Dive bars were once considered the haunting ground of old barflies, swaying on the sticky floors, but people have rediscovered the charm of a great dive bar again. Born and bred in America, the dive bar buzz has never been bigger. Bukowski would be proud.
What makes a dive bar? Well, it must not be expensive, have loyal regulars and be just that little bit sticky. A new wave of bars are popping up that are taking the historic dive bar vibe and adding a bit of craft flair to it, so we’re honouring these guys also.
How did Big 7 Travel decide the finalists of the 50 Best Dive Bars in America?
- Finalists were selected from across the United States
- Some states have more than one entry if high quality
- Votes were cast in poll of Big 7 readers, across a sample of our 1.5million community on social media and by a panel of food and drink experts
- Online reviews, previous media coverage and notable blogs were also included in the overall rating
Best dive bars in America: 2019
This former auto repair shop is a roadhouse bar with low-key charm. There’s two bars and two stages that play host to local and national blues and rock bands. It’s a little bit off-the-beaten-track, but is well worth seeking out for a night out.
If you want an authentic Chinatown experience, come to Smith’s Union, the oldest bar in Honolulu. It’s been a local favourite for over 70 years, ever since it began its life in what was the red-light district. Come for the cheap drinks and ice cold beer, stay for the ukulele jams and karaoke.
This no-fuss bar has been a Dallas landmark for what seems like forever, and Lee Harvey’s has kept the wood-paneled walls that showcase various classic, illuminated beer signs – some of which are older than the typical Friday night crowd. It’s laid back with a great beer garden.
This corner tavern is a classic hole-in-the-wall American dive bar where you can just chill out and enjoy a few local brews. Bartenders are friendly, the booze is cheap and you can take full control of the music. Plus, if you want to sneak off for a drink you can just tell people you’re heading ‘my office’.
You might recognise Johnny Brenda’s from the movie Creed, but this Fishtown pub is equally famous for its live music both upstairs and downstairs that showcase independent bands. Built on a philosophy of supporting the local community, Johnny Brenda’s serves all-draft high quality beer from local brewers.
Play some pool, put some music on the jukebox and just kick back at this cosy bar. There’s some great local bands who play gigs here, as well as art event nights where you can just chill and draw. On a budget? There’s always a $2 mystery beer on tap. Sorted.
The Homy Inn is an Omaha nightlife institution that’s been around for more than six decades. What’s the draw? Well, they’ve four flavours of Champagne on tap (Sweet, Dry, Strawberry & Peach) and Jell-O shots. We repeat: Champagne on tap. Rare baseball cards, Beatles memorabilia and vintage newspapers line the walls.
A family-owned watering hole, the Half-Keg has been a local spot for decades but was taken over by new owners a couple of years ago. Luckily, it’s only gotten even better. Like most taverns it only serves wine and beer, but in a bar this good, that’s all you’ll need.
There’s pinball machines, pool and arcade game at this underground dive bar in the heart of the Old Town. Named after the city’s network of tunnels that was used by criminals in the 19th century, Shanghai Tunnel Bar is the closest thing to getting “Shanghai’d”, so come down to the basement filled with booze and just let loose.
The legendary restaurant that invented the ‘Jucy Lucy’ burger, each patty here is carefully handmade with the freshest, high-quality beef and filled with the molten hot cheese you can only find at Matt’s. Not only that, it’s a great dive-y bar for beer. If you want to drink somewhere that’s looked the same for 60 years, this is the place to go.
Ford’s is a true neighbourhood dive bar where all the locals hang out, for bargain beers and Happy Hour. They do karaoke every night from 9pm-1am and also have three pool tables, video games and the only free shuffle board table in town. One of the dive bars in America? 100%.
This small, late night, neighbourhood bar has been voted ‘New Orleans Best Dive Bar’ many times over and for good reason. You might think it’s just a tin-roof shack but it’s actually one of the most unique bars you’ll ever drink at. Anthony Bourdain and George Clooney have both drank here, in the dim room lit by Christmas-tree lights.
$1.50 Bud, Bud Light, Busch, and Shiner drafts? How could you resist? This dingy yet charming bar has the cheapest drinks in town and all the shuffleboard and foosball your dive bar-loving heart could ever desire. There’s no wifi so just focus on actually making friends with your fellow patrons.
Open since 1969, Hinano Cafe was apparently Jim Morrison’s favourite bar in Venice. Three pool tables, free popcorn, a great jukebox and full college and NFL cable sports package (and plenty of screens) make this beachside spot a solid place to escape the sunshine and stay until the early hours.
Liquid Blues Bar is a psychedelic flashback to the 1960s with lava lamps, beads, candles, incense and flashing neon lights all over the bar. There’s vintage gaming sets, jam and house bands every weekend and 14 beers on tap. In a town made famous by Groundhog Day, this bar is another great reason to visit.
