It’s time to declare the best dive bar in New York. Seriously. We traveled from Gravesend to Kingsbridge, drinking in some 150 bars, to find out what makes a dive wonderful (counter to the idea that dives are dead, overtaken by TD Banks and condos, options abound). Cheap beer matters, and hiring a decorator is basically a disqualifier (dive-bar décor just happens). A food menu shouldn’t really go beyond peanuts. Old standbys like the Library and Johnny’s are great, but they’ve become fetishized — more like exhibits at a dive museum. And crucially, dives have a quality of home, a romantic sense of instant belonging (thank the bartender for that). These are the 50 — yes, 50 — bars that do it best.
242 Dekalb Ave., Fort Greene
Though barely edged out by Billymark’s, Alibi is a strong second because of its particularly devoted regulars. Most nights it seems there’s barely a patron who doesn’t come here religiously for Jeopardy viewings, Thursday-night pool tournaments, back-room Big Buck Hunter, or a five-beer nightcap with Tommy the bartender.
3. B Side
204 Ave. B, East Village
What stands out here are the bartenders, so beloved that people buy those Helvetica-list T-shirts with staffers’ names on them. Under the radar though it may be, for 13 years B Side’s quietly been an East Village hero, ticking the dive boxes: a $5 beer-shot special, games like foosball. The kind of bar you could spend the rest of your life in.
4. Jimmy’s Corner
140 W. 44th St., Midtown
Oft cited as the only acceptable place in Times Square to drink. Jimmy’s opened in 1971 and has served cheap beers to sports fans since. The namesake owner used to run a nearby boxing gym, which explains the poster of Muhammad Ali. The bartop and back tables are pasted with photos of Jimmy and friends. The place should be landmarked.
5. Spring Lounge
48 Spring St., Nolita
A bit of folklore: Bro walks into this dive, a.k.a. Shark Bar, asks for a martini with a whisper of vermouth. Bartender pours gin, stirs it with ice. Bartender takes a shot of vermouth, blows on top of the cocktail, and serves it: “A whisper of vermouth.” Shark Bar’s been operating in some form for a century — it was born in the ’20s as an illegal beer shop.
6. Glacken’s Bar & Grill
135 E. 149th St., the Bronx
It’s hard to find a Manhattan dive where regulars aren’t divided by grit-seeking 20-somethings and old-timer locals who gave the bar that grit. In the Bronx, this task is easier at places like the 75-year-old Glacken’s. Strong drinks come in tall plastic cups; guests sit under a collage of sew-on patches (for unions, the FDNY, HBO, 7-Up), playing dominoes while eating free popcorn.
7. 40 Knots
200 Columbia St., Columbia Street Waterfront District
The crucial features here: pool table, low-key backyard, bar snacks. And there’s always something weird going on (like a man in a clown wig DJ-ing). But the No. 1 bona fide is that the owner, Nicki, has been bartending for two decades at Houston Street fixture Milano’s and hires for personality over experience — and it shows.
8. Fish Market
111 South St., Financial District
This spot serves a full Asian-American dinner menu in back, cooked by an owner you can call Mama, whose son Jeff runs the bar. In addition to the affordable booze and a bar video game, he wins the spot its top-ten ranking: Stop on in for a quick beer and you’ll be taking shots of whiskey with him six hours later, having divulged every detail about your romantic life.
108 Ave. B, East Village
On a recent Saturday afternoon, a gentleman sat alone in back, near a staircase leading to nowhere, Sony headphones on, typing away at his laptop as crowds of East Villagers piled in around him to play Game of Thrones pinball or catch Yankees games and Stanley Cup Finals and $4 PBRs. The man received Two Boots delivery directly to his table. No one batted an eye.
10. Parkside Lounge
317 E. Houston St., Lower East Side
Young pool sharks mix with a grungier older crowd who begin to occupy the bar stools when sunshine still glares in at the bar through the neon-sign-adorned windows. Grab a $4 house-brand Parkside draft and head to the back, past the old-fashioned photo booth, to reach the stage for comedy and musicians of all genres.
11. Rudy’s Bar & Grill
627 Ninth Ave., Hell’s Kitchen
The free hot dogs, the giant pig outside, the $8 pitchers, it’s all true. But don’t write it off as a place for tourist suckers. Stop by after eight some night, buy a duct-tape wallet with a cartoon Rudy’s pig from the man selling them at the end of the bar, then split your pitcher outside or in one of the booths upholstered with bright-red tape.
47 E. Houston St., Nolita
If it’s quiet, the bartender might offer a light to a book-toting woman at the bar to read by. That’s usually not the case — there are DJs; it’s often so crowded the bar is five deep — but the super-efficient bartenders will really try to take care of patrons. A little sceney to crack the top ten, but it’s wonderful, and there’s a back room that’s nice for unplanned parties.
