Stress Free Friday Question of the Day: What’s the most authentic Dive Bar in town? Are they Endangered?

We’ve had a lot of serious discussions this week, so I thought it’d be nice to have a relatively stress free FQotD. Way back in Oct. ’07 we talked about some of DC’s best dive bars. But walking past Dan’s Cafe (pictured above) on 18th St, NW in Adams Morgan got me thinking about which is the most authentic dive bar in town? And I’ve been to many a dive bar but I can’t think of a better more authentic one than Dan’s. Perhaps the Raven in Mt. Pleasant? I’m not necessarily looking for the best, though I’d be curious what you think on that front as well, but what do you think is the most authentic one?

And to get a bit serious – do you think with DC’s soaring property (especially commercial) rates that the dive bar in DC could become a thing of the past? When’s the last time a regular bar with no bells and whistles opened their doors? Red Derby? Even Red Derby is getting a roof deck soon. Trusty’s just got a roof deck. The Pug on H St, NE is expanding upstairs according to a liquor license application.

Is Dan’s Cafe the last of a dying breed?

188 Comment

  • I wouldn’t call it a dive exactly, but I do think the Pug gets the balance just right of feeling real, homey, and chill without trying too hard to be divey, if that makes sense. Red Derby is a good bar but definitely not a dive, maybe in 20 years …

  • I am going through out Post Pub. Any pace that begins drink specials at 11 AM and continues through out the day is a good dive.

  • The Fox And Hounds

    • you’re kidding, right? the place in dupont? i went in there once and there were ‘bacardi girls’ giving out keychains and t shirts.

      how about velvet pre-renovation?

  • this post made me realize that the smoking ban probably added 10 years to my dive bar going life.

    i couldn’t even talk about bars anymore if smoking was still allowed.

  • The Raven yo

  • 3/4 of the patrons to DC’s “dive bars” seem to be living off of trust funds.

  • If it’s authentic you’re talking about (including the clientele), then I’d go with 1) Players’ Lounge in Congress Heights, 2) Lil’ Pub and 3) Tune Inn both on Capitol Hill, and 4) Chuck and Billy’s on Georgia Ave.

  • The two or three times I’ve been there, Trusty’s on Pennsylvania SE was pretty divey — enough so that I can’t totally trust my impressions because of the amount of intoxicants consumed….

    Captcha: Western cavities

    • Trusty’s has board games. Is that an automatic fail?

      • Absolutely not. That place is frickin’ legit – and they can pull otherwise cutesy stuff off without being pretentious.

        • Maybe. I was unimpressed, but I was only there once.

          I’m also anti game/trivia night at my dive bars. My dive bars should have a not-insignificant risk of a punch to the head for such behavior.

          Unless you’re playing poker in a back room.

          • I used to live in Norwood, Ohio. So my idea of a dive bar is a guy in a Warrant tank top beating the sh*t out of his girlfried. Yeah, how cool is that? No yuppies there!

            Captcha: Gadget Slayer’s

  • Chris in Eckington sounds like he knows his stuff, although I’ve never been to any of those places myself. I’ve been in DC for almost 10 years, and I can’t say that I’ve been to a legitimate dive bar (for example, by my standards, there are none in Adams Morgan). I reckon the real shady places are in neighborhoods I don’t know too well and have only just driven through. I do like the Raven, but I don’t know if the clientele make it an authentic dive….

    • You need to get to The Raven during daylight hours, before the hipsters show up. THe place is right out of a David Lynch movie.

    • Agreed, the real dive bars in this town are in places that readers of this blog have never been. Not to be snarky, that’s just probably the truth.

      The Pug? Trusty’s? They are dive-“style” bars. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, but dives they are not. I think you need to differentiate “dive” from “neighborhood bar”. The latter is something that that town is sorely missing. It seems that every bar needs to have a theme; always mystified me about DC. Visit Chicago or Baltimore or Philly or pretty much every other largish city to see what a real local watering hole looks like. But I guess the lack of ‘hoody bars in DC goes hand in hand with things like neighbors fighting over whether Big Bear should get a liquor license. These things just aren’t an issue when you have a “local” every couple of blocks …

  • Stans, Lounge of Three on 10th & U and Steve’s Bar Room in Dupont.

