Stick it to the downtown entertainment megaplex man.
Around the corner from downtown Louisville’s Fourth Street Live, Third Street Dive keeps the in-your-face dive bar spirit alive and well. Play on words aside, Louisville’s urban core isn’t exactly flush with affordable drinking options, making Third Street Dive an attractive proposition no matter the origin of its name. And while Third Street Dive is, gasp, clean, there is just enough roughness around the edges to earn the ‘dive’ distinction inherent in its name.
Fourth Street Live is a massive complex and the opposite of everything dive bars stand for, a collection of entertainment and retail options built explicitly to drain as much money out of visitors to Louisville as possible. Thankfully, Third Street Dive is every bit the antithesis the name suggests, an unassuming white door under a small black awning that looks pretty innocuous from the outside. Beer sign neon peeks out from a gated off and almost hidden window just to the left of the entrance, emblematic of the ability for Third Street Dive to melt into the Louisville city block that surrounds it.
The twist happens inside, where the concept of dive bar graffiti has been elevated to a new level. Black ceiling tiles and dark painted walls provide canvas to graffiti that looks to have been applied with liquid chalk, like a bistro menu crossed with classic dive bar scrawls. The theme extends throughout the space, maybe best felt in the pool room in back where floor to ceiling dark walls and the ceiling itself host densely packed, multi-colored messaging, a phenomenon that even extends to a few scribbles on the light suspended over the pool table.
Just inside the front door, Third Street Dive’s iconic red neon sign casts a glow that mixes with a similar skull and crossbones piece to cost a glow over the bar area tucked into the corner of the room. Behind, a decent selection of draft beer is complemented by all of the requisite bar materials and local artwork available for purchase. In the room’s opposite corner, a small elevated stage complete with lighting rig provides a well-stickered backdrop to live music and karaoke nights that frequent Third Street Dive. Bits and pieces of hand-drawn art mingle with stickers on and around the walk-in cooler just off the bar area providing a little visual stimulation for those sitting that the bar.
Aside from the thick graffiti throughout, the largest visual element in the space is an homage of sorts to the Batmobile. No real reason was given and I suppose no real reason is required. A series of alcoves dot the rear of the space, one of them home to a pinball machine that is Batmobile-adjacent. Taking the turn around the corner from the bar amplifies the divey backbone of Third Street Dive where some of the gloss of a modern-looking bar counter dissolves into scuffed-up floors and pleasantly unruly graffiti.
Past the pinball cave, the pool room opens up and leads into a small nook that includes a cigarette machine and nothing else. Red stools and a long red drinking rail that encircles the pool table provide visual contrast to the green walls and white scrawl throughout the room. Third Street Dive’s bathrooms lie just beyond the cigarette machine and it should come as no shock given the decorations throughout the space that graffiti is found alive and prominently in the bathrooms as well. Here, off-white walls provide a bit of a different canvas, finally allowing more traditional black Sharpie-style wit to be conveyed via bathroom wall.
Though there is certainly nothing wrong with a downtown entertainment megaplex, that kind of gloss can get a little tiring and one can only stomach so many $15 Coors Lights. Thankfully, Third Street Dive provides a dive bar antidote to its well-polished neighbor, an unassuming, graffiti-laden oasis with a little pinball piled on top.