Let's drink, drink, this town is so gray.
April 12, 2003 11:14 PM   Subscribe

Dive bars. Every town must have one. This is an interesting story about the bar that I imbibe at most often. I'm sure there are more like this. Please share.
posted by TurkishGolds (42 comments total)
By the way, I'm drunk right now.
posted by TurkishGolds at 11:20 PM on April 12, 2003

Oh ain't it fun to be high.

The Clermont Lounge is the best dive/strip bar to take the toughest guy you know that goes around bragging he's been to the sleaziest bars in the world. It's a sure bet he will be stunned. For those of you who have been there you know what I mean, for those who haven't I wouldn't dare spoil the fun for you the next time you visit Atlanta.
posted by oh posey at 11:29 PM on April 12, 2003

I've been in lots of them and reflecting on the question there is no doubt that one stands above the crowd, and that is the Focsle Bar and liquor store in Ketchikan Alaska. When I lived there it was know as the Focsle Snakepit: Sawdust floors and filthy beds upstairs where drunk loggers and fishermen were left to sleep it off. You could sit in that bar for hours and drink for free as people were constantly yelling "Timber!" thus buying a round for the house. They closed at 4 am and reopened at 5 am. We would spend that hour having breakfast at a little dump on the docks; on our way back to the bar one time my brother in law (who taught me a lot about drinking) fell down and split his forehead open. We took a taxi to the hospital where he got sewed up and by the time we got back to the bar it was standing room only. There were always fights at this bar, often free-for-alls like in some western movie and the cops wouldn't come in. They would wait outside and scoop people up when they were given the heave-ho at the door. Looking back on it it was sureal, but of course I was drunk whenever I was there. I've heard it's all changed, upscale for the tourists and all that, so I guess I won't go back. I like it the way I remember it.
posted by Mack Twain at 12:18 AM on April 13, 2003 [1 favorite]

In the early nineties, I live right off of Hollywood Boulevard- which, for those of you who have never been there, is one of the crappiest places to live in the United States.
Anyway, on a side street a few blocks away, there was a bar called the PowerHouse. It was about the size of a good sized living room, and had a small bar and a few torn red vinyl booths. There was a jukebox in the corner which only played 70's punk and Classic Country, and the only beer on tap was Milwaukee's Best and Budweiser. The bartender was an aging punker with a mass of warts all over his face, and he mumbled to himself a lot and told people to piss off for no reason at all, seemingly at random. There was always someone making out in one of the booths, and it was almost always a couple who looked homeless. Most of the regular patrons had a few missing teeth, and if you met a girl there, she was almost always a junkie trying to support her habit by turning tricks.

We used to spend our nights there after work, drinking $1.50 pitchers of Milwaukee's Best and smoking our lives away while trying to keep an eye out for a potential mugger or a random act of violence.

Damn, I miss that place so much.
posted by bradth27 at 12:50 AM on April 13, 2003

bradth27, the PowerHouse sounds a lot like The Churchill Arms on the edge of skid row in Vancouver, except the only people there who had ever heard of punk rock were me and the friends I dragged down there once in a while. Strange and wondrous things happened there. I lived in that bar for the better part of a year back in 91 or so, and if I'd been bukowski-writing as well as just bukowski-drinking, I might have gotten a novel out of it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:19 AM on April 13, 2003

I hear McSorley's is good.
posted by mb01 at 1:32 AM on April 13, 2003

I think any "dive" bar that has a web site link should automatically be thrown out, I am looking at you "The Clermont Lounge"
.. and yes i have been drinking tonight. Good Night ..
posted by stuartmm at 1:47 AM on April 13, 2003

I think any "dive" bar that has a web site link should automatically be thrown out
Agreed, stuartmm. But if I can let you into my jealously guarded little secret...

The best dive - and the aesthetically purest bar, despite the intense competition - in the world is lovely, welcoming, serious Dublin House.

Our own Vidiot should be there (or else!) to break in any visiting MeFites...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:59 AM on April 13, 2003

re: dives who have a website

Well yeah but did you see the web site? I thought that was part of the joke. It defines dive.

