There may be no better dive bar origin story than that of San Joe’s Caravan Lounge, a downtown dive bar with the kind of heritage that feels like the bar was preordained to become one of the city’s divey institutions. Life for Caravan Lounge started in San Jose’s Greyhound bus station, one of a series of Caravan Lounges sprinkled throughout Greyhound terminals in California. Similar outposts could be found in the lobbies of similar structures in Sacramento, Salinas and elsewhere.
Original owner Leo Chargin eventually decided to relocate from under the umbrella of the bus terminal, opening the San Jose dive bar’s current location in 1964 on the site of what was then a used car lot. Since then, the vibe has remained consistent, a focus on live music becoming the calling card of the Caravan Lounge. Billed as one of San Jose’s oldest live music venues, all shows are free and dot the calendar in addition to karaoke and comedy nights that make use of the space.
Visually, this is a dark space with what feels like a low ceiling, covered in string lights to create that divey glow. Outside, the caramel color of the building fits well with the camel iconography and funky lettering that spells out Caravan on what is deceptively a very large chunk of downtown San Jose real estate. Stickers can be found on most of the flat surfaces within the San Jose dive bar, including in the predictably colorful dive bar bathrooms.