncher wannabes who are too cool for school. “Is there anybody out there?”

McSorley’s – New York, New York
Step down off street level and into history at McSorley’s. The oldest operating saloon in New York. Dingy, quiet – reverent even. Don’t go for the music, the TV, the pool table. Go there to drink, lament and repent. That’s what you do in a dive bar.

— The above was written by Drew Moss, Seed contributor.

Related:
* The 24 greatest cities in the world for drinking beer
* 15 more great cities for drinking beer
* The 20 greatest cities in the world for foodies
* The 25 greatest cities in the world for drinking wine

My favorite Detroit dive bar: The Old Miami

The building at 3930 Cass Avenue in Detroit doesn’t look like much. A short, squat brick square with a green awning proclaiming it as “The Old Miami,” the space has actually had several different names throughout the years.

In the 40’s and 50’s it was called The Miami Lounge and was an after-work hang for car salesmen in the area. The 60’s saw it transition into Ken’s Lounge, a sleazy joint popular with prostitutes and pimps and the site of several shootings. It then did a brief stint as the New Miami, but a fire quickly ended that life.

In 1979, the building was purchased by a local Vietnam Vet, who created The Old Miami (Miami is both a nod to its former name and an acronym for Missing in Action Michigan) as a haven for all war veterans. Over time, as more young people and struggling artists have moved into the neighborhood, The Old Miami has stayed true to its roots as a veterans bar. Only now, the vets rubs elbows with the new crowd.

On any given day, you’ll likely find the older generation camped out at the bar, while the city’s younger residents sprawl across the beautiful backyard (complete with porch swing and fish pond) hidden behind the building. On summer nights, it’s the perfect place to catch one of the bar’s many live music shows.

The Old Miami gets my vote for best dive bar in Detroit because there’s no pretense here. It’s as much a space for veterans as is it for those fighting a different kind of battle, working to make Detroit a better city. It’s a true community bar, the kind of place where everyone knows your name, even if they’re likely to forget it by the next time they see you. Plus….all the drinks are served in plastic cups, and you just can’t get more dive-y than that.

SkyMall Monday: Headache Relieving Wrap

The SkyMall Monday Headquarters has an extensive liquor cabinet. But when that runs dry, I like to head to my favorite neighborhood dive bar and drink until this product makes sense to me. Writing about futuristic SkyMall products for a living is fun, but, during my leisure time, I like to keep things simple at a dingy pub with cheap whiskey and even cheaper women. But all that drinking can lead to some pretty epic hangovers. It’s pretty hard to focus on driving my go-kart when my head is throbbing (Note: I never drive my go-kart when drunk. That’s when I take my Hoverboard.) So, how do I power through the hangovers and get back to testing the SkyMall products that are making our lives easier? I could simply pop pills or gulp down Bloody Marys until everything feels numb, but my therapist says that self-medicating is not a healthy coping mechanism. Instead, I treat my headaches externally. That may seem strange, but if i can’t trust the medical advice of SkyMall, who can I trust? That’s why I treat all of my hangovers by strapping on a big old Headache Relieving Wrap.Sure, it would be great if I met some whore at the dive bar who would massage my head the next morning. I mean, if I’m going to pay her $38 dollars (plus a breath mint), the least she could do is rub my temples until I stop crying. But, in lieu of that, I wrap this band around my head after heating up the accompanying gel packs. The heat and pressure work together to help me forget the shots of well whiskey from the night before. Actually, those shots usually make me forget things, but the wrap helps me forget the headache that accompanied them.

Think that I should quit drinking? You’re not the boss of me! You’re not even my real father! But since you don’t believe that I have things under control and know what’s best for me, take a look at the SkyMall product description:

The unit straps comfortably to your head and provides a soothing, consistent pressure that gently compresses blood vessels…

I’m engorged with enthusiasm over this product.

Look, you could quit drinking. You could eat healthy, go to sleep early and find a partner who values and supports you. But that’s the easy way out. It takes a tough bastard to stick to your guns and wrap an insulated headband on your dome every morning.

So, the next time you’re in New York City, join me for some cheap whiskey, a few cans of beer and a good cry. We can compress our blood vessels together in the morning.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.


Death of a dive bar: Mike’s Place in Tucson, Arizona

Your first dive bar is like your first love; you never forget it.

When I started college at the University of Arizona in Tucson back in 1989 I discovered Mike’s Place near the corner of Park and University next to campus. It didn’t look like much with its grotty interior, the smell of hot grease wafting from the kitchen, and mix of locals and students. But it did have two things going for it–the bartenders didn’t card much and there was a spacious patio where you could watch the sunset over the Tucson Mountains.

I spent a lot of time on that patio. The Cliffhangers, the U of A rock climbing club of which I was a member, gathered there at least once a week. We’d drink pitchers of Pabst Blue Ribbon or, if we were feeling flush, Sam Adams, and plan our next expedition.

The food wasn’t too bad if you were an undiscerning 19 year-old with no ability to cook for yourself. I usually ordered the hot wings. The owners claimed they made the hottest in town and while that’s debatable they certainly had some fire in them. My friend Chainsaw worked there and I once challenged him to cook me up a dozen wings I couldn’t eat. To this day I don’t know what the hell he put in them. He hurt me, but I won.

Then there were the nickel beers with Sunday breakfast, the slop bucket of extra PBR that turned Chainsaw off of drinking forever, and the guy who threatened to kill me with a nonexistent gun. Good times! Good times!It’s the patio and people I remember most. Fresh-faced college kids who couldn’t handle their beer got leered at by middle-aged drunks, while bikers guzzled gallons and kept to themselves. And in the midst of it all sat the Cliffhangers, partying late into the warm desert night but always getting up at dawn on Saturday to go climbing on Mt. Lemmon.