Take 3 Advil now.
posted by oh posey at 2:10 AM on April 13, 2003

Nah, McSorley's is shite. You have to slip the barback $20 to get a table, and it's packed full of yuppies anyway. Better dives in NY: The Library (around Ave A and 3rd St) and Mona's (Ave B b/t 13th and 14th; it doesn't even have a sign on the front, but it has $2.75 Guinness pints on Thursdays). Also Grassroots, on St. Marks b/t 2nd and 3rd.
posted by The Michael The at 5:57 AM on April 13, 2003

Miguel, Miguel, Miguel. If the Dublin House is anything like you've described it to me, it's not quite a dive. Dives are down-at-the-heels, seedy, and kind of scary (but in a GOOD way.) You described the Dublin House as "lovely." (But judging from the other sites you linked to, it's more of a dive than I thought from your description.) I'll check it out, I promise. Might be a week or two, though; I don't get to the Upper West Side that much.

oh posey -- As soon as I saw the thread, I was going to mention the Clermont Lounge. The Clermont epitomizes "dive." It's the only dive I've ever been in where I thought I was in the middle of a Tom Waits song. If you like dives, you utterly HAVE to make a pilgrimage to the Clermont. It's in the basement of the only hotel in Atlanta to have rooms available during the Olympics. (by the way, there's a fan site at clermontlounge.com -- you can even get yourself a free e-mail address!) I can't decide whether to tell Clermont stories or to refrain as posey did, to maximize the surprise.

I really liked McSorley's the two or three times I've been there...had no problems getting a table, and it was fairly empty. Then again, it was just after lunchtime each time.

The Holiday Cocktail Lounge, where we had the last MeFiNYCMeetup, seems to have pretty good dive status. Rudy's is fun, too: any place that dishes out free hot dogs and has Mose Allison on the jukebox is just fine by me.
posted by Vidiot at 7:11 AM on April 13, 2003

The Holiday has an excellent jukebox and a Romanian bartender who fought for the Nazis.
posted by hairyeyeball at 7:15 AM on April 13, 2003

My idea of a dive bar is Marz Bar
posted by Lex Tangible at 8:19 AM on April 13, 2003

I don't think some of you know what a dive bar is. (I except Mack Twain, bradth 27, and stavros, who clearly do.) Dive bars don't have websites. Dive bars don't have storied histories (McSorley's has decent ale but hasn't been a dive for at least a century, if it ever was one). Dive bars don't, for Christ's sake Miguel, have "shiny young professionals." The best dives don't even have names; there's just a sign saying "BAR" and maybe a neon Bud sign. They're on side streets in crummy neighborhoods; inside are a grouchy barkeep and some combination of young assholes and old drunks of varying sexes, occasionally making attempts at conversation ("...fuckin Mets..." "...goddam landlord..." "...dja ever see...") but mainly just sucking on their cheap beers and/or getting in fights. I haven't been in one in years, being older and sedater and married, but I used to could take you on a tour of dives in New Haven and New York both (a friend of mine and I once decided, twenty or so years ago, to make our way down Third Avenue drinking in every bar we saw, maybe in honor of The Lost Weekend, I don't remember, but we had a good time, I think). There was an old-man dive bar in South Astoria I used to frequent when I was getting divorced; I guess that was my last. It's gone now, replaced by yet another Italian restaurant. Anyway, thanks for the trip down memory lane, and remember, if it looks like a halfway sensible or respectable person might be seen in it, it ain't no dive.
posted by languagehat at 8:43 AM on April 13, 2003 [1 favorite]

The Villa in Stamford, CT is an exquisite dive. Kiss, Anthrax, and Jag Panzer on the jukebox. A steel door. Wall to wall mullets, big hair and tatoos. in A guarantee of at least one fight every satuday night. A daytime barfly who once insisted to me he was the Unabomber. My girlfreind was bitten by a spider there once. This incident also occured there.

Also, the Golden Star Cafe in Bridgeport is a classic shithole. My buddy put "Chicago, My Kinda Town" on the jukebox and this mid-50's gone-to-seed lug awoke from his stupor and began singing loudly, eventually getting the whole dump singing along. Later that night a pension age lesbian barbag asked both me and my buddies girlfreind to dance.

There was also the bar next door to my workplace in Miami that had a sign advertising their (no shit) 8 hour happy hour. Every single time I went in there it smelled like nacho puke.

