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The Best Local Bars in Cities Around the World

Tattooed Mom bar, PhiladelphiaTattooed Mom bar, Philadelphia
Tattooed Mom bar, PhiladelphiaCourtesy of Tattooed Mom

A fine drink can be the cornerstone of a good trip made better, and it can happen anywhere: the perfect airport bar to wait out an unexpected layover or delay, the ultimate rooftop bar for enjoying a killer view from above, a pool- or ocean-side swim-up bar so you’re never thirsty, even when you’re surrounded by water.

Travel + Leisure regularly covers trends in bars and nightlife, scouting on their trips to keep tabs on individual city scenes, which hotels have the best bars and clubs, even the annual events in the industry that rank the world’s best bars.

In light of that, it seems time to take a look at dive bars. As much as people like to argue who makes the best Manhattan or negroni, thay also like to debate what constitutes a proper dive bar. Global bar culture has taught us that a dive doesn’t necessarily mean dirty or dilapidated—sometimes, a city’s best dives are generally spotless, manned by a longtime owner, wonderfully cozy, and a bit lost in time.

A dive can mean a classic, long-lasting watering hole that’s hosted regulars and visitors for such a consistent amount of time that it’s an iconic spot known for affordable drinks in a relaxed environment. In some cities, having an outdoor patio or games like pool and darts is mandatory; in others, graffiti, daily specials, and surly bartenders are.

Just like with other types of bars and cocktail dens, dives have a range, and we celebrate the full spectrum. So read on for T+L’s picks in these 10 cities, noting when to go, what to order, and why they’re famous.

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1 Best Dive Bars: Dallas

Dallas is a city full of talented mixologists and creative, ever-changing cocktail menus, but also it has a full roster of dive bars where the drinks are cheap and the food is good. Adair’s Saloon in Deep Ellum is unique to Texas; grab a bucket of Shiner from this local haunt and listen to some live country music. At Double Wide, go for the eclectic drinks featuring Yoohoo, Tang, and Pixy Stix. Oak Lawn locals love the Grapevine Bar for its jukebox and Playstation 2, while they head to Lee Harvey’s in The Cedars if they’re keen to bring their dog. The wood-walled Lakewood Landing serves an addictive burger, the Goat offers authentic blues bands. Time Out Tavern is a great spot to watch the game, the Velvet Elvis for karaoke or $3 fireball shots. The Windmill Lounge is perfect for cocktail drinkers who want their drinks no-frills and affordable. —Diana Oates

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2 Best Dive Bars: Washington, DC

Washington, DC, has plenty of dives, from basement spots serving giant beers for $5, to decades-old classics with killer jukeboxes, to cash-only corners that refuse to serve you shooters. The Big Hunt has an excellent location just off Dupont Circle, quirky adventure safari decor, and a top-notch 32-tap beer list, though since 1979, the Bottom Line has been an ideal spot for the office workers of downtown DC. Notorious for serving shots in plastic squeeze bottles, Dan’s Cafe is an Adams Morgan institution. If you’re from Chicago or Detroit, Ivy & Coney is the best dive in the city. The Pug’swebsite sums up its philosophy neatly: “No idiots. No bombs. No shooters. No specials. No politics. Relax. Drink. Be cool. Behave.” The subterranean Recessions has everything a true dive should, though The Raven gives it a run for its money with its killer jukebox and cheap drinks. Red Derby has an extensive beer list; Showtime, one of the city’s newer dives, has live bands. Trusty’s is a veritable community gathering spot, and the Tune Inn is an icon on Capitol Hill. —Amy McKeever

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3 Best Dive Bars: New York City

The perfect dive should be as comfortable and familiar as an old pair of shoes. Neither fussy nor fancy, these watering holes have a rough-around-the-edges charm that more than makes up for the fact that many don’t take cards. Manhattan had the most; we picked the Ear Inn, Jeremy’s Ale HouseMcSorley’s Old Ale House, Old Town Bar, Pete’s Tavern, Peter McManus Café, Reif’s Tavern, Rudy’s Bar & Grill, and the Subway Inn. Brooklyn wasn’t far behind, with the Brooklyn InnHank’s Saloon, Montero’s, Red Hook Bait & TackleShenanigan’s, South, Sunny’s, and Tip-Top Bar & Grill. We didn’t leave out the other boroughs, either, with the Ready Penny Inn in Queens, and Liedy’s Shore Inn on Staten Island.—Molly McArdle

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4 Best Dive Bars: Chicago

Most locals know the best dive bars offer cheap beer in an unpretentious atmosphere. Walk into any of them in Chicago and, while each has its own DNA, they all have the same thing in common: a handful of stools, bare bones tables, and cheap beer. Our picks include Bernice’s Tavern in Bridgeport, which still serves $2 PBRs, Carol’s Pub in Uptown, a legitimate country western bar. The Galway Bay Irish Pub in Lincoln Park feels like a basement, while Lakeview’s L&L Tavern is notorious for serving Jeffry Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy. Finally, there’s Simon’s Tavern in Uptown, a staple among the local Swedish-American community. —Megy Karydes

