What are the hallmarks of an authentic American dive? The flickering neon sign, the cantankerous old bartender, the backed-up bathroom or the alarmingly cheap booze? The down-and-dirty criteria for a true dive varies, but the sense of ease you feel when you enter is universal. As dives continue to croak, you crave that blanketing effect of familiarity, mixed with stale odors, time-ravaged memorabilia and regulars sitting on either side. These spaces shutter in greater numbers each year; there are now too many lost dives to count. Some may reopen as glossy imitations with new owners, while others seal up for the big sleep, never to serve another dollar pint. In tribute to these fallen brothers, raise a chipped glass to seven of the greats—and don’t forget: The magic’s in the memory.
Poets, intellectuals and artists found safe haven in this East Village Ukrainian dive that opened in 1965. The hidden charm behind the scrappy, dark-cornered den? Longtime owner Stefan Lutak, who tended bar until the age of 89—and would occasionally break into song in his native tongue. Lutak recalled regulars like W.H. Auden (who lived next door and downed full bottles of cognac while writing by the window), Allen Ginsberg and Frank Sinatra, and some say Madonna named her song “Holiday” after the bar. Recognized by the ancient phone booth and frayed stripes of duct tape holding the place together, the Holiday was a humble tribute to the art of heavy drinking. It attracted decades of loyals with its unhurried hospitality, and its closure in 2012 following Lutak’s death marked the end of an era on St. Marks Place. blogspot.com
$2.50 beers are common fare at any dive worth its grime, but $2.50 Martinis and Manhattans? That’s a dive deal of another stripe. Having long endured as one of the choice spots to find a cheap drink in the Mission, the Attic’s happy hour was topped only by its frenetic dance scene. Nightly DJs packed the house spinning tunes from punk to yacht rock, and the regulars were never deterred by smelly bathrooms or questionable structural integrity. But the Attic’s calling card was also its downfall, as the late-night dance sprees led it straight into a lawsuit with its neighbors. Faced with noise complaint fines and crumbling walls, the lively, sweat-inducing dive finally succumbed in 2014, leaving no trace of its former self—not even the vintage sign. thebolditalic.com
One place where congressmen and college students could share a drink as equals? At the beloved Hawk, planted squarely in the shadow of Capitol Hill. A drinking institution since 1967, the Hawk was opened by Stuart Long, who ditched a law career to helm the iconic dive. He happily held that job for 44 years and amassed a family of regulars who embraced the bar’s gritty familiarity. The Hawk’s legacy would have marched on, but Long lost his lease to a competitor in 2011. Though the name still hangs above the door, the bar’s original artifacts were auctioned off, and the tattered political posters and decoy ducks have been replaced with the shiny substitutes of new ownership. washtimes.com
In the grand tradition of “old timer bars,” Jackie’s catered to the working class crowd who preferred cheap, sturdy drinks. Plenty of them. The early morning happy hour pleased barflies on the night shift, and the saloon stubbornly rejected Park Slope’s rapid gentrification with its “six nips for nine bucks” deal: dirt-cheap beers served in a bucket. Jackie’s boldest display of defiance? The time the bar started a petition to legally secede from its yuppified Brooklyn neighborhood. Proud till the end, the 75-year-old joint (occasionally referred to as “Hell’s Waiting Room”) outlasted countless other dives in the area. No victim of rising rents, Jackie’s closed voluntarily in 2013 due to the owner’s declining health. A noble end for a respected dive. flickr.com
You know you’ve sold your share of $3 brews when Pabst Blue Ribbon offers to sponsor your bar’s softball team. Power House, Hollywood’s last true dive bar, unplugged in 2014, but its legend lives on. Blue collar workers and celebrities alike gravitated to the bar, and next to a studio camera assistant you’d have found the likes of Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. In 1965, the Beatles staked out their own booth multiple nights in a row. What gave this watering hole its star power? Perhaps the Old Hollywood ambience or the extra-cheap drinks, both rarities in today’s L.A. bar scene. The dive is set to be renovated and reopened as a trendy club, but regulars will remember it in its original form, when all patrons were equal and the PBR flowed freely. guestofaguest.com
The epitome of a basic Beantown “bah,” The Quiet Man reeked of sweat and spilled beer. That beer was served in bottles only—no freshly-tapped brews here—and to outsiders, the pub was likely dismissed as a “bucket of blood.” It’s true that The Quiet Man hosted its share of barroom fisticuffs, but it was also a dedicated hangout for the local working class Irish community, especially as the Southie neighborhood became increasingly gentrified. As the area developed, The Quiet Man and other Irish dives were eventually forced to make way for new real estate ventures, and the bar was demolished in 2011 for massive condos. Gone were the beers in plastic cups, the ruddy regulars and the bar’s greatest claim to fame—the legendary steak tips. thephoenix.com
Marie was a character. Most nights, you could find her crooning along to the jukebox while swigging Jägermeister, her trademark pouf of white hair bouncing to the beat. Her landmark bar began as a gathering place for the local Polish crowd in 1961, but adapted to the changing crowds each year, eventually attracting major celebs like Bill Murray, John Belushi and Vince Vaughn. Though the clientele grew, the 120-year-old cash register, electronic skeet shooting game and white leather booths all remained unchanged during Marie’s reign. After her death in 2011, Marie willed the bar to a longtime friend who kept it running for another two years. But like all the best dives, it seems the magical component was the owner herself. Marie was the supreme matriarch, and at her bar, everyone was welcome. chibarproject.com