71-04 35th Ave., Jackson Heights
A draw for out-of-towners (as in, those who don’t live blocks from this spot) is the food — from baked-ziti nights to Texas barbecue (the kitchen’s home to a top-of-the-line smoker). But locals pile in even on Mondays when food isn’t available to watch sports and chat with bartenders who might buy pizza to share with neighbors.
14. The Duck
2171 Second Ave., East Harlem
The Duck was founded by Tom McNeil (of Village Idiot fame). Come for bartendresses who’ll charm you into being a reg — they operate in the “Don’t let them leave” school of serving (making you popcorn, imploring you to take shots). Enter through an arcadelike front bar with pinball; head to the main bar in back, and hit up the country-heavy jukebox.
520 E. 6th St., East Village
On a Saturday afternoon in March, Josie’s — the staff-sharing sister bar of Mona’s and Sophie’s (about which one New York editor says, “It’s a total piece of shit and I would live in it if I could”) — played host to a dog birthday. The place is made for such events: that is to say, made for locals to be neighborly to one another over drinks, pool, and Hole on the jukebox.
16. Ninth Avenue Saloon
656 Ninth Ave., Hell’s Kitchen
Stop by after a Broadway show to discover why this gay bar is so well liked (beyond its reasonably priced drinks, photo booth, and free popcorn). There’s a real convivial spirit to the place; it’s the kind of bar you go to to run into people you know.
135 Ave. A, East Village
Lucy is why people go back here. Seventy-something Lucy Mickevicius, who has been known to doze off in the wee hours, serves PBRs to people playing at one of the two pool tables or Tinder-dating at mismatched tables. The bar usually closes for a spell once a year when Lucy visits her native Poland.
18. International Bar
120½ First Ave., East Village
Part of the dwindling number of bars serving at 8 a.m., International shares an owner with Coal Yard down First Avenue. Both have small, unmanicured yards, and both boast devoted barflies who share gossip and secrets over cheap shots. Come by around noon and bring lunch from a St. Marks takeout spot to meet a cadre of regulars.
19. Hank’s Saloon
46 Third Ave., Boerum Hill
The live-music dive is more rare than you’d think, making century-old Hank’s and its flame-painted exterior a treasure for local bands and country lovers. The ceiling is strung with Christmas lights, the fixtures pasted with band stickers; the bar-stool seats are cracking. Regulars trade gossip with low-key bartenders who know their orders.
20. The Abbey
536 Driggs Ave., Williamsburg
On a recent visit, someone was, um, maybe smoking weed in the back of this church-themed bar (stained-glass lampshades, church-pew seats). Cruel Intentions played on multiple TVs. Mid-60s men shot pool in back while 20-somethings discussed offers from Iowa Writers’ in the front, where photo-booth strips act as wallpaper (you might see one of your ex).
21. Milano’s Bar
51 E. Houston St., East Village
Milano’s has been kicking since 1880. Legend goes that it’s written in the contract that all the décor stays if ownership changes hands. That means that family pics hang near a nude Ronald McDonald. As a patron one night mused: “Milano’s — it’s like that Tolstoy line. Fancy bars are all fancy in the same way. You know? Dive bars are uniquely shitty.”
22. Farrell’s Bar & Grill
215 Prospect Park W., Windsor Terrace
Of the Styrofoam Group (three entries follow), Farrell’s is the eldest: Opened in 1933, it once served only men at the bar (with regulars like Pete Hamill). Ask for one of the stack of hundreds of 32-ounce containers to be filled with Budweiser and grab a seat at the wooden bar to watch the Mets with local FDNY lieutenants.
23. Jeremy’s Ale House
228 Front St., Financial District
There are concrete floors, a scratch-off lottery machine, bras dangling from Sharpie-decorated ceiling tiles. Recently a man on the balcony sat with a parrot on his shoulder sipping Styrofoam cups of beer. Become a regular to earn a “Beer Isn’t Just for Breakfast Anymore!” bumper sticker (happy hour’s at 8 a.m.).
24. Turkey’s Nest Tavern
94 Bedford Ave., Williamsburg
People you might see here: sanitation workers watching the TVs (one’s for lottery numbers); groups of recent NYU grads gathered in the chairs with reclining backs, eating empanadas from the itinerant vendor selling them from a ballpark-style insulated bag. Plus: $9 Styrofoam cups of lethal frozen absinthe margaritas.
155 Beach 95th St., Far Rockaway
This summer-season Irish tavern is beach-adjacent and was nearly wrecked during Sandy, but the owners rebuilt, even salvaging the slushy machine dispensing, in local parlance, “frozens” — piña coladas, served in, yes, Styrofoam cups, which will set you back a worthwhile $6. (Add a floater of rum to make the A-train ride home more tolerable.)
