If you’re looking for five-star service, you won’t find it here. These are the dives that have seen their share of barroom brawls—the places known more for their kitschy bric-a-brac and abused furniture than fancy cocktail menus. These bars may not have phones, websites or even taps, and their floors may not have seen the business end of a mop in decades. That’s what makes them memorable. The cheap drinks, crotchety bartenders and crusty regulars found in dives like these are the reason they stubbornly linger as legends. Your drinking experience is all the better for it.
Read on for some of America’s greatest and grittiest dive bars. Tell the bartender you’ll have the “usual.”
The Goat Hill Tavern,
Costa Mesa, California
Leave your inner beer snob at home when entering this Orange County establishment. You’ll be greeted with the distinct scent of cigarettes and sweat mingling with stale beer. It’s an aroma that’s been gathering strength since Goat Hill opened in 1968. Take one step and you’ll hear a crunch as you tread over a carpet of discarded peanut shells en route to the bar.
The good news? 141 draft beers. Those brews might be served in cheap plastic mugs and you may need to dodge the flying feet of patrons dancing on the tables. But the happy hour prices—$2.50 for any pint—can’t be beat. The setting is probably too raunchy for most dates, but you’ll definitely get your money’s worth if you’re looking to try out as many brews as possible in one sitting.
(Photo courtesy Goat Hill Tavern)
Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge,
New Orleans, Louisiana
Far from the frenetic French Quarter lies this tin-roof shack, with a worrisome tilt worthy of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Its outward features are weathered and rusted and the inside is in only slightly better shape. Strings of christmas lights provide the only illumination, which means the bar is so dark that you’re mainly interacting with talking shadows. Curious about the signature drink? That would be the Possum Drop—a shot of Jägermeister slipped into a Schlitz—a reference to an incident involving a possum falling through the roof onto a patron’s head.
Open every night of the year, including Christmas Day, this tiny shed makes up for what it lacks in decor with a comforting sense of escape from the outside world. Stop in and you might meet the sometimes-friendly bar cat named Jake—but there’s no telling what sort of mood he’ll be in. Legend has it that George Clooney once drank here, but of course, it was too dark for anyone to notice.
(Photo courtesy Huffington Post)
Things get weird at this beloved Texas honky-tonk. While the bar prohibits brawls in its house rules: “No Cussin’ No Fussin’ No Hasslin’ No Wrasslin’,” it celebrates every Sunday with a rousing game of chickens**t bingo, hosted by proprietor Ginny herself. As you might expect, that’s a game of bingo that depends on a chicken to determine the winner—and it’s a pretty dirty business. Fans pack the bar to witness the unsavory spectacle each week, and bring their own lawn chairs in case seating is sparse.
Aside from Sunday’s barnyard-style entertainment, Ginny’s hosts plenty of country music acts, including local legend Dale Watson, who stepped in to keep the iconic bar from closing due to money troubles in 2013. Grab a $2 Lone Star, settle in for some music, and if you’re here on a Sunday, prepare to see some pretty wild bingo.
(Photo courtesy Matthew Gregg Photography)
The 5 Point Cafe,
Insist on wearing your Google Glass wherever you go? Do not enter this bar. The dive’s owner banned the device before it was even released to ensure the privacy of its patrons, so you and your tech specs had better keep moving. Out-of-towners also receive a warning as they enter, with an honest sign stating, “We cheat tourists and drunks since 1929.” 5 Point’s service may be famously brusque, but the 85-year-old institution has always been celebrated more for its food—greasy, homespun dishes like bacon pancakes and fried donuts—than its ambiance. It’s smoky, loud and more than a little grimy, with a tarnished black and white checkerboard pattern sprawling across the floor and ceiling. But with $2 drafts and an early morning happy hour, the regulars certainly don’t care. Bonus points for the periscope-like view of the Space Needle from the men’s room window.
(Photo courtesy Mike and Jordan Adventure Blog)
You might say that Tom’s has nine lives. Open since the 1920s, this ramshackle shanty is one of the oldest bars in Detroit, having weathered Prohibition, burglary, fire and more than one vehicle crashing through its walls. Despite all that hardship, this little lean-to refuses to go down quietly, mostly due to the loyalty of its regulars. The floors slope, the bar is crooked and the open hours are anything but reliable. But the patrons who remember the original owner Tom are so dedicated to the joint that they would serve themselves drinks and clean up at the end of the night when Tom would fall asleep at the bar. Though the tavern isn’t licensed to sell food, people eat here anyway. The current owner treats the bar as an extension of his home, serving up big pots of homemade chili to anyone who’s hungry. Tom’s may not have beer taps, or even sturdy walls, but that hasn’t stopped it from trudging on for over 80 years despite all odds—in true dive bar form.
(Photo courtesy Yelp)
Double Down Saloon,
Las Vegas, Nevada
Double Down deems itself a “clubhouse for the lunatic fringe,” and a place that welcomes all sorts, from “bums, punks and bohemians to rockabilly greasers.” Housed inside a strip mall, it’s often called the best dive bar in Vegas, and claims to be the birthplace of the Bacon Martini. But you’d better drink that pork-infused cocktail quickly or face being shamed by the bartender. And don’t even think about refusing a shot: That’s blasphemy no matter what type of drinker you are. Need a bite after so much forced imbibing? Turn to the “Dinner Machine” beside the punk-rock jukebox, aka a vending machine that doles out Slim Jims and Twinkies. The fare fits the offbeat atmosphere too, complete with psychedelic skeletal murals, shrunken heads and a Playbill pinball machine. Alternative looks aside, the bar’s underlying motto is admirable: Be you vagrant, banker or rock star, you’re always welcome at the Double Down.
(Photo courtesy National Geographic)
You might walk right past this Adams Morgan hideout without realizing what lies behind the shutter-shrouded windows and barred door. The only evidence of the bar inside is a worn sign bearing the name—which is fitting considering the rest of Dan’s no-frills style. Blinking neon signs and dust-ridden fake plants are the only decorations, and if you have a question about drink prices, consult the scrap of paper that’s nailed to the wall. Air conditioning? Don’t be silly. But, if you’re looking to get drunk quickly and efficiently, Dan’s is the place to do it. The dive provides all the essentials for making your own drink: liquor, a mixer, ice and their signature mixing vehicle—a large squeezable condiment bottle. Dole the booze out, squeeze by squeeze, into shot glasses or straight down the hatch. Tastes just like college.
(Photo courtesy Gallivant)
Salty Dawg Saloon,
Homer Spit, Alaska
At one time a post office, railroad station and coal mining office, the Salty Dawg’s original log cabin structure was built in 1897 on the “spit,” a small piece of land that sticks out into Kachemak Bay. As the only bar in the surrounding area, it attracts a mix of day drinking locals, fishermen and tourists thanks to strong, cheap drinks and unusual decor (including a human skull behind the bar). The walls and ceiling are smothered in thousands of signed dollars bills—and a few stray bras—left behind by visitors. Fishermen first started posting the dollars years ago. They’d leave a few bucks behind to buy less fortunate fishermen a drink (in the event that their day’s catch was less than fruitful). Eventually, tourists joined in and the walls started exploding with stray currency. Add a dollar to the dingy blanket of bills and, while you’re at it, carve your name into the marred and graffitied wood tables that bear the names of countless drinkers before you.
(Photo courtesy Hallbuzz)