    RIP Commonshare.

  • is townhouse tavern still open?

  • “legitimate dive bar”
    “authentic clientele”
    hahahaha. the way peoples brains work amazes me.

  • stans, hands down.

  • I have to second the Tune Inn. I love that place, it’s totally divey and mellow and the omelettes are great (if not freaking huge!)

  • Cap Lounge, Big Hunt, Wonderland, and Quarry House Tavern

  • Stans is indeed great.

  • Townhouse tavern

  • Big Hunt is in now way a dive bar! It’s in DuPont & full of the post work happy hour set.

    Agree with Tune Inn – a crew of old regulars every time you go no matter what time. And I’d say Dan’s too, even though it’s in AM, the place has no windows!

    • I love how people seem to be so impressed by how sh*tty a bar is – and how disturbing the clientele is. We have such a warped drinking culture in this country, and not the good warped.

      • It’s a really good way to filter out hill/ngo interns. It’s also one of the few ways to ensure that you can just sit and have a beer in a non crowded room and enjoy yourself.

  • Despite the fact that it’s in Adams Morgan, I would add Toledo Lounge to the list. Gross bathroom, wicked good onion rings = dive bar to me.

  • i think its fair to say that considering the variety of ages and origins here, we have a big variety of definitions of a dive bar.

  • I think the Zoo Bar would count as a dive. Aside from the occasional tourist, there’s a definite cast of regular characters in that place all afternoon. They have some pretty decent food and the music is great, too.

  • the best dive bar in DC wasn’t even in DC. RIP the Royal Lee.

    • I second that! That threshold was like a time machine that took you to a place and time that was definitely not the modern day DC metro.

    • I gotta second the Royal Lee. At one point, the bartender was pregnant and chain smoking. It was also next to a laundromat, and there were always a few folks camped at the bar waiting on a load of clothes.

  • Glad to see that for the most part people arent naming the fake Dives. The bars that are actually aiming for the dive bar asthetic. Red and Black, Jimmy Vs. Wonderland Etc etc. All places I like, don’t get me wrong. My rules for Dives are: no skee ball. no internet juke box. no plasma TVs. (Raven really pissed me off when they put that in but ill still call them a dive because they have been there for like 80 years)

    • Haven’t seen any skee balls, internet jukeboxes, or plasma tvs at jimmy v’s.

      • doesnt change the fact that it opened with the exact purpose of being a dive bar. Real dive bars are dive bars just cause. Not because effort went in to making them so. Then it’s a dive-themed bar.

        • oh ok thanks for the definition Merriam.

        • I dont really understand this. you still get trashed and emerge into a seedy neighborhood a few hours before the sun comes up. who cares? Are dive aficionados so hung up on authenticity that going to a place whose proprietor isn’t the only guy there and is like 80 totally ruins your night? Sounds like they’ve got more problems than the alcohol one. Jimmy Vs scares off people who live in Clarendon, spins dubstep and is cash only. pretty hard to beat that combo.

          • Never said it wasnt a great bar. It is. Just not a real dive. It’s Dive-Themed.

          • so when “authentic” dive bars first opened, what where they then?
            “average themed”? no themed? the minute you put stuff up, you got a theme going.

    • Ha! Totally forgot about that place. Lots of yucky old men there. Good times.

    • I remember the one time I went in there to check it out with some friends. It had a really sad circus motiff downstairs and there was one guy passed out at the bar. The bartender told us to go upstairs. Upstairs the only guys under 80 were hanging out in the back. I went back to talk with them and they told me to get the f*k out and literally threatend to cut me. When we were leaving my friends pointed out that they were hustlers who thought I was cutting in on their turf. Good times.

  • A. Tunn Inn on Capital Hill
    B. Lil Pub on Capital Hill
    C. Corner Pub in Silver Spring

    Its my opinion that most people confuse low-key bars with dive bars. Their is a big difference.

