Divey (as in resembling a dive bar) isn’t the best descriptor, but it’s the closest I could get to describing the essence of these bars, where the bathrooms may be covered in graffiti and the bartenders can be slightly surly. While the craft-beer selection is far and away better than any dive bar and the scene is generally less unsavory, these bars still maintain the vibes of a neighborhood dive: just a comfortable, unpretentious, and straightforward bar that also serves really good craft beer. Here are four that fall into that category and a few more worth mentioning.
Mama’s is a bar that’s knows what it wants to be—and that’s a “beer only/cash only” neighborhood bar with six local drafts (e.g., Allagash, Oxbow, Rising Tide and more from Maine), a solid bottle and can selection, and a variety of casual entertainment, from a stack of board games to darts to a small book selection. It’s small, but not cramped, quiet, but always comfortable, and perfect for both an afternoon beer with a book or a low-key night with friends. They’ve also embedded themselves in the local arts community and regularly host open-mic and comedy nights and poetry readings.
San Francisco, California
A great beer bar is more than a great draft list, but it doesn’t hurt that San Francisco’s Toronado has the kind of craft-beer list, with prices to boot, that makes your jaw drop: a considerable selection from Russian River (including Pliny the Elder and Blind Pig IPA), Lost Abbey, and other world-class craft breweries, all for usually less than $7 a glass. Breweriana hangs high on the walls, the bathrooms are graffiti masterpieces, the music is loud, and the service can be gruff, but it’s part of the charm and nothing personal. The key is to relax and not take anything too seriously, except maybe the beer. It’s cash only, and they don’t serve food but you can order a sausage to-go from Rosamunde's next door.
The Dive Bar
The glory of The Dive Bar lies in its simplicity: a long bar backlit by white votive candles, a chalkboard listing the solid craft selection, a few pinball machines and nautical decorations (hence, The Dive), and a huge beer garden out back with hop bines climbing up the fence. It’s owned by the same folks as the superb beer bar and restaurant The Armsby Abbey, so the bartenders know their beer but are never snobby about it and are happy to make recommendations and pour samples if you have trouble deciding. Cozy in the winter and sublime in the summer, it’s the kind of bar you wish could be your regular.
If you don’t have a fun night at Star Bar, then you probably can’t have fun anywhere. This self-proclaimed dive bar features eighteen drafts of craft beer (fourteen inside, four on the cozy back patio), an excellent list of cocktails and local liquor, two skeeball lanes, foosball, pinball, live music, and karaoke on Tuesday and Thursday nights with a rowdy mix of talented amateurs and friends goofing off. The floor is carpeted, the booths are vinyl, and the lights are dim, making for the perfect low-key dive bar vibes. End the night with a shot of Denver’s own Leopold Bros. Fernet and maybe the fun won’t hurt so much in the morning.
Brooklyn, New York
The Big Hunt
Hair of the Dog
St. Louis, Missouri
Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar