Ten Signs You’re at a Real Dive Bar

UPDATED: Nov 3, 2021

Let’s face it, sometimes we like luxury during a night out on the town. Fancy food and an expensive glass of champagne can be nice every once in awhile but quite often we just want to go out, grab a cheap beer, eat some greasy food, and get into a friendly verbal spar with a guy who could probably be our grandpa. If you ever found yourself asking “What is a dive bar?” you’re in luck, listed below are ten qualities that we all either love or hate about what makes a dive a dive.

1. Cheap Drinks



My favorite quality of a solid dive bar is the ridiculously cheap beer. Now I’m not saying you get quality for a $6 pitcher, but hey I’m fine with any beer if the price is right. Seriously, you can walk away with a buzz without the whole “How did I spend so much money?” hangover. If anything you’ll question if you accidently left without paying for those last couple of drinks. You didn’t, that’s just how insanely inexpensive it is. Wondering how to tip a bartender at a dive? Well since your drinks are so crazy cheap, be generous! Maybe next time that irritable barkeep won’t be as cranky.

Said to be one of the best dive bars in Austin, The Little Longhorn Saloon is a place to gather for some good ol’ honky tonk and imbibe in a beer for only a buck or two. Talk about affordable! Also the home of Chicken Shit Bingo, you are in for a hell of a time at The Little Longhorn.

2. Greasy Bar Food


©Rudy’s Bar NYC

Bar snacks are always a bonus, however, you just noticed ol’ Jim come out of the bathroom and stick his hand right in the pretzel bowl. Luckily some of the best dive bars have actual food. While you might question the length of time those hot dogs have been sitting out on that rotating grill, all considerations go out of the window after your third $2 beer.

Deemed one of the best NYC dive bars by Impulcity, Rudy’s Bar & Grill dishes out a free hot dog with every drink. I’m not sure if that is the best or worst idea for its drunk patrons, but I’m going to go ahead and say it’s the former.

3. Indescribable Smell

smokey bar


You know the smell. The lingering scent of possible mold due to that leak in the roof that hasn’t been fixed since 1985, or one too many beers that have been spilled on the ground and not mopped up. Whether it has to do with the bar’s age or just the carelessness of the indifferent bartender, the best dive bars are probably going have an indescribable smell. It’s a fact.

4. Colorful Characters


Whether it’s karaoke with that regular who always has to sing at least five Willie Nelson songs every week, or even a monthly drag show, no dive bar is complete without a diverse group of people to share your night with. Some are mean, and some are nice. It’s the luck of the draw. Kinda like gambling, except here you may get yelled at for sitting in someone’s “reserved” stool.

For what I’m sure is one of the best Nashville dive bars, Santa’s Pub can easily be placed into most of these categories. From what I understand, this lovely dive is housed in a triple wide trailer and karaoke is every night until 3 a.m. Santa also hands out $2 beers, and if that doesn’t put you in the Christmas spirit I’m not sure what will.

5. Dicey Buildings


A true hole in the wall, a lot of dive bars are in dilapidated buildings. Sometimes they look like they are pieced together with an assortment of different materials, and other times they are simply a shack. If you find yourself questioning the stability of the bar you’re about to walk into, you probably have an awesome dive on your hands.

Who knew there were so many holiday themed pubs? Considered one of the best New Orleans dive bars, Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge is a humble neighborhood joint that may look a little worn but once you step inside are greeted by the friendly locals and fun movie nights.

6. Bathroom Graffiti


© littlewhitelion.com

The neighborhood bars own mastered art. It can be how “Kylie loves Greg” or a number to call for a good time (tip: don’t call that number), a dive bar is not complete without Sharpie art all over the bathroom walls. Bonus points if there is a Sharpie lying around somewhere inside.

I can guarantee every place in this list would fit here. For further research, you can literally step into any bar’s bathroom and find a saying that makes you jealous you didn’t think of it first. Tip: Keep bathroom quips handy for your next dive outing.

7. Honest Mottos


It isn’t absolutely necessary but a place that has been around for quite some time normally has a saying to go with their service.
A few of our favorites are….
“We cheat tourists and drunks since 1929.” – 5 Point Cafe (Seattle, Washington)
“No fussin, no cussin’, no hasslin’, no wrestlin’” – Little Longhorn Saloon (Austin, TX)
‘Clubhouse for the lunatic fringe” – Double Down Saloon (Las Vegas, NV)

8. Cheesy Themes


Anything from cowboys to mermaids, a dive bar can sometimes have a hilarious attempt at a certain theme. Most of the time the execution isn’t exactly perfect but hey that’s all part of the charm. So you keep on, keepin’ on, guy dressed in the halloween cowboy costume.

Being called one of the best tiki dives by Thrillist, The Purple Orchid seems like what good times are made of. A dive spin on the traditional tiki bar, the Purple Orchid is said to have some of the best (and strongest) tropical drinks around. I’ll take one of everything.

9. Cranky Bartenders



We like to think it’s because they care, but they probably just really don’t like you.

Known as one of the best Boston dive bars, The Tam is known for it’s straight forward communication. As I was looking further into this dive I noticed their contact phone number simply reads “None. Walk your ass down here.” I kind of have to admit that I fell in love with what seems to be the most honest dive bar.

10. A Great History


©The Guardian

No matter where you go, dive bars seem to have a rich history. All are unique and should be loved and respected equally, yes, just like your children. Young, or old, a dive usually has a few stories to tell. Like the one time that drunk guy thought he could dance on the bar like Coyote Ugly, or the time someone let a racoon loose, there is plenty of history to be had. So stop on in to one of your local dives and learn what sets every bar apart.

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