Oh, how I look forward to doing this column ever year. Before we begin, let’s delve into what makes a dive bar a true dive bar. There are a few elements a bar needs to have to be deemed a dive bar. The most obvious is the name cannot contain the works “dive bar”. Upon entering an aforementioned establishment, you will find yourself elbow to elbow with hipsters as Arcade Fire assaults your ears blaring on the jukebox.
The bar needs to have some history… a bar BECOMES a dive. Have you ever heard someone say ‘hey lets go check out the NEW dive bar that opened down the street.”? No you have not. It takes work to make a bar a dive. Years of fights, vomiting and deterioration are needed to properly season a barroom and turn it into a true trou de fèces.
A dive bar get extra points if is named after someone. Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar for example. Points may also be added if the name has some kind of variation of tavern, saloon, or simply bar. Another big clue to look for is to watch the staff. Are they drinking? Are they sitting at the bar? If you walk in and the lone guy at the bar needs to get up from his drink and newspaper to walk behind the bar and get you a beer, you have found a dive.
I have a folder full of note-covered bar napkins, flyers, and business cards from bars all over the country. Being a salesperson by trade I find myself hopping from city to city with a daily stipend that an Ethiopian could starve on (a not so subtle message to the TMR Editors). To keep myself entertained on the road I pass on the overpriced hotel lounges and quest for cheap drinks and world-class people watching. Here are some of the gems I have found – the good, the bad and the ugly.
1.) Silhouette Lounge
200 Brighton Ave.
Located down the street from my old Boston apartment, I know this place well. The Silhouette Lounge was once yet another bar in a neighborhood full of dive bars. The changing landscape of this Boston University/Boston College locality has seen many of the mainstay blue collar bars turned into hipster hangouts. Not the Silhouette Lounge! This bar is the day drinker’s lair. Expect to see old timers having their morning cocktail as they pour through the Boston Herald. As the day marches on, construction types, rockers, and undocumented immigrants start marching in.
Bonus: Great bar to pre-game before chasing Boston University/Boston College coeds up and down Harvard Ave.
2.) Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar
1200 E Passyunk Ave
Three years and running… it’s Ray’s! Ray’s still opens promptly at 7 in the morning; to stay true to their tagline “You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning”. At 7 A.M the cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon start popping at Ray’s as drinks made in pint glasses adorning the logos of macro beers start to flow. Karaoke at Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar makes the American Idol audition shows look like the Grammys. Some people that grab the microphone are talented, but more than often, your mouth will be agape.
Bonus: Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar is close enough to Pat’s & Geno’s to get a cheesesteak back to your bar-stool before it gets cold.
3.) Tobacco Road
626 S Miami Ave
Tobacco Road is Miami’s oldest liquor-license owner; the bar has a 100-year history. I am partial to bars with drinking areas outside especially in places with beautiful climates like Miami. Not only does Tobacco Road have a patio area, but also it is roomy with enough space to host live bands. Tobacco Road is open until 5 A.M., the drink prices are inexpensive enough that you can easily drink until closing time without dipping into your rent money. Where this place really shined was the food. I was served up a delicious double meat burger with awesome fries for fewer than 10 dollars. It would have been $7 if I did not opt for the second pattie. At most dive bars I won’t even think about ordering the food, I would go back to Tobacco Road just for the burger.
Bonus: All you can eat ribs, wings, brisket and sliders for $14.95 on Saturdays
4.) King Eddy Saloon
131 E. 5th St.
Los Angeles, CA
The mantra for this bar is “King Eddy… where nobody gives a fuck about your name.” Located beneath the extended stay King Eddy Hotel this place is home to the strangest bar crowd in Los Angeles. Adjacent to Skid Row in LA, King Eddy Saloon draws a crowd that is reminiscent of the characters in the Mickey Rourke movie “Barfly”. Hell, I would not be shocked if I actually saw Mickey Rourke at the bar. You will find yourself surrounded by sun-damaged cougars sipping on cheap cocktails and beer-chugging parolees. The drinks are cheap and the “food” is even cheaper. I especially loved eaves-dropping on the patrons of the bar as they gossiped about the social politics and drama of the adjoining King Eddy Hotel. King Eddy Saloon now has new ownership I hope they don’t kill the bar’s skid row kitsch.
