The popularity of shows like Mad Men and Archer has given a rebirth to cocktail culture in America. Some of us laugh at this concept, for us cocktail culture has never gone away. We few have been true disciples of the cocktail shaker and the Pabst Blue Ribbon all of our lives. Now we find ourselves surrounded by hipsters and scenesters that quote Thelonious Monk as they sip on a $6 PBRs.
These disillusioned drinkers are starting to eat up valuable barside real estate in taverns across America. As they move to our favorite bars we the true drinkers search for even darker and dingier drinking holes. In my quest for the perfect cocktail I have come across some of the most unique gin mills and road houses in the states.
Today I share with you my findings. These are not the faux dives that are popping up across the country. These are the barrooms of your fathers and grandfathers. I give you what is left of Americana – These are the Top Ten Dive Bars in America.
1.) Tootsie’s World Famous Orchid Lounge
If someone from a foreign country asked to you to bring them to a classic American bar I would say take them to Tootsies. As you walk through this bar you can see how it has been expanded over the years to accommodate its faithful drinkers. Tootsies front bar has a tiny stage too small to fit most bands. Expect to see the drummer’s butt crack in the front window as you walk in, the lead singer might be singing from on top of the bar. The drinks are cheap and the music is the best you will hear anywhere in the world.
Bonus: The tiny two urinal men’s room actually has a white shirted bow tie wearing bathroom attendant. How is that for southern kitsch?
2.) TC’s Lounge
1 Haviland St
So you have seen The Departed, Mystic River and most recently The Town and now want to get the true Boston barroom experience. TC’s Lounge located on a tiny side street across from Berklee College of Music is the place to get it. TC’s is so underground most locals outside of its Back Bay neighborhood don’t even know TC’s Lounge exists. TC’s is decorated from floor to ceiling with posters from the 70’s – 80’s. There are tobacco stained classics like KISS, Farrah Fawcett (yes the rock hard nipple poster) and The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
Bonus: Golden Tee (if you don’t know what Golden Tee is stop reading now)
3.) Falling Rock Tap House
1919 Blake St.
Located in LoDo as the locals call it or Lower Downtown The Falling Rock Tap House is a beer drinker’s paradise. It could lose dive bar points because of it’s vast menu of high end beers. The Falling Rock Tap House has 75 tap lines and typically another 125+ beer available in bottle. Strip away the incredible beer selection and this place looks like a 1960’s rumpus room. Decorated in beer bottles and old beer swag you feel like you are drinking in your Uncle Mortimer’s basement.
Bonus: Awesome outdoor patio.
4.) Jumbo’s Clown Room
5153 Hollywood Blvd.
Jumbo’s Clown Room brings the term throwback to a whole new level. Not a strip bar in the traditional sense Jumbo’s Clown Room does have exotic dancers. These girls strip down to G Stings and pasties as rock music blasts through Jumbo’s speakers. This burlesque club once employed rocker Courtney Love therefore I cannot guarantee all of the ladies will be hot. If you are looking for a spread eagle strip club where you can do ob/gyn exams this is not your place. If you want a great cheap cocktails and a throwback burlesque show go to Jumbos.
Bonus: Courtney Love no longer strips there.
5.) The George & Dragon Pub
206 N. 36th Street
The George & Dragon Pub is a little bit of England in Seattle. Seattle is a perfect location for this soccer themed British pub seeing they share the same weather. The staff at “The George” are crass bordering on rude. The closer it gets to last call the more blunt they can be. Still if you want to get the full on English dive bar experience without jumping on a plane this is the place. Go during a major soccer match and get the full on English pub experience. If you are lucky you might even see a fight or two.
Bonus: Great breakfast menu for you early drinkers.
6.) Richard’s Bar
491 N Milwaukee Ave.
My kind of town Chicago. If you are looking for a cheap bottle of Old Style and a 75 cent hard boiled egg Richard’s Bar is your place. This classic gin mill is decorated with pics of famous Chicago mobsters and framed newspaper prints of historic Chicago events. The crowd in Richard’s Bar is as classic Chicago as the bar. This collection of blue collar shot swallowers is great for people watching. If you don’t want the 75 cent eggs sit tight until Thanksgiving. Richards is open on Thanksgiving and has a full Thanksgiving Day spread right down to the cranberry sauce.
Bonus: Many Sinatra and Rat Pack songs on the old school jukebox.
7.) The Northside Tavern
1058 Howell Mill Rd NW
As you sit in the Northside Tavern most of the time you are there you mouth will hang open in disbelief. This bar is a cross between Harpo’s Juke Joint in the Color Purple and The Mos Eisley Tavern in Star Wars. At any point you are expecting Rod Serling to walk out and do an epilogue. If you can get past the circus like atmosphere of the Northside Tavern you have found a great watering hole. The bar has cheap drinks and great music. It is the host to some of the best local and regional Blues and Jazz acts.
Bonus: Live music 7 nights a week. Double Bonus: Cop in the pic above.
8.) Magnolia Bar & Grill
1398 S 2nd St
If you are looking for a real shit kicking southern bar look no further than The Mag Bar. This is the real deal of dive bars. Don’t even think you are going to use your fancy gold card there. Magnolia’s is cash only. The bar has a gritty look and an earthy smell… could be the bar, could be the clientele. The Mag Bar as it is known is packed with rockers, locals and the great unwashed swilling cheap drinks and jamming to The Mag Bar’s great jukebox.
Bonus: “Grill” is just the bar’s name they serve no food. The bartenders keep delivery menus behind the bar.
9.) Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar
1200 E Passyunk Ave
If you find yourself in Philly needing a drink at 7 A.M. Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar is the place to be. Ray’s is full of neighborhood locals not trendy hipsters trying to be cool. The big draw for Ray’s? …Karaoke night. Yes Ray’s still does Kareoke and it is a train wreck. Most of the people singing look as if they have been in the bar since opening at 7.
Bonus: Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar is close enough to Pat’s & Geno’s to get a cheesesteak back to your barstool before it gets cold.
10.) Billymark’s West
332 9th Ave
(between 30th St & 29th St)
New York, NY
Billymark’s gets high marks because it is located in the trendy section of Chelsea. Despite the location there is nothing trendy about Billymarks. This is an old school shot and beer barroom in the heart of NYC. Don’t expect to pay typical dive bar prices in Billymark’s West, you are still in Manhattan. The bonus here is you are not surrounded by pertinacious midtown scenesters. The draw of this bar is the people and a fantastic jukebox.
Bonus: Close enough to Madison Square Garden to do a little pre-game warm up.
So it is time for you to use your frequent flyer miles and start bar hopping. I am sure you have some places I missed I would love to hear about them. Most of these cities have 10 great dive bars on a couple square blocks. I am always looking for new places to check out hit me with your suggestions.