Dive Bar Rating Guide

Totally, Probably, Pretty Much Objective

What Makes A Great Dive Bar?

While what makes a dive bar a dive bar is undoubtedly an objective and scientific truth (see our expert take here), the process of ranking and rating dives is a wholly subjective exercise. Especially for the dives listed within this travel guide, we’re basically picking our favorite children here, as an evening at mid-tier dive bar beats an evening almost anywhere else.

Those generous caveats aside, a few thoughts on what makes a great dive:

There is no more important factor in a great dive bar than authenticity. We’re wary of “renovations” and, in general, the word “new.” The great dive bars know who they are and don’t bend to the will of the world around them but instead preserve who they are no matter what.
An Example: The Thirsty Beaver Saloon

What’s that you say? Your great-great-grandfather emigrated to this country and started his first pub in the spare horse stall of a local barn? We’re in. Even better, let’s see some wall flair that hasn’t been changed, added to or even dusted in 30 years.
An Example: McSorley’s Old Ale House

Dive bars get to the point of having longevity because they’ve catered to and become a second home to a local and loyal customer base. Amazing dive bars reflect the neighborhoods and city blocks that surround them, a magnet for the community to come together…and get a little tipsy on a Tuesday.
An Example: B And G Tavern

There is certainly no requirement that a dive bar can’t charge more than $3 for a beer, but it is certainly true that the arrival of specialty $12 cocktails is usually a bad sign. Not the most important piece of evidence in the case of a great dive bar, but there’s a reason they aren’t call craft beer emporiums. Cash only? Bonus points.
An Example: Silver Moon Saloon

And Then…That Special Something
Almost impossible to describe, when you walk into a great dive bar, you feel it immediately. Maybe it’s the smell of decades of alcohol soaked into the walls and floor, maybe it’s the impending buzz from cheap High Life, or maybe it’s that special something unique hard to pin down.
An Example: Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge

Combine these factors, force it onto a 10-point scale and that’s where this travel guide sources its completely objective, totally unimpeachable ratings. In reality, every dive bar included here is worth the visit and it is our mission to catalog every worthy dive we can stumble into so that you can stumble into an amazing night too.

Published April 5, 2021

Places In This Story

Thirsty Beaver Saloon

Charlotte, North Carolina
Stick it to the man.

McSorley's Old Ale House

New York, New York
Be good or be gone.

B And G Tavern - Cleveland Dive Bar - Sign

B And G Tavern

Cleveland, Ohio
Old school pool house.

Silver Moon Saloon - Winston-Salem Dive Bar

Silver Moon Saloon

Winston-Salem, NC
Skinny shotgun dive.

Snake & Jake's Christmas Club Lounge - Interior

Snake & Jake's Christmas Club Lounge

New Orleans, LA
Red-tinted dive shanty.