Exploring the Best Dive Bars in New York City: A Local’s Guide
New York City is a mecca for dive bar enthusiasts. This bustling metropolis is brimming with watering holes that cater to everyone from the casual socializer to die-hard beer drinkers. For those looking to explore the diverse and charming world of New York City dive bars, this comprehensive guide will lead you on an unforgettable journey through the Big Apple’s best-kept secrets. So, if you’re a US reader aged 20-35 who happens to be primarily male, a beer and pub enthusiast, a casual socializer, a tourist, or a traveler, this guide is perfect for you!
Table of Contents
- Intro to Dive Bars
- Manhattan Dive Bars
- Brooklyn Dive Bars
- Queens Dive Bars
- The Bronx Dive Bars
- Staten Island Dive Bars
- Tips and Tricks for Dive Bar Exploration
1. Intro to Dive Bars: What Makes a Bar a Dive Bar?
As you set out to discover the best dive bars in New York City, it’s essential to first understand what sets these establishments apart from your average watering hole. Dive bars are typically characterized by their laid-back, unpretentious atmosphere, affordable drink prices, and a unique character that appeals to both locals and visitors alike. These establishments often have a rich history and sense of community, and visitors can expect to meet an eclectic mix of characters and hear entertaining stories from passionate regulars.
2. Manhattan Dive Bars: The Heart of the City’s Bar Scene
Manhattan is undoubtedly the epicenter of New York City’s dive bar scene. With its high density of bars and pubs, you’ll find no shortage of lively watering holes where you can grab a cold beer, strike up a conversation with a stranger, and join in on the time-honored tradition of unwinding in a truly authentic and unpretentious setting.
2.1. Rudy’s Bar & Grill: A Hell’s Kitchen Staple
Rudy’s is one of the oldest and most iconic dive bars in New York City. Established in 1933, this Hell’s Kitchen hotspot has long been a favorite haunt for celebrities, artists, and locals alike. Known for its cheap drinks and complimentary hot dogs, Rudy’s is the epitome of a quintessential dive bar. And if the mouthwatering scent of the bar’s grilled hot dogs isn’t enough to draw you in, the gargantuan pig statue which guards the entrance will surely pique your interest.
2.2. Milano’s Bar: Nolita’s Time Capsule
Located in the trendy Nolita neighborhood, Milano’s Bar has been a fixture on the dive bar scene since 1880. This century-old establishment welcomes patrons with a dimly lit, tin-ceilinged interior, antique cash registers, and cozy wooden booths. History buffs will appreciate Milano’s storied past as a speakeasy during the Prohibition era, while music lovers will find solace in the impressive collection of tunes available on the jukebox.
2.3. 7B Horseshoe Bar aka Vazacs: East Village Icon
7B Horseshoe Bar, more commonly known as Vazacs, is a quintessential East Village dive bar that has stood the test of time. In operation since the 1930s, Vazacs boasts a rich history and relaxed atmosphere that makes it an ideal spot for a low-key night out. Its horseshoe-shaped bar attracts a diverse crowd, so don’t be surprised to find yourself rubbing elbows with punks, hipsters, locals, tourists, and everyone in between. Bonus: Fans of film and television will be thrilled to know that Vazacs has been featured in countless productions, including The Godfather Part II, Crocodile Dundee II, Rent: The Musical, and more.
3. Brooklyn Dive Bars: Cool Vibes and Serious Character
As New York City’s most populous borough, Brooklyn has an edge and attitude all its own. Dive bar enthusiasts looking for a more laid-back experience with a healthy dose of character will feel right at home exploring the myriad of dive bars scattered throughout Brooklyn’s diverse neighborhoods.
3.1. The Levee: Williamsburg’s Haven for Party Animals
Nestled in the heart of hipster-central, The Levee offers everything one could want from a dive bar: pool tables, a jukebox, and an endless supply of cheesy poofs. With happy hour specials running from 5 PM to 8 PM and an extensive array of craft beers on tap, this Williamsburg mainstay attracts a lively crowd looking to let loose without breaking the bank.
3.2. Skinny Dennis: Honky Tonk Heaven in Greenpoint
Skinny Dennis’ unimposing exterior belies the rollicking honky tonk/juke joint atmosphere that awaits within. Established in 2013, this Greenpoint dive bar has quickly won the hearts of locals and visitors alike with its live country music, cheap draft beers, and legendary Willie’s Frozen Coffee concoction—basically, a boozy slushy that should not be missed. Hop on a barstool to enjoy the down-home vibes and friendly faces of Skinny Dennis, and while you’re there, take a spin on the classic Ms. Pac-Man table for a nostalgic twist.
3.3. Fulton Ale House: Beer Haven in Bed-Stuy
If variety is the spice of life, look no further than Fulton Ale House, located in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Offering an extensive selection of local and international craft brews at reasonable prices, this cozy dive bar is a beer lover’s paradise. The intimate space, adorned with an eclectic collection of funky signage and quirky trinkets, makes it easy to strike up a conversation with fellow patrons and bartenders.
4. Queens Dive Bars: Endless Fun in NYC’s Most Diverse Borough
Queens, New York City’s second-largest borough by population, is known for its unparalleled cultural diversity. This melting pot of cultures manifests itself in a vast array of unique and memorable dive bars—each with its own distinct flavor and flair.
4.1. The LetLove Inn: A Charming Retreat in Astoria
The LetLove Inn, situated in thriving Astoria, is an ideal destination for all who seek a friendly and intimate dive bar experience. The lovingly curated space features an eclectic blend of vintage décor, lush greenery, and local artwork. With a rotating cast of expertly curated live music acts, The LetLove Inn is a wonderful spot to enjoy a cold beer or expertly mixed cocktail while soaking in the chill vibes and local talent.
