Food & Drink

The Best Dive Bars in Charleston

Sydney Gallimore Published On 01/27/2016 Published On 01/27/2016

Sometimes, all you want out of life is an ice-cold cheap beer and a dark, grungy hole-in-the-wall where you can drink it. And Charleston has plenty of those places. So put on your skinny jeans and that ironic T-shirt you got at a thrift store, and head out to one of these 12 favorite dive bars in Chucktown:

Courtesy of Annie Emery

Recovery Room

Downtown

Rec Room is the quintessential dive bar: it’s owned by a guy who goes by “Boston,” it’s always dark, the music is loud, and there’s plenty of PBR flowing (they’re the #2 purveyor of Pabst Blue Ribbon in the country, after all). They host all kinds of events, like bar trivia, live music, corn hole tournaments, and bocce leagues, and Sunday brunch features NFL Sunday Ticket and plenty of Tater Tachos to go around.

AC’s

Downtown

You can spot AC’s on King St thanks to the line of college students that weaves its way through the cloud of smokers lighting up out front on a Saturday night. That line continues inside for drinks and at the bathroom, so be prepared to wait. The trade-off is that the kitchen stays open 'til 1:30am, so you can order a Death Burger (it packs the heat with banana and jalapeño peppers, plus an insanely fiery sauce) and loaded fries whenever the mood strikes.

Local 616

Local 616

Downtown

If you like the atmosphere of a dive bar, but you’re more of a cocktail person, Local 616 is your spot. The Downtown bar serves up tasty craft ‘tails (like a poblano pineapple-infused margarita) that’ll make you feel like you’re at a fancy club (but really you’re in a dark bar watching soccer on the big screen).

Royal American

The Royal American

NoMo

Royal American settled into NoMo before it was cool, and they’ve easily stuck around thanks to the laid-back vibe of their dog-friendly patio, cheap beer ($5 pitchers of High Life anyone?), and the fact that they’re one of the few bars Downtown with a parking lot. In addition to a menu that includes fried bologna sandwiches, they’ve also got a stage inside that’s constantly showcasing with live, local bands who sound even better after you’ve had a shot (or two) of the house-made cinnamon whiskey.

Upper Deck Tavern

Downtown

Upper Deck Tavern is the kind of not-so-secret secret dive bar (you have to access it from an unmarked alley on King St) that’s attracted something of a cult following among hipsters, college students, and young professionals alike. Despite the semi-speakeasy entrance, it completely lacks pretension: show up in a tuxedo or gym shorts and you’ll still feel right at home.

Burns Alley

Burns Alley

Downtown

Another hidden treasure on King St, Burns Alley is rarely crowded and always a good time. They don’t have food, but they do serve up a mean GrandMa shot (that’s Grand Marnier for the uninitiated) and lots of local beers on tap. Want to feel cool? Take the “secret entrance” through La Hacienda’s bathroom (a space they share with Burns).

Tin Roof

Tin Roof

West Ashley

Hands down the best bar in West Ashley, you’ll recognize Tin Roof from Shovels & Rope’s ‘Birmingham’ music video (go watch it now if you haven’t seen it. We’ll wait). Stop by and snack on the schnitzel plate as you listen to some live music played the way it was meant to be heard -- loud enough to create waves in your pint glass.  

The Griffon

The Griffon

French Quarter

Most recently featured in an episode of Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain, The Griffon is the kind of no-frills joint that’s been a staple in Charleston for over 20 years. The walls (and ceiling) are papered in autographed dollar bills, the beer is cold, and the food -- fried pickles, mozz sticks -- is exactly what you’re looking for on a dive bar kind of night.

Tattooed Moose

Tattooed Moose

Downtown (& other locations)

Tattooed Moose is the kind of dive bar you should visit on an empty stomach because you’ll want to sample the duck fat fries, chocolate & bacon pie, and their famous, triple decker duck confit club. Bring a Sharpie, because you’ll definitely want to leave your mark on the walls (it’s OK, they encourage this kind of delinquent behavior).

Gene’s Haufbrau

Avondale

Gene’s gets high marks for having pretty much every bar game known to man, and then a few more. Darts, pool, shuffleboard, foosball, Connect 4, Jenga... bring your competitive spirit and a thirst for cold beer; their bar boasts over 180 different beers, ranging from Bell’s to Sam Smith.

Moe's Crosstown

Moe’s Crosstown

Hampton Park

Don’t be deterred by Moe’s unassuming facade: inside, it’s warm and welcoming and a great place to spend a few hours. Go on Tuesdays for their half-priced burger night or on Sunday for a surprisingly delicious brunch.

Cutty’s Bar & Grill

Downtown

Frequented mostly by the college crowd, Cutty’s is an under-the-radar hipster oasis that stands out from the rest of Charleston's bar scene with $2 beer specials, stay for the vending machine that dispenses art and condoms. What more could you need, really?