There’s more than 20 beers on tap, 40 beers by the bottle and 40 whiskeys to choose at this local bar with a rock n’ roll atmosphere. It’s got a fun punk vibe with an outdoor beer garden and it’s super dog friendly, so you can bring your pooch for a few ice cold beers.
Your typical dive bar, Lucky 7 Tavern has that perfect, local feel and casual vibe. It’s been a Jersey City hangout for years at this stage and is still pouring 14 beers on tap and showing all the top sports games. It’s nothing fancy, but that’s all part of its everlasting charm.
The Buckhorn Bar in downtown Laramie is Laramie’s oldest standing and most historic bar – it even has the bullet holes from a shoot out over 45 years ago to prove it. “The Buck,” as it’s known to locals, is exactly the kind of place you want to go at the end of the day. Keep an eye out for the giant elk on the wall.
You’ll find this dive bar hiding above the University City Ethiopian restaurant Abyssinia that has 150 kinds of beer, all scrawled up on a chalkboard at the bar. It’s basically a speakeasy-dive bar hybrid with just a few seats at the bar, so squish in. FYI, it’s pronounced fume-may.
Home to the iconic blue cups – which hold roughly three beers in one – this bar always has cute dogs, cheap beers and friendly bartenders; the perfect combination. As for the name? Legend has it that when a wife or girlfriend called this Chapel Hill icon years ago, the bartender would always respond with the same three words: ‘he’s not here’.
This is a classic stomping ground for college students and alums where every day is Game Day not only for showing televised sports, but also because of the pool tables, arcade games and darts. Ask the bartender to make you up the beer, sake, wine, and energy drink special – but drink at your own risk.
Look, we don’t know why the walls of this Ohio local watering hole are covered in dolphins but just go with it; it’s an eternal tropical paradise. Known for its incredible live music and open mic nights, there’s a sunken bar and outdoor patio. We’re guessing it hasn’t changed much since the 70s, and that’s why it’s so great.
There’s barely a way to describe this unique island bar/café on Madeline Island that rose from the ashes of a fire in the 1990s to become this ramshackle bar made up of tents and decks. Seats range from normal chairs to car seats and boxes and the ferry ride itself is all part of the fun. Bring cash as they don’t accept plastic.
The lounge is a former speakeasy known for its fabled jukebox full of soulful 45s, as well as frozen cocktails and regular performances featuring anything from jazz groups to DJ booths. The kitschy decor is from the original 1935 bar of the same name – come for the live tunes and stay for the laid-back boozing.
Get a can of Hamm’s and a shot of well whiskey for just $3.50 at this Seattle favourite, which is long considered one of the best dive bars in America. A local treasure for its old school diner food (get the open turkey sandwich) and inexpensive drinks, you won’t go too wrong with a night out here.
A tropical-themed bar in Little Tokyo, The Mermaid has fun cocktails, tasty bar snacks and regular events such as Rick & Morty trivia nights or MCR emo karaoke evenings. The bar also aims to showcase L.A’s talented female bartenders and even has an entire liquor shelf dedicated to woman-owned distilleries.
Peek into the ship portal near the bathroom to watch the mermaids swim by on loop.
The Magnolia Bar, or Mag Bar as it is colloquially known, has been an Old Louisville staple for years thanks to its no-fuss beers (you won’t find cocktails here, guys ‘n’ gals), pool tables and arcade games. The jukebox blares rock and punk and the beers are always flowing. What more could you ask for from a list of the best dive bars in America?
Cat’s Eye Pub has the best live music in Baltimore and 32 beers on draught, with blues bands playing here seven days a week. It’s a small bar where it seems like everyone knows each other, but don’t worry, they won’t bite. Join in the blues jam and you’ll fit right in.
Black Market Bar + Grill is a laid-back dive bar with not one but two locations in Birmingham. Locals love it for its eclectic atmosphere of comic book, b-movie and punk rock decor, tasty brunch and boozy cocktails. Come for the fried chicken and bloody mary’s and stay for the bingo and trivia nights.
Open every single day of the year, Che’s Lounge is a popular hangout spot with both old-timers and a younger crowd who enjoy the easy going nature of Tucson’s best dive bar. If all that boozing is making you hungry, there’s a great food truck outside on the weekends.
Drinks include some signature cocktails, making Che’s a little above standard than your usual dive bar.
The Local is what all dive bars should strive to be – pitchers of Belgian beer, weekly trivia nights and the best karaoke evening in town, this is a bar that’s standing the test of time.
They also happen to do the best chicken wings in the city that are fall-off-the-bone delicious, so you’ve no excuse not to pop in.
Second Best is a neighbourhood hangout that looks and feels like an old school dive bar yet without the stickiness. It’s stylish with good food and arcade games. There’s an emphasis on strong cocktails and shots but the menu also has Smirnoff Ice, if you really want to throw it back to 1999.
“The Model” is a former dive bar turned new it-spot in Brighton, with loud music and cheap drinks. What more could you need for a fuss-free night out? There’s pretty much always a line in front of the Model Cafe after 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, but it’s worth the wait.