4.2. The Alibi: A Liquor-Laden Oasis in Long Island City
If you find yourself looking for a low-key escape in bustling Long Island City, The Alibi should be a top contender on your must-see dive bar list. This cash-only dive bar is best known for its community-oriented atmosphere and impressive array of novelty shot glasses—which are available for purchase, should you feel inclined to take a memento of your unforgettable visit. And with a pinball machine and a jukebox stocked with classic tunes, there’s no shortage of entertainment at this friendly watering hole.
4.3. Saints & Sinners: A Fun-Loving Dive Bar Staple in Woodside
As the name suggests, Saints & Sinners is a bar where anything goes. This Woodside haunt is known for its laid-back, anything-goes attitude, extensive beer selection, and lively dart games. The bar’s dedicated dart leagues attract a fun-loving, diverse crowd from all walks of life. And with a generously sized outdoor area, it’s a fabulous spot to enjoy a cold beer under the stars.
5. The Bronx Dive Bars: Discover Hidden Gems in This Iconic Borough
The Bronx, often overlooked by visitors to New York City, is a borough full of hidden gems, just waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re a local resident, a tourist, or a traveler, you owe it to yourself to explore the wealth of charming dive bars that this oft-neglected borough has to offer.
5.1. The Bronx Alehouse: A Craft Brew Lover’s Dream
Located in the Kingsbridge neighborhood, The Bronx Alehouse is the epitome of a welcoming, unpretentious dive bar, boasting an extensive rotating tap list of domestic and imported craft beers. If delicious brews weren’t enough, this destination also offers a superior food menu, featuring mouthwatering pub fare like buffalo wings and juicy burgers. Be sure to check out their daily happy hour specials and weekly trivia nights for added excitement.
5.2. Rambling House: Woodlawn’s Irish Pub Paradise
Rambling House, situated in the historically Irish neighborhood of Woodlawn, offers visitors a true taste of the Emerald Isle. This warm, inviting pub boasts live music, a variety of beers on tap, and a menu packed with Irish classics. Stop in for an authentic pint of Guinness and immerse yourself in the friendly, sociable atmosphere that defines a proper Irish pub experience.
5.3. Bar Car: Riverdale’s Coolest Dive Bar on Wheels
There are dive bars, and then there’s Bar Car—a Riverdale hotspot housed inside a converted train car. This quirky joint features a charming retro interior, a fantastic selection of beers and cocktails, and a lively atmosphere. So, if you’re looking to trade in the hustle and bustle of the big city for a leisurely journey through New York’s bar scene, this train-themed pub has your ticket to ride.
6. Staten Island Dive Bars: Deep-Cut Dives Worth the Ferry Ride
While Staten Island may be the only borough not connected to the rest of New York City by a subway, don’t let that deter you from exploring the wealth of dive bars that this ‘forgotten borough’ has to offer.
6.1. Mother Pug’s Saloon: A Punk Rock Haven in Port Richmond
If you have a penchant for punk rock, look no further than Mother Pug’s Saloon. This Port Richmond dive bar offers a gritty, no-frills atmosphere perfectly suited to those craving a mosh pit and a cold beer. With a stage frequently showcasing local punk and hardcore bands, there’s no shortage of rocking entertainment to be had at Mother Pug’s. The extensive beer list and mindbogglingly cheap shot specials are just the icing on the punk rock cake.
6.2. Cargo Cafe: St. George’s Shipwrecked Oasis
In a sea of cookie-cutter watering holes, Cargo Cafe is a welcome island of quirky charm. This St. George dive bar, conveniently located just a stone’s throw from the Staten Island Ferry terminal, is decorated like a shipwrecked oasis, complete with nautical artifacts and a cozy rustic atmosphere. Pop in for a quick pint before or after your ferry ride across the New York Harbor, and you’ll be swept away by Cargo Cafe’s engaging ambiance—and daily happy hour deals!
6.3. Liedy’s Shore Inn: Historic Staten Island Dive Bar
Liedy’s Shore Inn, situated in the New Brighton neighborhood near Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, has been a Staten Island staple for over a century. Dating back to 1905, this historic dive bar boasts a time-honored atmosphere filled with memorabilia and intriguing stories from years past. With reasonable drink prices and a jukebox constantly churning out classic tunes, Liedy’s is a charming destination for history buffs and casual drinkers alike.
7. Tips and Tricks for Dive Bar Exploration
Now that you have a comprehensive guide to some of the best dive bars in each of New York City’s five boroughs, you’re ready to embark on your incredible journey. But before you do, take note of these tips and tricks to enhance your dive bar explorations:
- Always carry cash—some dive bars still operate on a cash-only basis, and you don’t want to miss out on a night of fun due to an unexpected ATM run.
- Be open to conversation! One of the key attributes of a dive bar is the sense of camaraderie and community that permeates these establishments. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with your fellow patrons—you never know who you might meet and what stories you’ll share.
- Support struggling dive bars! As with all small businesses, dive bars often rely on the loyalty and patronage of regulars to thrive. In an increasingly gentrified and expensive New York City, supporting these institutions is more important than ever. If you find a dive bar you love, spread the word!
- Be adventurous in your nightlife explorations. While this guide highlights some of the best dive bars in the city, New York is a treasure trove of hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path locales. Be open to exploration and take pleasure in discovering new neighborhoods and unmarked venues.
New York City dive bars embody the city itself: diverse, vibrant, and full of character. This guide serves as just a starting point in your NYC dive bar explorations. Remember, the most cherished memories often result from spontaneous adventures and genuine connections with fellow patrons. So grab a drink, strike up a conversation, and forge unforgettable memories in New York City’s best dive bars! Happy exploring!