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5 Best Dive Bars: Vancouver

Gentrification is a hallmark of the new Vancouver, and many of its finest dive bars have recently been remade as hipster boîtes, though a few notable downscale drinking spots remain. From the distinctive faux Tudor exterior to the elegant simplicity of its name (!), you know the Army, Navy & Airforce Veterans Unit 298 Canteen is something special. While it’s about as under-the-radar as you can get, celebrities like Seth Rogen, who hails from here, have been known to show up. The downtown Eastside’s Astoria Pub has repositioned itself as part dive bar, part live music venue, where a predominantly 20-something crowd gathers to slug draught beer while watching indie bands tear it up. The venerable Cambie Bar & Grill still retains a sort of Skid Row charm; today, however, you’re more likely to see tables of leggy models and university students quaffing pitchers of draught alongside your occasional rosacea-nosed rummy. Known affectionately as “The Hoe,” the Ivanhoe Pub is a true throwback to a time when Vancouver came home from a hard day’s work with calluses on its palms and dirt under its nails. For decades, the Railway Club has been a staple of Vancouver’s live music scene, and everyone from k.d. lang to Sarah McLaughlin and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke has performed here. —Guy Saddy

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6 Best Dive Bars: Miami

Many of Miami’s oldest dive bars are gone, but the city has a new order of artisanal dives, helmed by young hipsters that evoke the romance of the past. Mac’s Club Deuce has showed up everywhere from Miami Vice episodes to fashion spreads, and it’s the city’s standard-bearer for dive bars. Ted’s Hideaway is low-key and a haven for locals making use of the eight-hour happy hour featuring $3.50 beers. Lost Weekend draws the crowds in South Beach for the 1980s video games, while West Miami’s Seven Seas garners them for the karaoke. Finally, Ball & Chain is set in a club space dating to 1935 that still offers live jazz. —Tom Austin

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7 Best Dive Bars: Amsterdam

The city of Amsterdam is perhaps best known for the curb appeal of its canal-side rowhouses, springtime tulips, and abundance of bikes. It’s got no shortage of world-class attractions or award-winning restaurants—and it also has plenty of dives, too. Check out live music acts for $2 or less alongside $4 pints at the saloon-like Last Waterhole, or make use of the jukebox, pool tables, and TVs at Susie’s. For a grungy option, The Minds is Amsterdam’s last punk café, playing the music to prove it, while patrons play pinball below the Doc Martens that hang from the ceiling. —Jane Szita

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8 Best Dive Bars: Philadelphia

Tattooed Mom bar, Philadelphia

With its working class roots and growing hipster crowds, Philadelphia teems with unique dive bars. Atlantis the Lost Bar is a classic, no-frills spot that serves Bloody Marys embellished with bar snacks on Sundays. Before it became the Citywide, a shot and a beer was just the Special at Bob & Barbara’s, on the city’s famed South Street that’s also known for its weekly drag show. Dirty Franks’ claim to fame is its iconic mural of famous Franks, Franklins, Francises, and Frankensteins, including Sinatra, FDR and more recently, Pope Francis along its outside walls. While not a typical dive bar, fans of McGillin’s Olde Ale House may affectionately use the term to describe Philadelphia’s oldest continuously operating tavern. Pop into Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar on your birthday and get a free drink. The Tattooed Mom has complimentary toys and candy at the bar, as well as creative cocktails and solid pub fare. Twelve Steps Down from street level in the city’s famous Italian Market, enter this watering hole with a massive beer menu of rotating drafts, cans, and bottles. —Sarah Maiellano

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9 Best Dive Bars: Toronto

Whether it applies to a neighborhood gathering spot or a famous, down-and-out watering hole, we’ve gathered the more comfortable spots for good pours, cheap drink specials, and cheerful ambiance in Toronto. Many are in the West End: the biking-themed Three Speed and the Done Right Inn nearby, while in Kensington Market there’s the HandleBarLocal Pub, and the Painted Lady. For spots with a proper pub menu, try the Last Temptation’s hummus or linguine, or the nachos at Sneaky Dee’s. —Mary Luz Mejia

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10 Best Dive Bars: San Francisco

Much has been made of San Francisco’s cutting-edge cocktail culture as well as its leading culinary scene. But what about when you just want to grab a beer and keep it low-key? The Black Horse London Club in the Marina is minimalist, “beer and cash only,” with a clawfoot tub stocked with bottled beers in an ice bath. Dear Mom in the Mission is the place to go on Sundays, for their epicurean boozy brunch. Hi Dive harkens to San Francisco’s former days as a salty dog port town; Lion Pub entertains with its delightfully tacky décor. China Town’s Li Po is notorious for its lethal mai tai, The Saloon is the city’s oldest bar and ideal for a rainy day. Trad’r Sam is the wackiest tikki bar around, serving massive tropical rum-based blender drinks with little umbrellas to a crowd that looks like they just docked after a long time at sea. —Jenna Scatena

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