Really keep your eyes peeled for some window bock lettering and faint bar neon.
New York has a tendency to hide some of its best features in plain sight, a function of densely-populated, densely-developed urban living that offers so many options for visual attention that the occasional gem slips under the radar. International Bar in New York’s East Village embodies that phenomenon well, a dive bar I have to admit I walked right past a first and second time despite Google Maps’ best efforts. A bit of brown paint and a pair of neon signs are the only visual cues here, markers that can easily fade into the cluttered intensity of a New York street.
Today’s International Bar location is a fairly recent development, its previous incarnation located a block away before closing in 2017. The Coal Yard, owned by the then-owner of the International Bar made way for the International Bar’s new and current location that same year. Moving is nothing new for International Bar, which has called a number of locations its home since opening in the 1970s. The bar shuttered in 2005 before a revival in 2008 that set it on its current course.
The look couldn’t be simpler outside, the aforementioned brown paint blending into the buildings on either side, a bit of bar neon hanging n the window behind simple lettering spelling out the name of the New York dive bar. Inside, the theme of simplicity is carried forward, block colors distinguishing the various features, black for the ceiling, blue for the wall, solid color schemes present throughout. The floor breaks the theme just a bit, aging wood showing through and hinting at some of the history here.
Everything has been touched up in pieces and parts, a sustained effort to keep International Bar divey but reasonably updated. That steady march of renovation can be seen in some of the wall art, a vintage item seen here or there but consisting mostly of new-ish beer signs and fresh artwork. Behind the bar though, a different story unfolds, where some of that signature dive bar clutter has been allowed to flourish. Above the liquors, a knick-knack shelf has collected odds and ends through the years, from cymbal-smashing monkey doll to Yoda pez dispenser. As such, the circular bar rail is the place to target when visiting International Bar, a perch that both sits in the middle of the space and provides ample view of the collection behind the bar.
Christmas lights provide a dose of character inside, the peeling black paint of the ceiling creating a sense of snugness. A handful of hightop tables run along the wall opposite the bar, enough room for a handful of patrons but not many more. The more divey of the International Bar’s features, however, can be found out back, where the smoothly painted colors inside give way to largely untouched surfaces almost entirely covered in stickers and graffiti. Halfway to the back patio, a small alcove has been turned almost completely loose, a graffiti overgrowth creeping over the walls and mounted dart board. Room for about 10 people, this little dive bar snug makes an argument for best seat in the house.
Out back, the New York tradition of back patios that feel like they exist at the bottom of a well is kept alive at International Bar, a small space ringed with towering walls, this time covered in wide painted murals. Built-in wooden benches provide most of the seating back here, a handful of scattered plastic chairs offering the remainder of the seating options. The bathrooms are, in a word, intense, heavily marked with graffiti and stickers even by dive bar standards. White tiles makes for a stark contrast to the artwork here, and though it looks like these walls see occasional scrapings, it’s hard to beat back the encroachment of dive bar bathroom scrawling completely.
Though paint has certainly touched the walls of International Bar more frequently than some dive bars, that signature divey character is left to flourish out back, an outlet for some of the history built up here. As much as the space fades into the tapestry of New York’s densely-packed streets, the vibe here benefits from the escape offered by being overlooked, a comfortable, snug East Village dive bar with a graffiti game out back to liven up the proceedings.