Food & Drink

The Best Dive Bars in Detroit

Published On 01/25/2016 Published On 01/25/2016

Serious question: at what point does a place become too trendy to any longer be considered a dive? Detroit has a whole lot of places that qualify as "dives" in that they are a) old, b) really seriously old, and c) possess that je ne sais crud and grizzled old (read: NOT YOUNG) clientele of a "dive bar." But just because a bar is old doesn't automatically make it a dive, so this time around we're bumping hotspots like the Bronx Bar, the Old Miami, and Honest John's by virtue of the fact that they are, in fact, hotspots, and ensuring only Detroit’s last hold-outs of neighborhood simplicity made the cut. You're welcome.

Bumbo's

Bumbo's

Hamtramck

While it is true that there can be no such thing as a "new" dive bar, sometimes a new bar opens inside the bones of an old dive, and it is the same dive as before, only "new" in the most technical sense. Such is the case with Bumbo's: once Hank's, still a dive.

Tom's Tavern

Seven Mile & Wyoming

You want a dive bar with character? This place is your Nicolas Cage. It's loaded with history, and not just from its nearly 90 years of existence. In recent years the rickety building has been driven into twice -- only once was on purpose -- and, throughout its lifetime, has survived burglary attempts, fires, the boom and subsequent decline of the surrounding neighborhood, and the death of Tom himself. This is the rare kind of spot in which the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, and it is only still here today for the Herculean efforts of those who cannot allow it to close, and there aren't many places like this left -- not in Detroit, not anywhere.

Jeff Waraniak/Thrillist

Nancy Whiskey

North Corktown

Another ancient dive that was almost lost to us forever due to a fire in 2009, Nancy Whiskey, established in 1902, is a popular watering hole with live music from local bands and blues musicians, Friday fish frys, and Whiskey Wednesdays with $1 PBRs and $2 domestics.

Jumbo's Bar

Midtown

Jumbo's, not to be confused with Bumbo's, is one of the last remaining true dives of Midtown, in the sense that all of the others have evolved into super-trendy spots and trendiness is the antithesis of diveyness. Dirt-cheap drinks? Check. Small stage for live music and a jukebox? Check. Regulars of questionable repute? Check. Places like this are a dying breed, especially in this 'hood, so get there while you can.

Abick's Bar

Abick's Bar

Southwest Detroit

91-year-old proprietor Manya Soviak passed away in 2014, and anyone who ever knew her (which is everyone who ever went to Abick's) still mourns her passing. But her family is keeping the traditions at Detroit's oldest family-operated bar (109 years old this year!) very much alive. Abick’s is the kind of place where all the neighborhood residents convene as the primary social gathering spot, where everyone knows everyone and there is a distinct family vibe throughout, and  where you can get an honest-to-God home-cooked meal -- like Manya's chili -- while hanging out with all your (new) friends.  

LJ's Lounge

Corktown

You either love LJ's, or you just don't understand LJ's. Nestled amongst the super-hip Corktown joints Slows Bar BQ, Astro Coffee, Sugar House, and Gold Cash Gold, LJ's is one of the sole remnants of a Corktown BPC (Before Phil Cooley). It's claustrophobically narrow (it's maybe not the most welcoming place), occasionally there's karaoke, and mysteriously there is the entire Budweiser-sponsored "Great Kings of Africa" painted mirror series.

Jeff Waraniak/Thrillist

Two Way Inn

Nortown

A lot of the places on this list are old and loaded with history, but none measure up to the Two Way Inn. At various points during its long, long life (going back to 1876), it has been a hotel, a general store, a dance hall, a jail, a brothel, and a speakeasy. It has served liquor continuously since 1876 (see: speakeasy). And now it is a friendly, family-owned establishment for which "dive" is a misnomer; much as with Abick's, its biggest claim to "diveyness" is an old building and cheap booze, when really this is just another classic neighborhood establishment where people -- the community, if you will -- gather. Enjoy some home-cooked food, Michigan beers, and house-infused Bloody Marys on Sundays. It is, as the bar prefers to say, a "finer dive."

Flickr/Thomas Hawk

Stonehouse Bar

State Fair

The Stonehouse Bar checks a few of the ubiquitous dive bar qualifiers. Firstly, it claims to be the oldest continuously operating bar in Detroit. It's not the only one to do so and it's not like there's anyone left alive from the 1860s to ask, so let's just go with an "extremely old" label. Secondly, it's also a biker bar, and biker bars are automatically dive bars. Fact. Plus, how many other biker bars are there in Detroit? Exactly.

Temple Bar

Midtown

Temple Bar’s owner has been holding out from the Ilitches' hostile takeover of Hockeytown for its transformation into Hockeyland: The Theme Park and, you know, that can't have been an easy thing to do. The Temple Bar gets a mixed crowd depending on the day -- the monthly "Haute to Death" dance parties are going to look a little different than an average Tuesday afternoon -- and is one of the ever-dwindling number of remaining old-school (read: divey) LGBT bars in Detroit, though it is more "come one, come all" than anything. This place is a moment in time that is not going to last forever, folks, so enjoy it while you can.  

The Painted Lady Lounge

The Painted Lady Lounge

Hamtramck

Look, pretty much this whole list could be Hamtramck bars. And pretty much every Hamtramck bar could be on this list. But we have to be picky and this one has live music and serious punk-rock pedigree, and also "character," which is a word a lot of people use when they mean "could use some elbow grease and a Clorox wipe" but are trying to be nice about it. Grimey in the best way possible!

Donovan's Pub

Donovan's Pub

Southwest Detroit

At some point, new folks that could possibly take the “hipster” label discovered this place, located in the no-man's land of I-75 and Vernor, and turned it into a dive bar dance hall. You can also play pool. For the most part, though, it's a chill place to drink some cheap booze with locals and regulars.