26. The Punch Bowl
5820 Broadway, the Bronx
The space has housed drinking establishments for more than a century (during Prohibition as an “ice-cream parlor”). There’s a mounted boar’s head, cheap beer (small-size goblets of Bud are $1), and a recent Saturday found a line of men at the bar reading the paper, yelling at the Yankees. This pub might not have made the list if it were in the East Village, but in the Bronx, it’s a standout.
27. Patriot Saloon
110 Chambers St., Tribeca
The downstairs is too nondescript to be worthy of inclusion, but upstairs reveals its true seediness: Girls bartend in revealing tops and take shots with JC bros. Owner Tom McNeil’s influence is strong. If you’re reminded of Coyote Ugly, you have the right idea (though the order’s reversed: McNeil trained the owner of Coyote before she opened that spot).
28. Boiler Room
86 E. 4th St., East Village
Decades-old Boiler Room is dank and gritty, to be sure, but well loved. (Rufus Wainwright once told this magazine how he would frequent this gay bar in the mid-’90s.) Eastern Bloc, this is not — there’s little dancing, a jukebox instead of DJs, no constant reel of porn; it’s more like a place to come down from that nearby rowdy spot while playing pool.
29. Tommy’s Tavern
1041 Manhattan Ave., Greenpoint
Not often named among revered Greenpoint dives — Call Box, Irene’s — but what’s not to love? There’s a sort-of-stale, trapped-in-the-’90s feel about the place (there’s even a poster of Elaine Benes). It once was home to raucous shows; the stage has closed, the punks are gone, but the place is still full of weirdos.
30. Gotham City Lounge
1293 Myrtle Ave., Bushwick
Some call the prices here “free,” as in “so damn cheap the drinks are basically free.” (Grab a PBR and well shot for $3.) In addition, it’s a nerd haven: One can shoot pool with cosplay ladies around comic-character posters and sip drinks like the Mr. Freeze. The outside wall had a Batman-and-Superman mural long before the current movie mania.
31. WCOU Bar
115 First Ave., East Village
The NYU crowd that frequents this little spot, takeout from nearby Xi’an Famous Foods in tow, may not even know the bar’s true name: It’s much more commonly called Tile Bar. But the call letters should give you a hint that this sister to the Magician and WXOU has a great CD jukebox. That’s the major draw ($3 happy-hour beers aren’t bad either).
32. Distinguished Wakamba Cocktail Lounge
543 Eighth Ave., Midtown
This venue is on the list for being a seedy midtown holdout, of which there aren’t many. Co-eds can stop by after student-rushing Blackbird, grab a cold Corona, and head to the back, where there’s a sequestered table in a mirrored room made private by a little gate, to listen to Mexican ballads by El Komander playing on the stereo.
168 Marcy Ave., Williamsburg
This $3-PBR-dispensing metal bar is the reincarnation of sorts of the owner’s notorious bar in midtown, the late Bellevue. It attracts bachelorette parties that pose on back-room seating (i.e., an electric chair, a coffin) and older devotees who feed dollars to the jukebox to play Slayer. N.B.: Duff’s can be tough to visit as a solo woman.
34. Irish Haven
5721 Fourth Ave., Sunset Park
For 50 years, Irish Haven has been a classic hub for grizzled Sunset Park locals; more recently it’s gained some notoriety as a film location for The Departed. It faced closure in 2011, so be especially grateful for great live music, $5 Guinnesses, and traditions like the “Buy a drink for a friend” chalkboard (pay, leave the friend’s name, and pick their poison).
35. Capri Social Club
156 Calyer St., Greenpoint
Capri Social is home to boxed wine, a CD jukebox that offers Britney Spears and Queen, and a fridge full of school-supply-style containers filled with $1.50 Jell-O shots. It’s a favorite of Greenpointers turned off by the invasion of $15-cocktail bars that pander to, well, them. Look for it as a setting in David Simon’s new James Franco show about the porn industry.
36. Boat Bar
175 Smith St., Boerum Hill
A regular here got over a breakup by spending 50 nights in a row hanging out, chatting with other regulars and bartenders; he says Boat is like a McDonald’s burger: reliable and comforting. “If this escape didn’t exist, a lot of people would have to find different ways to function.” And new places to play tabletop Pac-Man.
37. Homestretch Bar & Grill
214 Kings Hwy., Gravesend
Come for the Mets game and you’ll be privy to heavily Brooklyn-accented chats among regulars about the kids’ college plans, Easter suppers, and what the wife made for dinner. A man in a Jets T-shirt might be shooting darts next to the horse-race mural, $4 Coors in hand. Plus: perhaps the last popcorn ceiling in Brooklyn.