Also, the quasi-boho dump in Port Chester, NY called the Beat, where a buddy of mine was an occasional bartender. The owner would occasionally forget to pay the electric bill . On one such night my budy was tending and I walked in for the evenings special a $1 Schlitz in a can. The bar was lit up with about 90 candles. Soon after I left the fire marshal came in for an inspection and shut them down for the night. Bastards.

There's also Fox's in Miami, FL, Keenan's Piano Lounge in the Inwood Section of upper manhattan. The Now defunct Alcatraz in the east village. Tony's Huntington Inn across from my laundromat.

Warning: These are not yuppie faux dives. These are the real thing.

On preview. Thanks for mentioning the Mars Bar, Lex tangible. In 1989, as a wanna be boho ex-headbanger suburban college freshmen in NY I was picked up by this East Village Chick at that dump, who led me to this incident..

These stories make me sound a lot more interesting than I actually am.
posted by jonmc at 9:03 AM on April 13, 2003

i'm a fairly recent transplant to new york, originally from northampton, home of the infamous ye old watering hole described in the article. in fact, i used to live right next to it. if we accept languagehat's definition of a dive bar as accurate, then i would have to nominate hugo's, one block down from the hole, as the diviest bar in northampton. no web site to link to, of course.
now that i live here in new york, dive bars are a dime a dozen, but i don't know if i'd include the library on that list. in its current incarnation at least, it lacks the quintessential shabbiness and cheap beer that i associate with all good dives. johnny's, on greenwich, is more the ticket, i think.
posted by lassie at 9:05 AM on April 13, 2003

slight aside:

lassie, I'm assuming you mean Northampton, Mass. If so is the Blue Bonnet diner still there. On a family trip I had a great au jus sandwich there.
posted by jonmc at 9:11 AM on April 13, 2003

You know it's a good bar if people can cash their paychecks there.
posted by turaho at 9:12 AM on April 13, 2003

Here in the Big D, Deep Ellum is one big dive. Well, okay it's a bunch of little dives that are real close to one another, and the whole place just feels like a dive. Seedy and dangerous and scary but in a good way. Yeah, that's my Ellum. I think the owners of these places have given up trying to make the place look nice because assholes come in and trash anything that looks good anyway. So they've gone for a "rundown but still kinda kickass" fashion look, where everything looks grundgy and crappy but still somehow cool. It's a fashionable shithole.

The day before last I had jagermeister shots with some friends over at Curtain Club which is a great place to get rejected by women. It's also an ideal spot to sit out on the patio and watch the madness of Main street on a Friday night, with music and nightlife bombarding you from many directions. Club Clearview's Art Bar is just across the street. Adjacent to the Curtain is a tattoo parlor. Last Friday there was a fire engine in the middle of the road most of the night. No fire. I guess the firemen drove by to check out the bands. Evamore played Clearview late last Friday and they were amazing. Everybody in the place was mesmerized.

Curtain Club has had a broken curtain on the stage for years but they've just recently fixed it. I've caught Jibe, Flickerstick, Spoonfed Tribe and others at that venue. I prefer the Liquid Lounge which is next door, cuz it's more lowkey, intimate and the acoustics sound better, provided you're not sitting too close to a guitar amp. I've seen Eden Automatic play there as well as Alan, Four Side Circle, Ashburne Glen, and Blueprint Sea in the past few months. I get out when I can.

But a really seedy dive is Club Dada which is a block away down Elm Street. All the stools and tables wobble. The walls look like they were under renovation at one time and then just ran outta money. It's dark and dank and the drink prices are too high. The courtyard outside in the back looks like a DMZ. Still, this is where you can catch Hard Night's Day regularly, and a bunch of my favorite lady folk artists in the DFW area frequent that place. One time I saw a guy get up on the Dada stage and pretend to play this beat up old guitar and he cursed a lot as his excuse for singing, saying something about how the government stole his blues, then for his big finale he took the guitar and pounded it on the stage a few times until it was just splinters. Then he picked up his drink and stormed off. Now that's entertainment.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:44 AM on April 13, 2003

The Waltham Tap, a remnant of the South End's more colorful days, is my favorite Boston dive. It's cheap, dirty and the name is a misnomer-- they don't have anything on tap, not even soda. The bartender mixes drinks with soda poured out of three-liter Silver Spring bottles.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:13 AM on April 13, 2003

In Portland, OR, it's really all about my neighborhood dive, the Jockey Club.

