America's Best Dive Bars

An open love letter to the dive bar, with a list of some of the country's best and truest examples.


Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart once opined that pornography is tough to define, but "I know it when I see it." I feel the same way about dive bars. Over the last decade, I've covered the bars, beer, and booze beat with a liver-pummeling, coast-to-coast focus. I've imbibed high and low, sipping exquisitely calibrated cocktails in suit-and-tie joints and glugging Styrofoam buckets of Bud in graffiti-covered cockroach lairs. Thus, I have a clear concept about what constitutes a dive bar.

For starters, it's cost. "What makes a dive bar is prices," Jimmy Duff, whose eponymous Brooklyn joint serves up ear-splitting heavy metal and PBR for a buck, once told me. "Even if you're serving beer out of a port-a-john, it's dirt-cheap drinks that attract a cast of characters." That's why I love New Orleans' Ms. Mae's, where cocktails start at a dollar and the conversations with the ne'er-do-wells are priceless.

Secondly, I like a dive to have an off-kilter shtick. That doesn't mean setting up a beer-pong table. I'm talk about the kind of offbeat, um, entertainment, found at Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon in Austin, Texas. On Sundays, patrons place bets on a chicken defecating on a number-covered board. If the No. 2 hit your number, you win!

Next, dive bars are idiosyncratic and unable to be replicated. Take Bubba's Sulky Lounge in Portland, Maine. It's crammed with taxidermied critters, lunch boxes, ice cream parlor equipment, and a light-up disco dance floor. The collection has to be accreted over time, which is the most crucial element for defining a dive bar: It's the layers of stickers at San Francisco's Toronado, and the currency tacked to the ceiling at Alaska's Salty Dawg.

Dive bars aren't born; they're created as the years dissolve into decades, and the customers grow ever more curmudgeonly — in the best way possible. Here are some of my favorite dive bars in America. What are yours?

Click here for the America's Best Bars Slideshow.


Be a Part of the Conversation

Have something to say?
Add a comment (or see what others think).

Comments 45
3.88889
Ratings18


Like this story? Get updates by email, facebook and twitter
Get daily food and wine coverage


Latest from The Daily Meal

The Daily Meal Video Network
The Perfect Drink for Summer: Maple Lemonade

45 Comments

tdm-35-icon.png

Star bar in Gaslamp San diego--open 365 6am till... better booze selection that pricey bars down the street and cheaper

tdm-35-icon.png

Thank you for the list, looks like some great places were included. A few that I would recognize, all from towns with underrated music scenes:

Baltimore, MD: Bad Decisions, Ottobar, Sidebar
Worcester, MA: Lucky Dog, Ralph's Chadwick Square Diner, Vincent's
DC: some people consider Madam's Organ a dive bar?

tdm-35-icon.png

The Silver Peso, Larkspur CA. Small, musty, great bloody mary's and Janis Joplin's piano in the corner.

tdm-35-icon.png

Mother's Pub in Gainesville,FL. You might see a coed doing a shot with a rugby player while Tim Tebow nurses a water.

tdm-35-icon.png

The Hooch in Dearborn Michigan... cheap cheap prices and scantily clad woman makes this dive my #1 !

tdm-35-icon.png

Maxine's in an Institution all in itself. Many degrees earned there! What about George's, the oldest bar in Arkansas?

tdm-35-icon.png

Maxine's Tap Room--Fayetteville, Arkansas

Got my law degree there.

tdm-35-icon.png

The Hearth in San Francisco. "No whiners, no website, just booze"

tdm-35-icon.png

Group Therapy in Longmont Colorado!!! That place scared me more then the city itsellf

tdm-35-icon.png

The Popcorn Tavern in La Crosse, WI. Live music every night, cheap drinks, and 40+ years of graffiti cover the walls.

tdm-35-icon.png

Homepagedaily would like to conduct a dive bar tour of the United States. two committed Australians who would love nothing more than an excuse to film themselves drinking for two months, please email your suggestions of the best dive bars to us
or visit the site and let us know there

homepagedaily.com

Would love people prepared to give us a tour and update of the history of the dive bar in whichever city, not necessarily a student but that would be preferred!

tdm-35-icon.png

The Barracuda bar in Coconut Grove (Miami), FL

tdm-35-icon.png

Gepettoes in Schenectady, New York

tdm-35-icon.png

How could any list of dive bars miss the Saloon in San Francisco's North Beach?

tdm-35-icon.png

Actually, Ms. Mae's in New Orleans recently raised its drink prices.
"Gerry Archer, who owns the building, took over the bar in December. He doesn’t plan to change much, although the ridiculously cheap drinks ($1 for singles and $2 for doubles) are now merely incredibly cheap ($2 for singles and $3 for doubles)."
Read more: http://www.nola.com/drink/index.ssf/2011/01/new_management_takes_over_ms...

tdm-35-icon.png

Palmers bar in Minneapolis,with their wall of shame,and of course the sign SORRY, WERE OPEN

tdm-35-icon.png

Sail Inn in Tempe across from the beautifully landscaped Green Belt.

tdm-35-icon.png

Without a doubt, Shorty's in Winona MN-known for its beer and tomato juice drinks and great fried chicken..

tdm-35-icon.png

How could you miss the Augustine Inn - Port Penn DE - tough biker bar with big porch overlooking the water with view of nuclear power plant cooling tower

tdm-35-icon.png

Augustine Inn is closed and for sale

tdm-35-icon.png

Herman's Hideaway, Denver, Colorado

tdm-35-icon.png

Poop Deck in Hermosa Beach, CA

tdm-35-icon.png

Springwater Supper Club in Nashville, TN

Holy crap I miss that place....

tdm-35-icon.png

the CC Club in minneapolis.

tdm-35-icon.png

been there many times. along with "The Joint", Pearsons, and Whiskey Junction. Good memories!!!

tdm-35-icon.png

Dorman St., Indianapolis

tdm-35-icon.png

Ha! Oh my god, absolutely. John's Place is now (and has been for decades) a true end-of-the-road dive. The atomic hot Johndog is worth a road trip.

tdm-35-icon.png

Whoops! Refers to the comment below.

tdm-35-icon.png

John's Place in Cookeville, TN has to be one of the best dive bars. Check it out.

Add a Comment

Upload a picture of yourself no larger than 3MB, please see Terms for details
CAPTCHA
Please answer this Captcha to prove you are human
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
CAPTCHA
Please answer this Captcha to prove you are human