It’s been a rough few years for our city’s dives. Not only did we lose the likes of Punter’s Pub and Old Sully’s, but for awhile it seemed like Sullivan’s and The Tam were also headed for that great sawdust-covered floor in the sky. Thankfully, they only shuttered briefly because of management turnover and re-emerged unscathed (read: still a little skanky). So when a night of expensive cocktailing sounds about as appealing as a DMV visit, it’s time to drink a couple of pitchers in the dark and call it a night. Dive bars don’t care how you’re dressed or what you do for work or what your bourbon of choice is. Instead, the dive bar invites you to drink a few domestic beers, hang with a decrepit regular, and escape your own life narrative. Here are 13 of the Hub's most classic dives serving booze instead of pretension.
South End | Est. 1960s Delux is like that stubborn homeowner who refuses to sell to the big, bad developer. Even as things all around it change, the South End dive remains unapologetically itself. Accented by Christmas lights, vinyl, and other kitsch, the narrow bar caters most to longtimers who yearn for a place to hide out rather than be seen -- and, in fact, the current owners were longtime customers before buying the spot a few years back, saving it from certain destruction. While Delux is indeed ground zero for cheap ‘Gansetts, folks forget there’s also a tiny kitchen in the back that turns out a damn fine burger and roasted half-chicken.
South End | Est. 1980 Both the bar and the patrons are showing their age, but what’s old is still charming in a creaky, divey way. The campy decor is so on the nose, it almost feels like a sitcom set, but it’s the bracing drinks, gruff service, and grizzled regulars who provide the true charm. Most of Boston’s gay men of a certain age have an Eagle story they can tell, though many are best forgotten.
Allston | Est. 1932 Okay, so true dive bars don’t have lines out the door every Friday and Saturday night. On the other hand, “The Model” has historical schtick hanging on the walls, a twentysomething pinball machine, and '80s and '90s dance tunes blasting most nights -- which all sounds pretty divey to us. What was once a full restaurant is now, many decades later, a post-collegiate hipster spot where those rich in social capital but poor in actual capital mix and mingle while sucking down High Lifes and potent mixed-drinks (call them “cocktails” and you’re missing the whole point).
Harvard Square | Est. 1951 Looking for a bar with a neon sign… on the inside? Search no further. This multi-floored Harvard Square institution has a damn fine beer garden, and, more relevant to cold weather drinking -- zero windows. Slide into a booth and make sure to get one of their double cheeseburgers and waffle fries (or if you're feeling fancy -- a still-economical double lobster roll!), to soak up all the cheap beers you’re drinking.
Somerville and Amesbury | Est. 2009 By far the classiest dive the city has to offer (but not SO classy as to be excluded from the category), Trina’s is the place to get a bucket of ponies and a chili cheese dog (or three). This Somerville spot has all the usual suspects in cans, all local beer on tap, and a sneaky good lineup of cocktails. The team at Trina’s expanded to Amesbury in 2017, taking over the former No. 8 Kitchen Space, and bringing the North Shore plenty more High Lifes along with it.
Allston/Brighton | Est. 1964 Much like Nicolas Cage, this hole-in-the-wall has been around since 1964. Home to an assortment of well-used arcade games, a pool table, darts, and most importantly, free popcorn, the Sil has some of the cheapest pitchers around, and top flight people watching. Hence the popcorn.
Back Bay | Est. 1998 Looking for a bar that really feels like your home away from home? Bukowski's Mug Club gives drinkers six months to cycle through a whopping 136 beers to earn a house mug. It may be a bit on the fancy side for a dive, but the low-key atmosphere and steady flow of regulars that keep it busy at all hours make it so. (PS: The newer Inman Square Bukowski doesn’t qualify as a dive, but it’s still a charmingly low-key place to grab a beer and a burger.)
Central Square | Est. 1970s The Cantab plays host to everything from poetry open mics to bluegrass to punk shows. Sometimes there’s a cover and sometimes there isn’t, but there’s always going to be something interesting going on inside this two-floor, dual-staged temple of glorious divehood.
Davis Square | Est. 1932 Peddling cheap beer and a jukebox stocked with ass-kicking rock, every surface of this Irish dive has been carved up with whatever sharp object patrons can get their hands on; one bar-top message even proclaims a deep affection for bacon. Plan to slam a dozen $2.50 PBRs while talking openly about your feelings.
The Garden | Est. 1933 Don your finest Marchand jersey and enjoy the blue collar bear hug that is Sully’s. Not only is it “Where Real Fans Meet,” but it also boasts the “Longest Bar in Boston” and packs everything -- as in two pool tables, two pop-a-shot hoops, and five arcade games!!! -- into a narrow, neon-lit hall. Oh, yeah: The bar also slings $3 ‘Gansett tallboys. Just beware the opposite-of-private men’s room.
South Boston I Est. ?? Assuming you muster the courage to step into one of Boston’s most notorious dives, you'll be rewarded with strong booze, free pool, and just enough dim lighting to not accidentally look a local in the eye but still appreciate all the graffiti. With no sign out front, this unassuming spot has a Kelly green facade dotted with two tiny windows.
Theater District | Est. 1940s While folks at the Tam like to think of it as the bar time forgot, the only thing being forgotten after a night of drinking there is your name. Best/worst dive bar feature: no door to the men’s room. As in, none at all. Transparency is the word of the day.
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