Cheap beer, best jukebox in town, and a Ms. Pacman table.
posted by cmonkey at 10:16 AM on April 13, 2003

if you're talking dives then it has to be the the dive bar in Chinatown. Great music, looks like an abandoned tube tunnel and so dark you can't see your drink. And no website.

Used to be a great bar in NYC called (I think) the Kettle of fish on west 3rd. Anyone know if it's still there? Spent many a drunken night there giving people the wrong answers to the quiz machine (unintentionally) and being given free cheese by the bar staff (something to do with American football I think).

Can you have a proper dive in NYC now that you can't smoke?
posted by ciderwoman at 10:16 AM on April 13, 2003

jonmc, the Blue Bonnet is still alive and kickin'! :) Only been there a few times myself, but I drive past it every now and then.

Can't comment on any of the bars in Noho as I'm still a few months shy of legal inebriation myself, and the only place I've been in NYC was the C-Note somewhere south of 14th Street (I think). Saw one of my girlfriend's co-workers' band there, who, incidentally, had recently played up here in Mass (Easthampton, though, but they knew of Noho).
posted by cyrusdogstar at 10:28 AM on April 13, 2003

I remember reading The View from Nowhere: The Only Bar Guide You'll Ever Want -- Or Need by Jim Atkinson which has to be the best dive bar review book on the planet, if only on sheer humor alone.

Sadly many of the joints I tried to visit (such as The Pig and Whistle on Colfax here in Denver) were closed by the time I got around to it. Sadly, I've also lost my copy of the book.
posted by m@ at 10:31 AM on April 13, 2003

Dive bars don't, for Christ's sake Miguel, have "shiny young professionals."

Languagehat, you great big wilting yankee nancyboy, how dare you? Listen, dear fellow, living in Lisbon and being fond of a drop now and then, I can assure you I've been to enough dives - terrifying, real life-risking dives with adulterated hooch, criminals on the lam and mentally ill octagenerian hookers where it's almost impossible to emerge without getting into a fight, never mind relax - to last a lifetime of novels.

I just assumed that the thread was about purty American pseudo-dives with only a whiff of danger and a long-exhausted reputation - the kind of place you can actually enjoy being in. Real dives trap you - you go in unaware of what you're letting yourself into and instantly regret it and think solely of bluffing your way out of there. In real dives their sinister denizens make a point of making you stay long enough to have a bit of fun scaring the shit out of you and - most importantly - making sure you leave all your cash there by making you buy awful counterfeit bottles of watered down industrial alcohol; drinks for the toothless "girls" and rounds for the regulars.

And don't even get me started on Macao, São Paulo, Maputo or the bidonvilles of Paris...

Btw, I never saw anyone but a legitimate barfly or tried and trued alky at Dublin House. Those websites must be referring to the weekend crowd. I go there in the morning and early afternoon, like any self-disrespecting drinker.

So don't - never! - talk to me about dives, matey! ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:41 AM on April 13, 2003

Newport in Gwent, South Wales, was home to at least two memorable dives in the late 80s, when I was a student there. The most famous of them was called Seico's (or at least it was until there was a riot outside it one Saturday night and the local council got them to change the name to TJ's, as which it's become famous as the home of indie music in South Wales), and I always thought that they could have rationalised the men's bathroom by putting a plughole in the middle of the floor and stepping stones for the patrons. All the plumbing was either (a) blocked or (b) completely smashed. That's how I remember it, though. Home to the infamous Cheap Sweaty Fun nights.

The other dive had a number of strikes against it: It was called Brahms and Liszt (after the cockney rhyming slang for Pissed or drunk), you could order bottled beer by the country (Russian or Italian or Czech or whatever). But in fact everything else about it was pure dive - wrecked furniture, the lighting provided by sparse, bare bulbs, occasional performances by terrible punk bands. The barman may have been both pierced and tatooed, but since this was 1988, I'm not so sure. Definitely not ironically pierced and tatooed, though, that's for sure. I used to like the Russian beer, despite the fact that it tasted very Soviet indeed.