Candlelight Lounge is the home base of the Treme Brass Band, some of the finest troubadours in the city who perform on Wednesday nights around 9pm. Although it might not look like it (the bare bone floor and concrete walls) this is one of the city’s best bars. Dive bar it is, but not as you know it.
Situated in the historic James Brown House, the Ear Inn is one of the oldest operating drinking establishments in New York City and has been going strong since the 1700s. Bill Murray has stopped in for a pint and Paul Rudd is a regular – not your usual dive bar clientele but this isn’t a normal bar. It’s special.
McSorley’s Old Ale House has been a gathering place, a watering hole, the subject of art and literature and even a supreme court controversy (women were only allowed to enter in 1970 after taking the bar to court!). All that aside, it’s a solid boozer. There’s sawdust on the floor and it keeps things simple with the beer: there’s a choice of light or dark ale and that’s it.
Open 24-hours a day and covered in red velvet wallpaper, Champagnes Cafe is about as Vegas as you can get. A beloved hangout of the Rat Pack and mobsters in the 1960s, its regulars are so loyal that they threatened to protest when the bar underwent renovations on TV show Bar Rescue. But don’t worry – the atmosphere remained the same, just better.
Bar Uno might be Albuquerque’s smallest bar, but the craft cocktails and modern dive bar feel are pretty mighty. Hide away here for an evening and let the charming bartenders mix you up some delicious drinks or else go for one of the local beers on tap. Plus, dogs are welcome, which makes every bar 10x better.
The Clermont Lounge is Atlanta’s oldest and best dive bar and strip club
It’s a popular place for celebs who come to soak up the old school dive bar buzz and enjoy the strict no cameras rule.
Open since 1958, the Ale House has had plenty of time to develop into the best dive bar in Chicago. It’s covered floor-to-ceiling in portraits by owner Bruce Elliot, that range from Putin and Sarah Palin to regular customers. Full of characters from all age groups, this is a must-visit bar that was a favourite of the late Anthony Bourdain.
A double-wide trailer bar that’s filled with smoke and year-round Christmas decorations, it’s always festive in here. Famous for its wild karaoke nights (which are on every night) and of course, the main himself – ‘Santa’. It’s cash only and beers start from just $2.
A small Shaw dive bar, Ivy and Coney is a hangout for Chicago and Detroit expats who flock to the themed sports bar when the Cubs or Tigers are playing. There’s Chicago hotdogs, shell-on peanuts (just flick ’em on the floor) and cheap beer and shots. The sort of sports bar you’ll wish you lived beside.
This fun, eclectic lounge is decorated with vintage paint-by-numbers style decor and other whacky bits and bobs. There’s live music most nights, pool tables and karaoke on Tuesdays, so you won’t be bored here, that’s for sure.
It’s the funkiest dive bar you’ll ever step foot in. Oh, did we mention they also do $5 margaritas?
The Sip ‘n Dip Lounge is a Montana legend, with tiki cocktails, Piano Pat playing the keys and mermaids – yep, mermaids – swimming behind the bar. The most unique feature of this bizarre dive bar lounge is the glass wall between the bar and the swimming pool.
The mermaids appear Tuesday through Thursday from 8:00pm to midnight and on Friday and Saturdays from 9:00pm until 1:00am.
A dive bar to beat all dive bars, make your way to this dark building just off Montrose to kick back with cheap drinks and decent tunes. The vibe here hasn’t changed in years, and that’s what makes Lola’s Depot so special. A Houston icon.
The birthplace of Oklahoma’s legendary Lunchbox cocktail (equal parts Coors Light and orange juice mixed with a shot of amaretto), Edna’s is old school in all the very best ways. You can get beer on tap for less than two dollars, crispy fried pickles and staple a dollar to the wall along with all the other regulars.
Built in 1928 the Ice House was the first artificial ice plant in the area and now is one of the only bars in the country with carhop service. Yes, you read that right – this bar will serve you beer in your car.
Most folk prefer to sit on the “dock” in front of the Ice House to drink their beer before joining in the tradition of smashing the empty bottles against the brick wall beneath it.
The Salty Dawg Saloon was originally one of the first cabins built in Homer in 1897, and has served as a post office, a railroad station, a grocery store, a family home and a coal mining office before becoming this quirky bar. The walls and ceiling are lined with notes from thousands of customers over the years and the drinks are strong.
This cosy corner bar is as close to old Williamsburg as you’ll find in this now-hipsterville, with a grimy interior, sticky bar and neon lights. But that’s why we love it. There’s a comforting mix of locals and newbies who come for jukebox tunes and the cheap drinks served in huge styrofoam cups. Where else can you get a frozen margarita to takeaway?
This rickety Vendue Range bar has all the elements of a local dive that you could ever wish for: it’s open for day-drinking, the beer is cheap and plentiful and the bartenders will soon know your name. The Griffon is covered in signed dollar bills and bumper stickers and also does great English pub grub.