38. Brooklyn Ice House
318 Van Brunt St., Red Hook
This dark spot stocks the Red Hook Star-Revue up front, leaves out jars of Mike & Ikes and Jolly Ranchers on the bar, and serves $5 beer-and-shot specials to accompany Frito pies. Sit in the spacious backyard, complete with fire pit. (Some might protest the young crowd that dominates.)
39. Tip-Top Bar & Grill
432 Franklin Ave., Bed-Stuy
Tip-Top opened decades ago as an underground after-hours spot and is now essentially an Obama-themed bar (photos of him are everywhere). It’s one of the best dives around. But it’s also a lightning rod of gentrification in the neighborhood; on a recent Saturday almost every patron was white, late 20s. Two of them were making a paper airplane out of money.
40. Doc Holliday’s
141 Ave. A, East Village
Rambunctious honky-tonk Doc’s is another bar with Village Idiot connections — note the pretty bartenders, the shots, the sassy signs: “Please Take Your Sense of Entitlement Elsewhere.” For 22 years, it’s been reliably open nightly (through 9/11, through hurricanes, on Christmas Day).
41. Three of Cups Lounge
83 First Ave., East Village
A local bartender once very fondly described this “lounge” — which sits below its sister, a reputable Italian restaurant — as smelling “like wet dog and asshole,” adding unprintable stories about a legendary bartender. After 24 years, it’s earned its stripes but tends to stay off the NYU bar crawl. Plus: Order a pizza, get free beer during happy hour.
42. Nassau Bar
118 Nassau St., Financial District
You’d think a bikini bar wouldn’t make the list — the bartenders here wear next to nothing, with maybe a bottle opener hooked via carabiner to a thong. But this is not an owner-was-sued-for-sexual-harassment sort of spot. The crowd isn’t too fratty, the ambience isn’t overtly sexual, and it’s the type of place you feel comfortable baring your soul.
43. Palace Café
206 Nassau Ave., Greenpoint
Palace lives up to its name in size (at least by Brooklyn standards) if not décor, which is almost Swiss-lodge-like. There’s a long rounded bar up front and tables scattered throughout (in back are a dining room and a lamp-lit bathroom that seems to belong in a grandmother’s house). Barefoot-brand wine is sold by the single-serving bottle.
44. The Shannon Pot
21-59 44th Dr., Long Island City
At first seemingly another Irish bar in Queens, but it has a strong history of borough love — from being a holdout when the 5 Pointz building, which shared a block with the Shannon Pot’s original location, was demolished, to being a favorite stop pre– or post–PS1 “Warm Ups” parties.
45. The Abbey Pub
237 W. 105th St., Morningside Heights
A low-key bar frequented by college students may not have the same character as some on this list, but it has value all the same: Come to this Irish pub for trivia night, grab a Bud, and reminisce about dorm days with just-21 Columbia students.
46. Reif’s Tavern
302 E. 92nd St., Upper East Side
In a neighborhood where calling a bar fratty is an unfortunately true cliché, Reif’s low-key atmosphere is welcome. Post up in the backyard with a PBR; become enough of a regular that you reserve the whole area for a summertime birthday.
47. Dive 75
101 W. 75th St., Upper West Side
Dive 75 shares owners with a group of bars with dive in their names — there’s also 96th Street’s Dive Bar and Broadway Dive. But this one made the cut thanks to its authentic denlike feel (fabric couches, Connect Four, candy bowls). Come weekends to catch older Columbia students posing for Snaps in front of the fish tank.
48. Mother Pug’s
1371 Forest Ave., Staten Island
This place has a bit of an anything-goes vibe (e.g., the food menu is usually free pretzels but a Derby viewing will offer complimentary BBQ) that’s reminiscent of a small-town VFW hall. It’s best known for punk shows, where things get rowdy. Cool off in the large backyard tiki bar (sometimes there’s another show out back).
49. The Jar Bar
45-06 48th Ave., Sunnyside
The Jar Bar took over when Leitrim House closed. Sip $5 Jar-and-Shot specials in the garden, where a vendor might pass through selling DVDs; vie for top score on the Kiss pinball game; or catch the Mets game at the bar. It doesn’t have the showstopper quality of a Milano’s or a Rudy’s, but regulars couldn’t live without it.
Nancy Whiskey Pub
1 Lispenard St., Tribeca
Narrow and rickety, Nancy Whiskey brings up the rear because it feels like it might collapse at any moment, particularly when you’re in the low-ceilinged loft sharing a pitcher and some fries at a booth. But downstairs there’s shuffleboard and a tiny patio, as well as neighbors and cops from the local station chatting each other up.
*This article appears in the May 2, 2016 issue of New York Magazine.