Oh, and volume 11 of Dave Sim's epic Cerebus (Guys), is quite a touching account of a guy's love affair with a bar. I think it sort of fits in here.
posted by Grangousier at 10:58 AM on April 13, 2003

self-disrespecting drinker


And languagehat, allow me to disagree. Website or no, the Clermont Lounge is indeed a dive. It's not sinister, no, but the clientele can sometimes be scary. Over-the-hill strippers that are known to harangue the audience! A jukebox with a sign on it that says "Dancers Only!" When you order Rolling Rock, they give it to you in the CAN! Unshaven, smelly, drooling drunks toppling slowly off their barstools at 11am! Oh, and Blondie, the unofficial mascot of the place, has been known to spout poetry while crushing beer cans between her breasts. (And G.G. Allin lived in the hotel above. And wrote a song about it.)
posted by Vidiot at 11:20 AM on April 13, 2003

Okay, all this Noho reunion crap is wigging me out. Ye olde Watering Hole was the best dive bar if only because it was one of three places I could play video games in that town growing up.

And for all the toughness of people's attitudes there, I only got thrown out once, after bumping into a guy playing pool as he was making a shot. (I was running to get more quarters to continue my Sinistar game. Oh. He also spilled his beer on the table)

Since I've been in NY, my favorite dive just closed. The Right Bank is no more, as of April 1st, as a matter of fact. No more sipping rancid $3.00 guinnesses upstairs in the closed section while watching the boats go by. Damnit.
posted by Busithoth at 11:39 AM on April 13, 2003

No more sipping rancid $3.00 guinnesses upstairs in the closed section while watching the boats go by.

Damn, why do I only find out about these places after the fact?
posted by Vidiot at 11:46 AM on April 13, 2003

You know it's a good bar if people can cash their paychecks there.


Vidiot: Every rule has exceptions, and you've convinced me the Clermont Lounge is one.

m@: That's a great book, and I've got a copy around somewhere... but of course it's totally useless by now, except for historical and sentimental purposes. The great cartoonist Tony Millionaire once did a full-page lament for the lost bars of NYC (like Tin Pan Alley, a theater-district basement dive full of lesbians, junkies, hookers, no-name actors, and plain old drunks) that made me cry in my beer. I hope it's online somewhere...
posted by languagehat at 12:31 PM on April 13, 2003

You can always tell a dive bar because somonee will offer to sell you somthing odd. Recently someone sold me a pair of pvc fetish trousers for 4 quid in my local. It was not a fetish bar or anything. Dive bars should also have an area where it's accepted that you can smoke weed without getting thrown out. I prefer the phrase dodgy pub to dive bar though.
posted by ollybee at 12:43 PM on April 13, 2003

I hate to tell you guys, but the Clermont has changed in the last two years. It became hip at some point and is now packed out with polo-wearing yuppies on Saturday nights. They have a dance floor and a DJ and you have to wait in line to get in. It's still the same craphole, though, and it still has obese strippers. If you go on a weeknight, it's pretty much the old place.

We took a friend of mine there on his 21st birthday four or five years ago, and he threw up on the floor. We just ran out of there. I actually have a friend that (dated/is dating?) one of the (not obese) strippers there. Big heroin addict, that one. Fun at a party though.
posted by toothless joe at 1:11 PM on April 13, 2003

Dive bars are a dime a dozen in my neck of the woods (Northwestern Wisconsin). Some of my "favorites" include:

Inflation Fighter: a little dark cubby hole with boarded over windows and an outside sign that features a crude painting of a bald-headed old man wearing a superman costume. This joint used to feature five cent tap beers back in the day, but they've jumped up to 50 cents in the last couple of years. Guess they lost the fight.

Beehive Lounge: used to have plate glass windows, but after several locals got heaved through them, they were replaced with concrete cinder block.

Landfill Lounge: located next to, you guessed it, the town dump. I went here with a Canadian friend a few years ago. Five minutes after we sat down, an extremely drunk girl sat down in between us. Our conversation went like this:

Drunk Girl: So which one of you is gonna take me home and fuck me?

Us: (pointing at each other) He is!

DG: Where are you guys from?

Me: I'm from around here, he's from Canada.

