Dive bars are just fabulous. Their informal atmosphere and cheap beer make them an ideal spot to gather and share a few drinks with old friends or to make a few new ones. I have traveled far and wide and done my fair share of research to uncover some great gems across the country. So, here are some dive bars that hold a special place in my heart.
Casanova Lounge, San Francisco
Most adventures for Elisabeth and me begin in the Mission Neighborhood in San Francisco. This area has some of the best drink deals in the city and is full of iconoclastic bars. For us, most good nights begin at Casanova Lounge, which is every bit as charming as the name implies. The bar is full of ironic hipsters that possess a sort of androgynous style – where the boys look like girls and the girls look like boys.
The décor seems like something out of Boogie Nights, and you half expect Heather Graham to come out on roller skates at any moment. The bar is cast in a whiskey color glow, which seems to illuminate the nude paintings that hang on the walls. People pile in on the plush velvet couches and sip their cheap cocktails and PBRs. And these are all the best parts.
Elisabeth and I like to go for happy hour for the margaritas, because the bartenders don’t skimp on the tequila. But take our word for it, if someone suggests you try a tequila gimlet, run the other way! Casanova Lounge offers $1 off every drink from 4-7 p.m. daily, and the DJ starts spinning ultra cool, obscure music at 9 p.m.
— Casanova Lounge – 527 Valencia St. – 415.863.9328 —
James Joyce Irish Pub, Tampa, Fla.
If you could major in dive bars in college I would have graduated summa cum laude. That said, it is only appropriate that I honor my time at the University of South Florida and living in Tampa, Fla. and name one of my favorite bars there.
Few things show the growth and maturity of a college student as their choice in bars. For most 18 year olds in Tampa, the nightlife starts in historic downtown Ybor at sleazy night clubs that only play techno and hip hop music. (This is also the point in life where girls go to Forever 21 to get a new outfit for da club. And for some reason you believe it is okay to pay covers.) Then as you near the end of your college career, the qualities you look for in a bar include seats, cheap draft beers and live music.
Enter James Joyce Irish Pub.
Located in the heart of Ybor, this watering hole is a diamond in the rough and seems completely out of its element. Its laidback and down to earth vibe is in stark contrast with the surrounding taverns. With the bar’s dark antiquated wood and nightly live bands who often play Irish folk music – you may just forget you are in Florida. Here people are looking to raise a pint (or two) and just be merry. Apparently, Guinness Corp recently named it “one of the best pints in America.” Now that is something to be proud of.
— James Joyce Irish — 1704 East 7th Ave. – 813.247.1896. —
Art Bar, New York City
I discovered Art Bar the same night I went to Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain (see: “As Seen on TV: Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain”). The two ladies I had been hanging out with said that I must go to the Meatpacking District, because that is where all the young people hang out. I bid my new friends adieu and flagged down the first cab I could find. The driver asked me where I wanted to go, and I just asked him to take me to wherever the young people hang out. In a few short minutes I was in the Meatpacking District outside of two bustling clubs. As I observed the crowds outside, I feared the cabbie had read me all wrong. But being the open-minded person I am I decided to give the places a shot. I was pretty much horrified to be in a club let alone hear it playing techno music. I had discovered this place about 10 years too late. So, I high-tailed it out of there and asked some guy on the street if there was a bar where the girls weren’t dressed up and I could get a Bud Light. He laughed and walked me to the nearby Art Bar.
Its low-lit bohemian atmosphere sprinkled with candles and art-covered walls had me at hello.
Art Bar has been a fixture in the West Village for nearly 20 years. The front of the bar is bustling with a mostly local crowd. If you are looking for a more low-key vibe, sink into the oversized couches in the back room and enjoy the working fireplace and art from locals. I was delighted to find that it not only had Bud Light, but that it was cheap! It also offers daily happy hour specials; seasonal specialty cocktails; and an array of food options (bonus the kitchen stays open late). I happily took my seat at the bar, and made some new friends, and I knew it had been a good night when I finally left at 4 a.m.
— Art Bar – 52 8th Ave. – 212.727.0244 – firstname.lastname@example.org —
Billy Goat Tavern Original, Chicago
Billy Goat Tavern has a long and illustrious history that stretches back to 1934. It gained notoriety in 1978 when Saturday Night Live cast members John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Loraine Newman performed a skit inspired by the bar. It went something like this: “Cheezborger! Cheezborger! You want doublecheez?!?” And as they say the rest is history.
This is by far the most famous dive bar on the list, but don’t worry – it hasn’t gone all Hollywood. It still posses all the qualities of a dive bar like the neon signs that hang in the window; red and white checkered tables; and yellowing newspaper clippings that adorn the walls. Despite its fame, it still has an underground feel, and locals and tourists alike flock here to tip a few back.
The Original Billy Goat Tavern is located underneath Michigan Avenue, which lends it just the perfect amount of seediness. It also possesses some of my favorite qualities in a bar – cheap, cold beer and greasy food. (If you come to Billy Goat Tavern its famous burgers really shouldn’t be missed.) Then take a seat at the bar, and you are sure to make a few friends, as Chicagoans are a hospitable bunch.
— Billy Goat Tavern — 430 N. Michigan Ave. – 312.222.1525 —
What are some of your favorite dives?