Food & Drink

The Best Dive Bars in Charlotte

Published On 01/26/2016 Published On 01/26/2016
Justin Driscoll/Thrillist (edited)

A great dive bar is essentially a good old neighborhood hangout that has some years -- and definitely some stories -- under its belt. It's a place where you'll find the same familiar faces, cheap beer, and some other creature comforts like billiards or a jukebox. Surprisingly, in between a slew of sports bars and touristy nightclubs, Charlotte has its fair share of tucked-away dives all with one similar philosophy: stay a while, drink beer, and don't be a jerk.

Elizabeth Billiards

Elizabeth Billiards

Plaza Midwood

One of the longest-standing bars in Charlotte, this place may not be in its original building, but it’s doing the same thing it’s done since it opened in 1986. As with most dives, the outside is nothing special (it’s hard to tell if the place even has a single window), but the inside offers all of the usual distractions: a game of pool or darts and some cheap canned beer.

Thirsty Beaver Saloon

Plaza Midwood

From each childhood relic to the Nelson, Cash, and Jennings tunes coming from the jukebox, once you get past its orange cinder block exterior and barred windows, you’ll immediately be entranced by all the character (and characters) inside. Aside from cold beer and a page-long bloody mary list, you may be tempted to try a bottle of Johny Bootlegger's "Sing Sing Sour Grape," which co-owner Mark Wilson describes as a cross between grape Kool-Aid with Dimetapp (Mmm... tasty). And, its infamous pickleback shots are made with homemade juice from the bar’s personal “Pickle Lady.” Aside from all the old school country knick-knacks to take in, there’s also a legendary pair of bullhorns covered with bras.

Tommy's Pub

Tommy's Pub

Plaza Midwood

One wouldn’t just stumble into this bar; it’s the kind of place you’d seek out after a word of mouth recommendation. The best way to describe it is an old Southern basement -- from the homey smell, wood paneling, and NASCAR décor, to the ‘90s-style televisions and old fridge behind the bar (where the beer is kept). Some nights, it gets rowdy with a band in the back room; other nights you might be the only patron aside from the owner, who’s sitting on a nearby bar stool eating his supper while catching up with his daughter who’s manning the bar. PS: this is a cash-only establishment, but you'll be just fine with a $10 dollar bill.

Justin Driscoll/Thrillist

Sanctuary Pub

NoDa

Aptly name, this bar is a second home to the people of NoDa, especially those who live for PBR and whiskey. On any drive-by, you're bound to see the same folks taking a smoke break on the front sidewalk. Inside, the walls are marred with graffiti and the general atmosphere is straight up rock and roll. Bonus points for the delicious, greasy food options like wings and fries. Also, it doesn't hurt that it neighbors one of the best live music venues in town.

Justin Driscoll/Thrillist

Smokey Joe's Cafe

Elizabeth

A hidden gem and institution, this is the kind of place Jimmy Buffett would approve of. It's oozing with character from interior to exterior but the beachy outdoor patio wins hands down. From the sanded ping pong area and covered television nook to the cozy fire pits and swinging chairs, it's easy to get lost here on any kind of afternoon. Good for you, the beer is cheap and the crowd is always down for a good time.

Justin Driscoll/Thrillist

Hattie's Tap & Tavern

Plaza Hills

For starters, this dive is no brodeo and actually has a good male to female ratio. Whether those gals are looking to meet eligible bachelors, that's another story. Aside from the friendly patrons, this place is incredible for several reasons: the enormous covered outdoor patio (which sometimes includes a pop-up taco stand), the rotating draft list chock full of over 20 craft beers (mostly local), and the super cool artsy-vibe. Also, did we mention you can bring your dog? Every night offers a different form of entertainment, from bingo and karaoke to yoga and live music. In true dive bar fashion, there's a cigarette vending machine up front as well as a few dartboards.

Justin Driscoll/Thrillist

Midwood Country Club

Plaza Midwood

Owner Warren Stiles knows a thing or two about what makes a bar tick. Hell, the dude managed Elizabeth Billiards for 20-something years prior to opening his own place. Though he thinks Midwood Country Club is almost “too fancy” to be dubbed a dive bar, most would say it fits the bill. The large, open concept space fosters weekly pool, poker, and dart leagues, and the long, welcoming bar has tasty craft beer on tap as well as fully stocked liquor shelves. When asked what makes a dive a dive, Stiles' reply was pretty simple: “Where people go to talk.”

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Lauren Blake enjoys writing about restaurants and bars just as much as she likes frequenting them. Well, almost as much. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @palieblake.

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1. Elizabeth Billiards 1400 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205 (Plaza Midwood)

Shoot stripes and solids at this casual dive in Plaza Midwood where billiards and beers rule the scene. While this spot may be small, it's the top spot to hang with the local crowd of pool sharks. You can also sit back and watch sports on one of the many mounted flat screen TVs if billiards isn't your thing.

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2. Thirsty Beaver Saloon 1225 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28204 (Plaza Midwood)

Set in a boxy, orange cinderblock building next to the railroad tracks, this small bar with the giant beaver in a cowboy hat painted on its wall doesn’t look like much from the outside. But “The Beaver,” as locals affectionately call it, is a country bar with more character than most. Owned by two brothers, it’s filled with honky-tonk trinkets and colorful patrons who come for the free jukebox, live music, and cheap drinks. On Sunday afternoons you see crowds gathering -- often arriving by motorcycle -- for live bands and relaxing on the small front deck.

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3. Tommy's Pub 2007 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205 (Plaza Midwood)

Drinking at Tommy's is like hanging out at a friend's house. Beer's are in the fridge, quirky decor lines the wall, and the vibe is homey and familiar. The scene is lively, so you'll be sure to make some new acquaintances if you stop by.

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4. Sanctuary Pub 507 E 36th St, Charlotte, NC (Noda)

This neighborhood stop in NoDa regularly hosts lively events-- last Halloween, they decked the entire bar out as a punk rock zombie den--but it's also a good place to chill out with a beer on a weeknight and chat up the friendly barkeep.

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5. Smokey Joe's Cafe 510 Briar Creek Rd, Charlotte, NC 28205 (Cotswold)

This kitschy Cotswold area cafe is a neighborhood institution. Known for their quirky decor, generous pours, and killer outdoor patio (they have a fire pit!), Smokey Joe's is a great place to soak in Charlotte's local color.

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6. Hattie's Tap & Tavern 2918 The Plaza, Charlotte, NC 28205

The locals can't get enough of this Charlotte dive bar.

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7. Midwood Country Club 2123 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205 (Plaza Midwood)

Owned and operated by the former manager of Elizabeth Billiards, Midwood Country Club is part dive bar, part neighborhood social club. While the vibe may feel "locals-only," the bartenders make newcomers welcome with their generous pours and friendly conversation.

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