DG: Fuckin' liars! Are you gay?

After this, she proceeded to climb up on the bar and started dancing while removing her top. We discovered later that her boyfriend had been at the end of the bar watching us the entire time.
posted by MrBaliHai at 1:59 PM on April 13, 2003

okay, I wanna go drinkin' with MrBaliHai now.

I hate to tell you guys, but the Clermont has changed in the last two years.

Yeah, I'd heard that -- I've never been there on the weekends, though. (Amateurs.) We would always go on a Tuesday or Wednesday, 'cause those were my days off. And it's best when you go with a mixed group.
posted by Vidiot at 2:40 PM on April 13, 2003

ollybee: Someone tried to sell us Easter Eggs, cheese and baby clothes earlier today in my local. You can smoke weed in the backyard/beer garden if you so choose, with the landlord's blessing. I guess that makes it a dive. :)
posted by squealy at 2:49 PM on April 13, 2003

Come to Sacramento, CA. We have more Dive Bars per square mile than any place should. (Not that I am complaining, mind you) Places like: The Zebra Club, The Limelight, The Round Corner, The Raven, The Press Club, The Old Tavern, & the Torch Club to name just a few. Almost every one of those places are odd, old & the kind of spot you might see Tom Waits belting out a boozy song.
posted by BlueScreen at 3:03 PM on April 13, 2003

Oh Hell, There aren't enough hours in the day to name all of dive bars in Milwaukee. An embarrassment of riches I tell ya.
posted by MikeMc at 4:12 PM on April 13, 2003

OK, I have to jump in. The Tanga Lounge In Tampa, Dew Drop Inn and Oasis in Parker AZ. The Oasis was the Indian bar and the Dew Drop Inn was the Mexican bar. Since they were across the street from each other, fights were frequent. The Indians had the advantage. Once they were arrested they were hauled over to the reservation line and released. They just came back and got back into the fight.
posted by razzuli at 4:25 PM on April 13, 2003

Ahh, memories. I vaguely remember many a morning, stumbling out of a nightclub at 5am, emerging blinking into the sunlight and staggering around avoiding the early-morning joggers. It was originally called The Kiwi Club, but was later renamed to The Terrace and it was not only a dive, but a complete deathtrap as well. The fire exits were boarded up and the only way in or out was via the world's steepest, narrowest staircase - not a good thing to combine with excessive amounts of alcohol. Many many people were injured falling down those stairs, but it was not until someone landed on his head and died in a pool of blood that it was eventually closed down one final time.

The drinks were watered down and overpriced, the atmosphere was modern desperation (it was the only place that remained open after all the legal clubs had closed at the then latest closing time of 2am) It was down an alley and there was no sign on the street, so you had to know it was there and, if you wanted to view a sampling of humanity at its worst, The Terrace was where you could go. I loved that place.
posted by dg at 5:13 PM on April 13, 2003

One other thing that any self-respecting dive should have is a meat-raffle.

I'm reminded too, reading this, of an East Hastings old-man bar (again in Vancouver), in the bottom of one of the short-timer hooker hotels, that used to run hardcore porn video on the few eye-level monitors scattered around the place that still worked. This was back in the mid-eighties, in Vancouver, and was, to put it mildly, a little unusual. I suppose it was shut down eventually, but it was open for business for a long time. Weird, weird ambience, nasty smell. Dollar beers. I loved taking friends there to see if they'd blink or not. It's a testament to my friends that most of 'em didn't.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:28 AM on April 14, 2003

Also in Portland, OR for a true dive experience don't miss out on the Yamhill Pub, where you can finally see where all your generously handed out pocket change really gets spent by the local brdige dwellers. And for pure *giggle* factor, of course, Hung Far Low.
posted by mnology at 8:53 AM on April 14, 2003

I went to college in Mississippi. The whole state sorta counts as a dive bar especially if you follow languagehat's criteria:

They're on side streets in crummy neighborhoods; inside are a grouchy barkeep and some combination of young assholes and old drunks of varying sexes, occasionally making attempts at conversation ("...fuckin Mets..." "...goddam landlord..." "...dja ever see...") but mainly just sucking on their cheap beers and/or getting in fights.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:08 AM on April 15, 2003

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