    • Second the Corner Pub…and their pizza.

      • That place is the graveyard of human hope and dignity

        • I once saw the owner yelling at little league team and their coach who came in for pizza. That was awesomely strange and awkward. It really is depressing in there though, so ventures there tend to be short.

  • Nellies!!

  • You guys are TOTALLY missing all the great Latino dives in this city… Racist honkeys.

  • Although it wasn’t in DC (but pretty close), my favorite was Chick Hall’s Surf Club.

    Hank Dietle’s, in Rockville, is a good one, and I love that it’s across from White Flint and next door to an upscale restaurant.

  • Tune Inn… really? I am sorry, ever since it got national attention in some men’s magazine (don’t remember which one), it has become crowded with regular hill types. Not what it was a year ago.

    • I think that Tune Inn has actually been featured in Esquire’s Best Bars list for quite some time now — if you sit in one of the booths, they have a framed copy of the list from like 1990 or something, and they are on it then. You might be thinking of that Guy Fieri show on the food channel — Diners, Dives and Drive-Ins. It’s going to be on there, and then I fear it will become overrun with tourists.

  • Recessions gets my vote. Hidden by trendier places like Science Club it’s definitely “too much for your money”

    • i was shocked to find out that recessions really is a dive bar right K street. sometimes i guess they aren’t that hard to find.

    • Had a fun Friday night there dancing with the karaoke crowd – uh, we were the only honkies in the place. One girl brought down the house doing “I’m Not Leaving” from Dream Girls. She had something special.

  • obviously it’s not possible for the cooler-than-hipster commentariat here to admit that there is a single dive bar in dc, for the simple fact that said bar would be in dc, which would mean that it is automatically disqualified from being cool or authentic, because nothing in dc is cool or authentic in comparison to [philly/baltimore/nyc/boston/savannah/LA/san fran/wherever you are from or like to think of as authentic].

    so annoying.

    • I think DC is very cool, but that doesn’t change the fact that our bar culture is seriously weird and lacking in the basic, neighborhood joints that most other cities take for granted. Dive bars exist here, but they are few and far between. Hence the demand for the “nouveau-dive”. People want authenticity and a market has evolved to give it to them.

      For my dollar Dan’s, Townhouse, Lil Pub fit the bill. I’m guessing that pre-1995 or so there were LOTS more in NW, but they’ve mostly been washed away. Anybody remember Crow Bar?

    • Whatever man. This type of talk is so ridiculous. People like you move into your first city after a life in the suburbs and want it to be a gritty urban playground. Then, you are sorely disappointed when things don’t feel as “authentic” as they did that one time you roughed it and went to brooklyn for a weekend. You don’t know what you are talking about.

    • i think anon and pssssh missed your point.

  • Long long ago, I found a live swimming cockroach in my drink at the Big Hunt. I then got free drinks all night and the worst drunk of my life.

  • Trusty’s is about as close to a “dive” as I’ve found in this city.

  • Last time I checked, the Raven was cash only (despite not being a speakeasy), which gives it major dive-cred in my book.

    The Bottom Line? It’s Dewey Beach-West in the Winter, but there should be an inoculation station outside the restrooms. They seem to have been put there before indoor plumbing was invented. Again, major dive cred…

  • Townhouse Tavern.

    What, no love for the Velvet Lounge?

  • El Sauce on 11th Street

  • Skylark Lounge on NY ave NE. Hands down. +1 to the Players Lounge in SE, Also The House on Georgia, but its a strip club.

  • What is the definition of a dive bar?

    I would think the two most qualifying factors are cash only and no food service. Canned beer also helps because it implies that the beer purchased was not meant for re-sale, though it’s no guarantee.

    I was going to say that smelling like feces, vomit and/or urine is also a good qualifier, but I realized that doesn’t really distinguish it from standard college bars.

  • Townhouse Tavern, Post Pub, Sangria Cafe, Izalco’s Restaurant and Bar – the last one is scary for women though.