Giovanna's Lounge

Southwest Detroit

This is the place you go when you want to hang out with local truckers and factory workers, and it is great. There's one pool table and a big, beautiful patio out back; the booze is cheap and the people are friendly. It's essentially an idyllic dive.

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Nicole Rupersburg is a freelance writer who misses the days when the Bronx was really a dive. Follow her on IG: @eatsdrinksandleaves.

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1. Bumbo's 3001 Holbrook St, Hamtramck, MI 48212 (Hamtramck)

Replacing the old Hamtramck dive bar K. Hank's Lounge, Bumbo's has an updated look and feel -- cute vintage glassware contains more "cocktails" than "mixed drinks," and the menu of modern Polish food aspires to be a step above the typical Ham-town Polish dive bar fare. Run by an adorable husband and wife team, Bumbo's is the Brooklyn-esque bar Detroit's been waiting for.

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2. Tom's Tavern 10093 W 7 Mile Rd, Detroit, MI 48221

Ramshackle does not been to describe dive bar Tom’s Tavern, open since the 1920s: operating hours fluctuate, the floor boards bend, the bar is crooked, much like the standing structure itself. Yet, still the people come, drawn by cheap pints (don’t expect anything craft) in a homey space filled with mismatched chairs and vintage photos. Jukebox tunes play on nights when there’s nobody banging on the piano in the corner of the bar. Tom’s doesn’t have a food license, but take comfort in the fact that a pot of free chili just may be on offer. If setbacks over the years like a building fire and a truck plowing straight into this saloon didn’t stop it, what can?

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3. Nancy Whiskey 2644 Harrison St, Detroit, MI 48216 (Corktown)

Established in 1902, Corktown’s Nancy Whiskey holds one of the oldest liquor licenses in Detroit. Besides pour whiskey, the Irish pub, inhabiting the ground floor of an old corner building, does other thing right: fry seafood. Fish ’n’ chips, battered cod and seafood tacos are all the rage at a weekly fry. Live music on the weekends and television sets reliably tuned to Lions, Tigers and Wings games keeps the ‘Cheers’ atmosphere alive.

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4. Jumbo's Bar 3736 3rd St, Detroit, MI 48201 (Midtown)

Get your beer and shot on at this hole in the wall dive in Midtown. The pint sized brick-walled spot is down and dirty in the best possible way. Come for the cheap drinks, stay for the raucous neighborhood vibes.

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5. Abick's 3500 Gilbert St, Detroit, MI 48210

The longtime owner of Abick’s passed away in 2014, after a long stint living above the bar her parents opened in 1919, but the place still has the near-century-old familial charm it always has: original tin ceilings, a old-time brass cashier, walls filled with old family photos. A cigar lounge, all smoke and scotch, lives in the back of the dive, for puffing pleasure. You can find a reliable platoon of regulars shooting pool under the bar’s green-tinted lamps, but that doesn’t mean the atmosphere is exclusive to the old guard: the wave of young people moving into the neighborhood have adopted this anachronistic standby as their new favorite, too.

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6. L J's Lounge 2114 Michigan Ave, Detroit, MI 48216 (Corktown)

Since the late 1970s', this no-frills dive has been a top spot in Corktown to hang with the locals over stiff drinks, cheap beer, and weekly karaoke.

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7. Two Way Inn 17897 Mount Elliott St, Detroit, MI 48212 (Hamtramck)

The Two Way Inn, established in 1876 by Colonel Philetus Norris, is the oldest bar in Detroit having gone through many reincarnations as village jail and general store, brothel, speakeasy, and now as a “fine dive.” You wont find a menu here, but owner and bartender Mary will host a weekly “popup” or two with homemade comfort foods like pasta, meatloaf, and shepherd’s pie. The first Sunday of every cold-season month Danielle hosts a brunch where she makes drinks from her homemade stash of vegetable infused alcohol. You have to be buzzed in for a bottle of domestic, international, or local craft beer, or to catch a glimpse of Col. Norris who is rumored to have never left this dark, weathered, underground-style bar.

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8. The Stone House Bar 19803 Ralston St, Detroit, MI 48203

This local dive on Detroit's East Side touts itself as Michigan's oldest continually operating bar, and boy, do they know how to do it right. They've got plenty of brews on tap to enjoy inside the prohibition era digs or outside on their large Victorian patio, an old school jukebox stocked with the greatest hits, and a backyard where you can barbecue all weekend long.

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9. Temple Bar 2906 Cass Ave, Detroit, MI 48201 (Midtown)

This spot has been open under the same ownership for over 25 years, and in those years has become something of a dive bar icon. The bartender will buzz you in through locked doors, and you'll be swept up in the lively crowd and enjoy cheap drinks.

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10. Painted Lady Lounge 2930 Jacob St, Hamtramck, MI 48212 (Hamtramck)

Hamtramck’s Painted Lady lounge (rumored to be Detroit’s oldest) could use a paint job, sure, with turquoise and coral pink chips falling off of the wood-sided facade of a former Victorian-style home, but fixing that would betray the standby’s unpretentious, rough-and-tumble charm. Regulars gulp PBR on-tap after downing well shots as regular punk music acts keep them nodding their heads in the fashionably unfashionable orange-walled space. Weekly events, from movie nights to live comedy to bar-side taco nights keep the place full.

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11. Donovan's Pub 3003 W Vernor Hwy, Detroit, MI 48216

This neighborhood pub is a staple in Detroit's night life.

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12. Giovanna's Lounge 3537 W Vernor Hwy, Detroit, MI 48216 (Mexicantown)

Cocktails are king at this Mexicantown dive bar and lounge space where the clientele is friendly and the pours are generous. Here you'll come a stranger and leave a regular.

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