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Sydney Gallimore is a food writer from Charleston who’s had more than her fair share of PBR. Follow her at sydney_inc on Twitter.

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1. Recovery Room 685 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

How does a Charleston dive sell more 12 oz cans of PBR than any other in the country? By selling them cheap and keeping them cold: it doesn't hurt that The Recovery Room's signature beer has quite the following. The twelve flavors of chicken wings and beloved tater tot nachos don't hurt, either. Foosball, pinball, darts, bocce, billiards and trivia nights hosted in the slightly grungy space give the PBR hounds something to do.

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2. AC's 467 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

AC's Bar and Grill on King St is rowdy college-kid dive by night, and a rowdy college-kid dive brunch spot by Sunday morning. After a night of pool, dancing on tables and beer-and-shot combinations, you can load up on a decadent menu of exaggerated American dishes served on plastic plates late-night, like loaded nachos and burgers topped with punishingly hot sauce. Come back in the morning for equally gut-busting hangover cures, because cheesy eggs and ham in a waffle sandwich fixes most ailments.

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3. Local 616 616 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29403

Casual sports bar Local 616 revolves around soccer games, opening early to accommodate game day fans. Futbol fans get a kick out of six variations on the Moscow Mule, and specialty cocktails that exceed typical sports bar expectations (a standout, The Old 616, features Fernet Branca, bitters, muddled orange, cherry, sugar, bourbon and soda). The food is American and heavy, with fried bologna and American cheese on Texas toast and a fat honey bun topped with melted cheese and bacon bits.

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4. The Royal American 970 Morrison Dr, Charleston, SC 29403

This is the ultimate hipster Disneyland in dive bar form, with rare cheap canned beers and fried bologna sandwiches. The space also doubles as a concert venue, bringing acts from all over.

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5. Upper Deck Tavern 353 King St, Charleston, SC 29401

Upper Deck Tavern in Downtown Chucktown is the kind of not-so-secret secret dive bar (you have to access it from an unmarked alley on King Street) that’s attracted something of a cult following among hipsters, college students, and young professionals alike. Menu items include all your favorite bar staples— juicy burgers, hearty salads and heaping sides of fries or mac and cheese. Despite the semi-speakeasy entrance, UDT completely lacks pretension: show up in a tuxedo or gym shorts and you’ll still feel right at home.

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6. Burns Alley 354 King St, Charleston, SC 29401

Accessible through the secret entrance in La Hacienda's bathroom, or through the front door, Burns Alley is a great dive bar for a lower-key night. It's rarely crowded, with a ton of beer on tap, plus they serve up a great Grand Marnier shot.

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7. Tin Roof 1117 Magnolia Rd, Charleston, SC 29407 (West Ashley)

Tin Roof is lauded as the best bar in West Ashley, and you may recognize it from Shovels & Rope’s “Birmingham” music video (go watch it now if you haven’t seen it. We’ll wait). But it’s more than the perfect dive bar setting for a night out— stop in for its Chucktown-famous bingo nights, schnitzel plates, and very, very loud live music. There’s a ton of beer on tap, plus all the whiskey your heart desires.

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8. The Griffon 18 Vendue Range, Charleston, SC 29401

This dive bar is located in one of the most tourist-friendly areas of the city and has been a Charleston staple for over 20 years. Southern food and plenty of beer make for a filling, delicious visit. Don't leave before taping a signed dollar bill to the wall. Like the decor, the food is worth a million bucks.

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9. Tattooed Moose 1137 Morrison Dr, Charleston, SC 29403 (Johns Island)

There may be a moose head hanging on the wall of this celebrated dive, but there's another animal that is really the star: the duck, as in the must-order duck club sandwich. The signature plate is triple stacked on sweet Hawaiian bread and layers of brined duck confit, duck-fat fries, peppered bacon and smoked cheddar create a flavor mouthful. Other sandwiches on the indulgent menu aren't to be overlooked, from a sourdough American grilled cheese to a Moroccan gyro, and get washed down from the list of craft beers on offer.

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10. Gene's Haufbrau 817 Savannah Hwy, Charleston, SC 29407 (Avondale)

Established in 1952, this old school saloon in South Charleston specializes domestic and import beer on draught; check out their chalkboards regularly as the offerings change seasonally. Gene's also serves over 10 kinds of sandwiches, from mesquite BBQ chicken to the neighborhood namesake "Avondale" with Angus beef and fried green tomato.

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11. Moe's Crosstown Tavern 714 Rutledge Ave, Charleston, SC 29403

A warm neighborhood bar where you can get a burger for breakfast.

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12. Cutty's Bar and Grill 79 Broad St, Charleston, SC 29401

With a mostly-college student scene, Cutty's has more of an underrated hipster scene than most Charleston bars. With $2 beer specials and a vending machine that dispenses art and condoms, what else could you ask for in a dive bar?

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