    • +1 Izalco’s. That place fits all the criteria as outlined by Panagiotis

    • Totally! A working class bar where people go to get drunk, not to play Connect Four and talk about the superiority of Belgium beers v. German beers.

  • Town Hall bar. It’s a liquor store with a “lounge” in the back.

    • ps this is different than townhouse tavern.

    • Town Hall in College Park? Hell yeah that place is a dive. and not in the ‘Cool Dive’ way that places like Quarry House are. Nothing against Quarry House, I love that place.

      captcha: unasked activities, which is basically what I have heard has happened to some people at town hall if you know what I mean. So yeah, its probably a dive in all the wrong ways.

      • Town Hall! Yes. This place served me and my friends when we were 16. We never had any problems there and some of us still do a reunion thing there once a year. This absolutely fits all of the qualifications. Dirt cheap booze in dirty glasses. Go Go and Punk Music. soggy floors. It is almost impossible to find it unless you know you are looking for a liquor store. They have free, stale popcorn and routinely ignore the smoking ban. Love that place.

      • hahahaha Town Hall. I puked on the floor there once and the manager gave me a glass of water and asked if I was OK. Town Hall FTW

      • I love Town Hall! It’s the only real bar in College Park. I loved it even more when it was a short walk away.

        Another good one in PG County is Phil’s in Beltsville.

  • The divest of all dive bars was Passport in Van Ness. It’s a shame it was shuttered a few years ago.

  • anonymouse_dianne

    I would second Tune Inn and Hank Dietl’s. But cash only and no food? First, I think by law they must serve food. And even the taco vendors take credit cards these days. I’d nominate My Brother’s Place, behind the Dept of Labor. (I worked at dol for 14 years). The food is actually pretty good, but the regulars seem more interested in the beer on tap.

    • I remember My Brothers Place used to have $20 all-you-can-drink specials. At least I think they did. That might be the alcohol poisoning talking. Now, where the hell are MY PANTS?!?!

    • One of my favorite sandwich places (Cafe Phillips) is cash only, and they’re far from a dive.

    • I had forgotten about My Brother’s Place!

      Didn’t they do a pretty major renovation a few years ago?

      The last time I went back to reminisce on afternoon pitchers and pool games with the boyfriend at the time it was almost unrecognizable.

    • Lil Pub has bags of chips for sale!

    • No chance. They’re a kickball bar on Thursday nights. Dive bar and kickball bar are mutually incompatible.

  • The Malt Shop bar at The Dancing Crab is kind of a $h!thole. $8 pitchers though.

  • If you’ll recall, DCist selected Wazobia in Shaw as their favorite dive, so my drinking compatriots checked it out and had a grand old time. They do take plastic, however.

    Try the fish patty!

  • Toledo is the best bar in the city. HANDS down.

  • As someone who once lived in Hidalgo County, TX — which has the distinction of being the poorest county in the United States — I feel I have some cred on the issue of dive bars.

    Post Pub wins, if we’re talking about places that people who read PoP would ever visit. But I’m sure there are plenty of dive bars in places where PoP readers (myself included) would be terrified to visit.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      I think you’d be surprised by the diversity of PoP readers!

    • where exactly are these places in dc you think PoP readers would be terrified to go?

      personally, i’m scared of the espn zone, smith point, and those waterfront places in georgetown. is that what you meant?

  • Tune Inn is a dive bar for 20 somethings who like to tell everyone they’re going to a dive bar. Lil Pub, however, is a dive bar in every sense of the word. The clientele is almost always the gray haired alcohlic set. Plus free drink if you get the final jeopardy question right every night.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love some tune inn, but just because they haven’t updated the interior or menu in 40 years doesn’t make it a dive.

    • +1 The Li’l Pub is the full of old day-drinkers and deadenders. It’s a weird weird place.

  • I liked Stoney’s before they moved and became posh. Same for Asylum, let’s say pre 2004. The Commonshare was good for a while too.

  • RIP original Stoneys across from the fire station on 13th. (not the crap version on P Street).