Bonus: Saturday Special Chicken Nuggets & Beer for $5
5.) Blue Moon
712 NE 45th St
“The Moon” makes on our list for a second year in a row. As I said last year, the Blue Moon is a testament to the fact you don’t have to drink bad beer in a dive bar. The Blue Moon has a great vibe and is a top people watching spot. The crowd is a mix of hippies, hipsters and freaks. Located 10 minutes away from University of Washington, the Blue Moon is also a rich hunting ground for those of you looking for cute coeds. The Blue Moon is also host to a ton of great local music. You never know, you just might see the next Kurt Cobain blowing the roof off The Moon.
Bonus: Live rock on Friday and Saturday.
6.) The Paradise Lounge
119 W Main St
Revisiting this bar, already slightly buzzed, I found myself singing the Styx tune “Rockin’ the Paradise” as I walked toward its door. A fitting tune for this rocking gin mill. If the game is not on there is rock music blasting from the jukebox as a diverse crowd of people quickly swallow strong, cheap drinks at the bar. How diverse? The Paradise Lounge is on a tiny block shared by 5 other bar/restaurants and a massage parlor. You will see a mix of tourists floating over from the Best Western’s bar, stragglers from the gay bar next-door and recently greased middle-aged men from the massage parlor upstairs.
Bonus: For those of you into it they have cheap greasy eats.
7.) Magnolia Bar & Grill
1398 S 2nd St
Another perennial dive bar on our list is the Mag Bar, although it has dropped a bit in the dive-bar power rankings. This cash-only hole-in-the-wall hosts one of the nastiest men’s rooms I have ever seen. The great jukebox and cool crowd are the only true draws for this neighborhood lounge. The Magnolia Bar & Grill is four walls a ceiling and booze do not expect more than that. One of the more interesting things we were told about the Mag Bar is – not all of the women in The Mag were born women. Be careful guys.
Bonus: “Grill” is just the bar’s name they serve no food. The bartenders keep delivery menus behind the bar.
8.) 16th Street Sports Bar
6522 N 16th St # 6,
I almost walked past this place and I am glad I did not. 16th Street Sports Bar is in a tiny strip mall on 16th Street in Phoenix. If you blinked you would miss this place. Don’t blink. Upon entry, I was pumped to see the back of the bar was lined with ice troughs full of a smash-up of macro and micro brews. The barmaid is as cute as her English accent, uber-friendly and making us feel right at home. The cool thing about the 16th Street Sports Bar is it is two rooms broken up by an outdoor smoke friendly covered outdoor patio. The main bar is roomy with plenty of TVs. The second room is a game room featuring big comfortable leather sofas and its own bar. Even the outdoor patio has a big screen to watch the game on.
Bonus: They open at 7 a.m. on Saturdays for Premier League Soccer broadcasts.
9.) The Mutiny
2424 N. Western Ave.
Most dive bars have a jukebox that is whispering out depressing classic rock tunes or my woman done left me country ballads. Walking into the Mutiny and hearing Pantera pumping through the jukebox told me I was home. The Mutiny is not your daddy’s dive bar, yet it is not a hipster breading ground. Honestly, I do not think a hipster would make it out of the Mutiny with their black framed glasses and iPhone full of Arctic Monkey downloads intact. The Mutiny is a spot for blazing punk and metal served up with cheap drinks.
Bonus: Pabst Blue Ribbon and Old Style served in 32oz SuperMugs
10.) Double Down Saloon
4640 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, NV
Like the Mutiny in Chicago this is a dive bar gone hardcore. Located a short walk from the strip the Double Down Saloon is a great place to get away from the tourists and trappings of Las Vegas. Just do not think you are going to get away from the noise. The Double Down Saloon is packed with fun-loving, tattooed, hard drinking patrons that make no apologies for having a great time… and that is just the chicks in there. The guys are just as hardcore. If you can see past the Timothy Leary inspired paint job and blaring music you have found a great bar. The drinks are cheap and the ass-juice is flowing (if you have to ask you don’t need to know).
Bonus: This bar is a magnet for smoking hot wild girls.
There you have it this year’s top ten dive bars. I am sorry if missed your favorite watering hole or outed your favorite hideaway. We love your comments if you have any suggests on where we should head to next please let us know. Cheers.