Atlantans want more than just cheap beer and good jukeboxes from their dive bars—they want entertainment. Revelers in the ATL like to chug their brews while watching street fights, belting into karaoke machines, listening to live blues musicians, or even admiring strippers. (You didn’t think you could read a story about Atlanta’s bars—nay, about Atlanta—without hearing about strip clubs, did you?)

For many Atlanta bartenders, in fact, the city’s notoriously gritty strip clubs are the first things that come to mind when discussing divey bars. The two certainly have a lot in common. “Cold, heavy drinks and conviviality are the constants,” T. Fable Jeon, director of Himitsu lounge, says. Of course, strip clubs are more than just places to drink. But like great dive bars, great strip clubs can make you forget what drove you to swig crappy beer in the first place. “You get completely distracted by all of the merriment and patina,” Jeon says. “It feels like an Diane Arbus or William Eggleston photo in there…if cameras were allowed inside, I mean.”

We asked eight of Atlanta’s top bartenders where they like to drink cold pints of SweetWater and warm shots of Yamazaki. You’ll probably find them slumming at these watering holes when they’re off the clock, playing Cards Against Humanity, karaoke-ing Tom Waits songs, and making it rain dollar bills.


TAYLOR BLACKGRAVE

Bartender at The Lawrence
taylor
Favorite dive bar: The Independent (931 Monroe Dr NE; 404-249-9869, theindependentatlanta.com)

Blackgrave says: “My favorite Atlanta dive bar would have to be The Independent. It’s not so much a dive bar (more like a pool hall), but it’s my favorite no-pressure bar. It has a bookcase stuffed with board and card games. The bar is big enough to lay out a game of Monopoly and still have room for your drinks, and there are big, round tables that fit like ten people at them (so you can play Cards Against Humanity). The Independent also has near perfect pool tables, and there’s almost never a wait. Did I mention the killer Car Bombs?” (Photo: Yelp/Runa W.)


JUSTIN WICKLINE

Bar manager of The Porter Beer Bar
justin
Favorite dive bar: Manuel’s Tavern (602 North Highland Ave NE; 404-525-3447, manuelstavern.com)

Wickline says: “I am a notorious homebody, so to see me outside The Porter is like seeing a sasquatch in your backyard. However, my favorite spot in Atlanta to grab a beer and some quiet time is by far Manuel’s. I know I can always get a good beer and play some video games before spending money at Highland Antiques.” (Photo: Yelp/Jen R.)


JULIAN GOGLIA

Partner and beverage director of The Pinewood
julian
Favorite dive bar: Clermont Lounge (789 Ponce De Leon Ave NE; 404-874-4783, clermontlounge.net)

Goglia says: “Clermont Lounge is hands down the best dive bar in Atlanta. It opened back in 1968 and feels as if it’s hardly changed since. The beers are cheap, the room well-worn, and you might literally get beat if you touch the jukebox. It’s undoubtedly a staple when hosting people from out of town. I recommend stopping by earlier in the week, otherwise you won’t be able to pull up a stool at the bar. And watch out: the karaoke on Tuesdays gets weird.” (Photo: Yelp/Amnesiaa L.)


EDUARDO GUZMAN

Beverage manager at JCT. Kitchen & Bar
eduardo

Favorite dive bar: Sister’s Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium (466 Edgewood Ave SE; 404-522-8275, sisterlouisaschurch.com)

Guzman says: “There are a lot of great dive bars in Atlanta, but my personal favorite to go to is Church. They have a great selection of cheap beers and shots, and maybe the best sangria in Atlanta. The staff is super friendly and they know what they are doing. In addition to the music, amazing art, food menu, and ping-pong tournaments, you will always run into the most unexpected clientele hanging out together, sharing a shot of Jameson and great conversation.” (Photo: Yelp/Colleen B.)


COLE YOUNGER JUST

Beverage director of Last Word
cole
Favorite dive bar: Northside Tavern (1058 Howell Mill Rd NW; 404-874-8745, northsidetavern.com)

Younger Just says: “When I just want to unwind, I go to Northside Tavern. My father is a blues musician, so I’ve always had a profound appreciation for live blues thanks to him. Blues really is the soul of American music. Top that scene with an ice-cold beer and shot of whiskey, and the let the relaxing ensue.” (Photo: Yelp/Damon T.)


MADISON BURCH

Beverage Director of Seven Lamps, Tavernpointe, and Grain
madison
Favorite dive bar: Euclid Avenue Yacht Club (1136 Euclid Ave NE; 404-688-2582, theeayc.com)

Burch says: “The irony is so obvious: Euclid Avenue Yacht Club is no yacht club. It’s a place everyone knows, and you always run into industry friends. The only thing that anyone cares about there is having a good time.” (Photo: Yelp/Lori F.)


T. FABLE JEON

Director of Himitsu
t
Favorite dive bar: Karaoke Melody (5979 Buford Hwy NE A11; 770-986-8881, karaokemelody.com)

Jeon says: “Though Karaoke Melody may not classify as a dive bar, it is definitely a margin-walker. They have a full bar with premium bottles while also having trance-inducing, luminescent ‘sangrias’ along the bar top. I couldn’t tell you what they taste like. I can, however, tell you that warming up your vocal chords with five-fingers of Yamazaki 12-Year is the critical element to properly swaggering through/butchering John Cougar Mellencamp’s greatest ditties.” (Photo: Yelp/Daniel B.)


KELLIE THORN

Bar manager of Empire State South
kelliethorn
Favorite dive bar: The Righteous Room (1051 Ponce De Leon Ave NE; 404-874-0939, stayrighteous.com)

Thorn says: “The name alone is one of the best bar names I can think of. This place has been around for something like 20 years, and for good reason. It’s a small bar located next to the oldest operating cinema in Atlanta. It’s walking distance to my house, which is a plus, but I would go out of my way to visit here. It has a kick-ass jukebox that’s not digital and loaded up with damn-fine drinking music like Tom Waits, David Bowie, and The Ramones. The service is friendly and fast. The food is standard bar fare—hot dogs and nachos—that is perfect for soaking up the cheap beers, whiskey shots, and Fernet and Cokes. Sitting on the patio offers the extra bonus of viewing the shenanigans of Ponce De Leon.” (Photo: Yelp/Dave N.)