      • Thirded/fourthed on Stoney’s. Loved that place. A cop friend of my now-husband’s handcuffed me to the table once and no one so much as blinked an eye.

        And yeah, Commonshare, before the upgrades.

  • I met my wife at Dan’s Place 12 years ago…that place will always hold a special place in my heart! Would go there every Friday for $10 jim beams/coke/glass/ice…play Sweet Home Alabama, LA Woman, and Pour Some Sugar on Me on the jukebox. Stand in the back left corner with friends and to talk to Antoine/Dickie/and other ‘cousins’. After 3 or 4 bottles would then stumble over to Pizza Mart for a few slices. How I got home after that has always been a mystery. Now that’s a dive bar!

  • Someone mentioned Crow Bar – definitely a dive bar located in the heart of K St lobbyist. It hasn’t been around for ages – 10-12 years at least.

    If Common Share is still around that place was a dive bar – use to have 2 dollar whatever you want – though cash only.

    Not a dive bar but definitely may it rest in peace was Mister Day’s in the aisle on 18th b/n K and L…sigh…

  • Common Share, which I think is now closed, was pretty divey.

    But come to think, since I moved here, I haven’t seen many dive bars to compare to the ones in South Florida.

    A dive bar has to also have a well-worn pool table and fake wood paneling as far as I’m concerned. And eau de cigarette smoke, which DC bars don’t have anymore.

    • …which the bars in south florida don’t have either anymore. but yeah, we get it, some other city has “more authentic” bars.

  • Johana’s up on 14th

  • Upstairs at Chief Ike’s is alright.

    Common Share is closed, sadly.

  • Post Pub and Stan’s, definitely.

  • I know it doesn’t quite count, but the VFW on Capitol Hill is the diviest place I’ve ever been in DC.

    • Oh definitely. Anytime you want to talk about dives you have to bring up VFW halls. One of the few places that stays open far past last call. Hope you like picking fights with drunks in wheelchairs.

    • Great for cheap drinks and bingo.

  • thanks to the internet, there is no longer any such thing as an authentic dive bar. Any such place is posted about, hipsters who “ironically” like dives descend, and the atmosphere is ruined. Maybe you can still find them in Toledo or Detroit or somewhere, but not here.

    • this is something i don’t understand, how does someone “ironically” like something. either you like it or you don’t. right?

  • Townhouse Tavern, but not in a good way.

    And unfortunately the only lesbian bar in town, Phase One, is very divey.

    • Dunno about that. They were cranking lots of 99.5-type tunes when I went; seemed to be seem some alter-ego of Cornerstone or something. Maybe it’s different on weekdays.

  • EFN lounge is also a dyke bar

  • Does anyone here remember the ‘Snuggery’ on 23rd St in Crystal City? THAT was a dive bar. You could add up every seat at the bar and still not get a full set of teeth.

    • Hell yes. When I (ahem) used to live in Crystal City and there were only 3 bars on 23rd. Snuggery was delightfully gross — nicotine AND roaches on the walls. What fun.

    • Yes! My first reply got eaten. I remember the nicotine and the roaches on the walls.

  • Common Share is now a generic 18th St weekend bar.

    Crow Bar was probably the last actual biker bar in DC. That place rocked.

    The original Mister Days was on 19th between L and M where the City Sports is. It was in the first floor of my office building. Talk about convenience!

  • Tune Inn in Capitol Hill and The Raven. Both real neighborhood dive bars.

  • Would El Azteca have counted? Kinda grungy, foosball tables, rotten carpet, $1 mystery beer (pay a dollar, bartender reaches in cooler and you get whatever he grabs first). Full of smoke. 17th and R where Cobalt is now.

  • Not in DC, but my vote goes for Jay’s Saloon in Arlington (10th st just off of 50). It’s *in Jay’s house*, and the last time I went in there there were a bunch of shrivelled up chain smokers having an impromptu funeral service for someones dog. Very bizarre. Plus, Jay is the bartender, which ups the awesomeness, along with all of the Michael Jordan and TAB posters, and free pool too.

