Sure, we like to sip perfect Boulevardiers while sitting on leather banquettes and nibbling house-made charcuterie. Who doesn’t? But we also have moments when we’d rather just knock back Tecates in a room full of peeling paint and old-timers shrouded in smoke.

When we crave equal parts solace and cheap entertainment, it’s the dark, seedy dive bar that we want. Off-the-clock bartenders feel the same way—when they’re done shaking daiquiris and inventing cocktails for the guest who wants something “refreshing but not too sweet,” they crave shots and cheap beers, not fancy cocktails.

We asked a dozen top barkeeps in 12 different cities which dives they go to when they need a proper, no-nonsense session. After-hours (or on their day off), you might find them at these watering holes, sipping whiskey straight and feeding crumpled bills into the jukebox.


The bartender: Sam Treadway, Backbar (Somerville, MA)


His favorite dive bar: The Field Pub (20 Prospect Street, Cambridge; 617-354-7345,

Treadway says: “It has everything you need, nothing you don’t: darts, pool table, good beer, and whiskey, and decent pub food. The staff is indifferent, almost—but not quite—to the point of being rude. You’re not going there to chat with the bartenders, though; you’re going there to drink! They have inviting wisecracks on the chalkboard sandwich board sign out front (‘Soup of the day: Whiskey’) and things like that. How can you say no?”


The bartender: Paul McGee, Three Dots and a Dash


His favorite dive bar: Delilah’s (2771 N Lincoln Ave; 773-472-2771,

McGee says: “They have an amazing whiskey selection—including lots of stuff you can’t get anymore—plus cheap beer, a friendly staff, and an awesomely knowledgeable owner.”


The bartender: Sean Kenyon, Williams & Graham


His favorite dive bar: My Brother’s Bar (2376 15th St; 303-455-9991,

Kenyon says: “It is the longest standing bar in Denver. On any given night you will find a motley assortment of service industry denizens in various states of inebriation. Their bartenders know their whiskey and are great conversationalists. They also serve a great burger until 1am nightly.”


The bartender: Alba Huerta, Anvil, Julep, and the Pastry War


Her favorite dive bar: Poison Girl (1641 Westheimer Rd, 713-527-9929)

Huerta says: “They have one of the greatest whiskey selections you’ve ever laid eyes on. It has a Lone Star culture with a brown-water mentality; a giant Kool-Aid man sculpture on the patio that changes costumes with the seasons; and a highly desirable stockpile of Parker’s Heritage Collection and Four Roses Special and Limited Releases—just to name a few.” (Photo: Julie Soefer)

Kansas City

The bartender: Ryan Maybee, Manifesto and the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange


His favorite dive bar: The Brick (1727 McGee St; 816-421-1634,

Maybee says: “It’s in my neighborhood, and the main reason it’s my favorite is because they have a small stage where they have live music. The Rural Grit Happy Hour is a random folk and bluegrass open mic where you never know what to expect. As with all dive bars, the whiskey is cheap and the bartenders surly.”  

Los Angeles

The bartender: Naomi Schimek, the Spare Room


Her favorite dive bar: Power House (1714 N Highland Ave, Hollywood; 323-463-9438)

Schimek says: “It’s adjacent to Oscars madness and the hustle and bustle of all the tourist attractions, yet once you step inside you are worlds away. It’s a great place to duck inside on a hot day for a quiet beer. There are two random, feel-good photos of Keith Richards and Jim Morrison that are hanging above the bar, and it has some of the best bathroom graffiti in town.”

New Orleans

The bartender: Abigail Gullo, SoBou


Her favorite dive bar: Boondock Saint (731 St Peter St, 504-525-4950)

Gullo says: “Irish cop bar? Yes, please. After 20 years in NYC, this place felt like home the moment I walked in. Powers and a McSorley’s dark—that is my drink, and the awesome bartenders know it. They play the film Boondock Saints inside, so on the rare occasion I don’t meet someone new/crazy/hot/interesting, there is always Daryl Dixon to ogle. The jukebox is great. I always find a cute boy to dance with me when ‘Wagon Wheel’ comes on, and that song is played every time I’m there. But my favorite thing about this dive bar is that horses of the mounted NOPD unit know they get fed cherries here by the beautiful bartender Miss Jenny Kay, so they actually step up into the bar when they pass by.”

New York

The bartender: Julie Reiner, Clover Club and Flatiron Lounge


Her favorite dive bar: Park Slope Ale House (356 6th Ave, Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-788-1756,

Reiner says: “My favorite was always Milady’s in Soho, but sadly it just closed down. My next favorite would be this Park Slope gem. It has a lot of charm and is just a great neighborhood spot. I love to sit outside in the summertime.”


The bartender: Dave Shenaut, Raven & Rose


His favorite dive bar: The Knock Back (2315 NE Alberta St; 503-284-4090,

Shenaut says: “Unpretentious, fun drink-slinging with an eye towards whimsical cocktails that are still affordable. It’s a neighborhood bar that you can get a proper classic drink at, with good comfort food and a motherfucking Manhattan on tap.”

San Francisco

The bartender: Julio Bermejo, Tommy’s


His favorite dive bar: Toronado Pub (547 Haight St; 415-863-2276,

Bermejo says: “Toronado is the best beer bar west of the Mississippi. I love it also for its owner, David ‘Big Daddy’ Keene. He has been at the forefront of introducing great beer to folks for over 20 years. The Toronado is so cool that when Anthony Bourdain walked in, no one gave a shit and many said it brought in the wrong element.” (Photo:


The bartender: Anu Apte, Rob Roy


Her favorite dive bar: Owl N’ Thistle (808 Post Ave; 206-621-7777,

Apte says: “Horrible fried food, cheap beers, and shots, but it is guaranteed to be a good time. Pool tables and darts are a bonus.” (Photo:

Washington, DC

The bartender: Derek Brown, Columbia Room, the Passenger, Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich, Southern Efficiency


His favorite dive bar: Showtime Lounge (113 Rhode Island Avenue NW)

Brown says: “Three reasons: One, amazing jukebox. Not one bad song on it, curated by owner and DJ Paul Vivari (Soul Call Paul). Two: Redskins wallpaper and a mural dedicated to lesser-known D.C. recording artists. It’s a D.C.-centric bar; it doesn’t want to be anything else. Three: ‘CombOhs’ for $5. That’s Natty Boh and whiskey. We all have to have our PB&J of drinks—the simple, delicious combo you can drink all the time.”