Mike’s Place has been gone for years. In the name of “development” the university built a parking garage next to it and a Marriott soon opened up. These blocked the view of the sunset and killed the main reason people gathered there. The bar shut its doors shortly after that.

The corner of Park and University looks different now. All the old places are gone and the buildings have been torn down and replaced with modern, clean, strip-mall suburbia. What used to be a tattered but living neighborhood now looks like just about everywhere else.

Mike’s Place lives on, though. It gave me an appreciation for a great human institution. I’ve been to many dive bars since, and have found that every culture has its equivalent. The chicharias of Peru, the backroom bars of Syria, the men-only drinking dens of India, all have something in common. They’re rough and poorly kept, places that look like nobody gives a damn about them but are truly loved by the regulars. Learning to appreciate dive bars gives you an unexpected passport to the world. Most tourists won’t go drinking in some dirty boozer where nobody speaks English but if you walk inside, grab a beer, and don’t look too closely at the food, people will recognize you for someone who enjoys the good things in life.

So thanks, Mike’s Place. All those sunsets and hot wings and drunken conversations actually helped me become a world traveler. Strange how things work out. Next month I’m off to Addis Ababa and I’ll be trying some of the local tej bet, the Ethiopian equivalent of Mike’s Place. No doubt I’ll get that old feeling of familiarity I’ve experienced in so many other dives. I wonder if I’ll find Chainsaw behind the counter cooking me up some hot wings?

The 10 Rules of Dive Bar Etiquette

Dive bars in America are known for three basic things: cheap drinks, food that might kill you and elementary violence. There’s one in almost every town, and they are among our most-loved institutions. On your worst day, no one at The Ding Dong Lounge will judge you — and if you show up in a ball gown, no one will really care.

As much as I love fancy cocktails at, say, The Oak Bar, there’s something oddly charming about ordering a two dollar beer and a shot in a dirty, peanut-covered dive where you heard there was recently a knife fight. It’s a kind of urban adventure. That said, when you’re taking such an adventure, especially when you’re outside of your usual domain, you should observe some key rules of etiquette.

That’s right, I said etiquette. Etiquette isn’t just about salad forks and car doors, it’s about doing as the Romans do, so as not to irritate anybody or make yourself unnecessarily conspicuous. Blending in is the foundation of civilized society, even in bars where your shoes stick to the floor when you walk.

So here they are, The 10 Rules of Dive Bar Etiquette, especially for when you “ain’t from ’round these parts.”

1. Tip. Tip a dollar per drink, or two dollars if the drink is over $6. Any drink over $6 is probably a mixed drink, which means the bartender put in a little extra effort (presumably as little as possible) and has thus earned an extra buck. The tip for a drink over $12 should be $3, but if you’re at a dive bar where they’re serving drinks for over $12, your taste in dive bars sucks. Also, if you tip in coins, you’re doing it wrong.2. Don’t ask too many questions. The only appropriate question, really, is “What do you have on tap?” — and that’s only if the taps are not visible. Unless your bartender invites further conversation, tell them (don’t ask them for) your drink, then assume that their dog is dead and this is the funeral. Don’t bug them about how long the bar has been around, whether they own it, and don’t ask what kind of wine they have. They have white and red.

3. Don’t talk on the phone. If you absolutely must make or take a call, step away from the bar and head to the restroom area, where there is often the remains of a pay phone of yore. This is the only appropriate place to carry on a conversation. Nobody wants to hear your business, and when you’re on the phone next to them, they can’t help but listen and start to hate you.

4. Don’t judge the locals. Out loud. You never know who’s into knife fights.

5. If you order a round of shots, you pay. “Do you want to do a shot?” is an invitation to buy a shot for someone, not an invitation for someone to buy one for him or herself. You also must offer a toast. Even if it’s just “to drinking.”

6. Don’t touch the bar mat. The mat on the bar, as well as everything behind the bar, is sacred. The bartender will put the drink in front of you when they decide it’s time for you to drink it. If the dive is also an eating establishment, there may be a bar mat where servers pick up drinks for their tables. Don’t sit or stand there.

7. Smoking rules. You must not borrow more than one cigarette from anyone without buying them a drink. Cigarettes, to some dive bar frequenters, are worth their weight in paper money, and, when in a bind, they will smoke paper money. If you are going outside for a smoke, you must place your cocktail napkin on top of your beer, or the bartender will think you’ve left. If you see a drink with a cocktail napkin on it in front of an empty bar stool or at a bar table, you can’t sit there. Roofies are okay. (Kidding.)

8. Don’t eyeball the bartender. Unless you have official bar business like ordering a drink or a tab, eye contact with the bartender is an uncomfortable faux pas. If you don’t have someone to talk to, eyeballing the bartender looks desperate. Stare into your drink and contemplate your existence like a normal person, or ask a nearby guest about the upcoming weather (you’ll be flying or driving soon, after all).

9. Observe bathroom gender codes. No talking for men; obligatory talking for women (a simple “hi” is okay, but if you say nothing, you’re a rude outsider).

10. Keep it simple. Don’t order a complicated drink. The ingredients should be in the name of the drink (examples: gin and tonic, beer). Also, grade your drink on a Pass/Fail basis, not on complex ratios or emotional implications. If the drink is too weak, order a double next time. If the drink is too strong, let us know where that bar is.

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