    • I remember Jay’s. Didn’t they used to have live music?

      Sunset Grille in Annandale’s a good one, but I haven’t been there in years.

      • Oh my, how could I forget about the Sunset Grill?? I’ve been there in the past year and can assure you it’s still filled with the most fascinating array of characters.

  • Trusty’s is a chain restaurant they’re OUT!Whats next chili’s? Not to mention they try too hard.

  • A dive is a no frills bar where you can get really drunk for really cheap. The older and dirtier the better. That’s all there is to it.

    As mentioned above, Dan’s Cafe, Fox and Hounds, and Townhouse Tavern are some of the best examples.

  • no one has mentioned Town Hall in college park?

    ( i’ll only mention it because i don’t go there often. ya’ll that out your favorite spots kill me)

    the best thing about a bar, is when there is space for me! and preferably space to spare.

    • numerous people mentioned it

      • hahah. so they did! i had missed it.
        since people started mentioning ones outside dc, it seemed like such an obvious choice.

    • It’s been mentioned up-thread.

      In one of his early books, a George Pelecanos character (I think Nick Stefanos) stops by Town Hall to shoot pool and drink.

  • Just remembered another one in PG County – S&J Restaurant in Riverdale. They have a happy hour that starts at something like 6 AM.

  • Sorry i saw 5 bars listed together i assumed they were the same ownership group : more than 4 = chain…btw i love the office space reference..

    • I hear ya. You’d probably be surprised at how many cool bars in this city are actually part of ownership groups. Pretty standard. Though if they don’t have exactly the same things, and they’ve got individual characteristics I don’t think of them as chains. And that Pour House group is made up of some decent, honest neighborhood places.

  • Ahh.. Thanks Kev, Coming from Philly I’m use to my dives and locals being mom & pop bars…

    • but thats why we love philly!

      look into a bit of the history of the riots and you’ll learn a ton about why dc is is the way it is. it had a staggering impact.

  • A moment of silence for the Crow Bar.

  • The Fox & Hounds is only a dive to people who’ve never been in an actual dive before. I mean c’mon, all the politicos and their hangers-on hang out there when they want to feel like they’re slumming it, how divey can it be? And the great old jukebox they used to have, long long gone.

    Now the late Round Table in Tenleytown… owned by the same guy, I think… that was a dive.

  • the great great jukebox is back at the fox and hounds….fyi

    • great jukebox back? Check. Now fast-reverse to 15 years ago, before 17th Street was exclusively the playground of the vapid and pretentious, and you’ve got yourself a cool bar. In those days, you’d fret that a non-neighborhood crowd was infiltrating it and spoiling the atmosphere somewhat on weekends; these days, a non-neighborhood crowd could only be an improvement.

  • hahaha. this game of onedownsmanship is bizarre.i guess i like dive themed bars. and really any bar that serves me without blinking when i come in with dirty clothes after working and sweating all day. or half the day like today. ; )

    if that means i have to sit next to some trustfunded yet chill hipsterchild that has more money in their bank account than i’ll ever see in my life, instead of someone that sticks up their pinkie and talks about the “authenticity” of this bar or that, all the better. cool is who you are and how you treat people. not the authenticity of where you drink.

  • Townhouse Tavern (in the best of ways). Hands down.

  • Nobody has mentioned Angles yet. Perhaps the only real neighborhood bar in Adams Morgan.

  • It is long gone but Kingpin on U street was a great spot

  • O’Shaugnesseys in Alexandria (actually) is my local dive bar. The only remarkable aspects are that the bathrooms don’t have sinks where you can wash your hands (there’s a sink in the hall) and that it circumvents the VA “bars must serve food” rule by sitting on top of an unremarkable deli.

    I can’t really think of anything positive to mention about it other than it’s close to me, which is precisely why it’s a dive. Sorry to disappoint everyone here who thinks ‘dive’ means ‘cool,’ but “great dive bar” is an oxymoroon.

Comments are closed.