Catch a cheap High Life draft and a couple of mannequins.
The east side of Indianapolis is sometimes affectionately referred to as Beast Side, making it less than surprising that some of the city’s best dive bars can be found east of downtown. J Clyde’s Pub, just around the corner from fellow east side dive bar gem Shi-Kay, is the best of the lot, a classic neighborhood dive bar with a great sign and a front patio that allows for a little extra people watching than usual. And corndogs.
A great dive bar always starts with a great sign and J Clyde’s features a pair that certainly qualify. The white background, bold lettered sign above the door does the heavy lifting in proclaiming the name of the Indianapolis dive bar while the neon sign on the corner adds style. That the neon sign juts out from the edge of the brick building is useful given the location of J Clyde’s just set far enough off the main road through the area to feel just off the beaten path. The patio here sits out front, a big bonus and somewhat of a rarity for a dive bar, but welcome given the way it builds community from the second of stepping foot onto the property.
Opened in 1982, J Clyde’s Pub looks like a space that might have opened that long ago in a nice way without quite hitting the dusty, old dive bar stereotype completely. The decorations here are less cluttered than a typical ancient dive bar and skew more toward posters of pin-ups and a celebrity cut-out or two (keep an eye out for Elvis at the rear of the space). Black and white checkerboard tile adds to the classic vibe in conjunction with the red bar counter and red low tables that line one wall. Striped, padded booths provide the seating along that same wall opposite the bar.
The collection gets a little more varied behind the bar where faded dollar bills and old beer signs line the mirror among the bar’s liquor bottles. A homemade J Clyde’s Pub championship belt sits above the bar, a converted Old Style box. Above it, a long mannequin leg because why not and a handful of Halloween decorations that may or may not be up all year, that I could not confirm. String lights weave between these decorations and a few vintage-style prints above the bar mirror. Dueling TVs, one typically tuned to cheesy horror and one typically tuned to something a little more lighthearted (according to the bartender), run on either end of the bar.
J Clyde’s Pub serves as a supporter bar for Indy Eleven, the local soccer team, explaining some of the decorations that include a soccer jersey on a half torso mannequin at the window end of the bar. Additional string lights line the window out onto the patio and street outside. Beer selections include domestic favorites and a couple of craft beers on tap, though the deal is clearly $2.50 High Life draft, of course. The bar is cash only and a lack of funds can be remedied by an ATM on-site.
One fun fact unique to Indiana is a state law that requires establishments serving alcohol by the “drink” to serve, and this is specifically within the law, items such as hot soups, hot sandwiches, milk, coffee and soft drinks. Without opening up a debate on whether a corndog is a sandwich, J Clyde’s Pub checks that box with a limited menu available during open hours that includes things like the aforementioned corndog as well as pizza, mozzarella sticks and an additional item or two thrown in at times. Unfortunately, one was left to wonder what the J Clyde’s Pub hot soup selection was on this reviewer’s last visit. Be sure to ask.
On weekends, live music often takes over the space inside J Clyde’s Pub and on certain weekday nights, karaoke similarly invades. Close, narrow quarters in the dive bar’s lone room force a bit of friendly conversation in a good way. All of it together creates a welcoming atmosphere, a piece of the east side Indianapolis community that happens to serve a corndog and one can only hope a hot soup of some kind.