Food & Drink

The Best Dive Bars in Indianapolis

Published On 01/27/2016 Published On 01/27/2016
Best Dive Bars Indianapolis
Jolene Ketzenberger/Thrillist (Edited)

Though they're not as smoky as they used to be, a good dive bar in Indy is still a little sticky, shabby, and has well-worn floors and bar stools that may have seen better days. The best dives here have something else going for them: history. They’ve got loyal patrons who’ve been coming for years and who like the joints just the way they are, from the perfectly curated jukeboxes to the graffiti-covered bathroom walls to the, yes, killer cheeseburgers. These are Indy's very best.

Jolene Ketzenberger/Thrillist

Alley Cat Lounge

Broad Ripple

The most classic of dive bars, this Indy icon is situated in an alley just off the Broad Ripple strip. Its newish (and spiffier) Front Room has a proper front door on Carrollton Ave, but it’s the old cat that wins awards for best dive in the city. And no wonder. It’s dark and scruffy yet comfortable and friendly. Plus, you can get a drink from 7am to 3am, and the kitchen is always open.

Workingman’s Friend

Haughville

You know you’re here for the cheeseburger. Don’t even try to pretend otherwise. We all know it’s one of the best in the city (those crispy edges, right?). Add a side of onion rings, because those are pretty damn good, too, and if a beer at lunch is copacetic, go for that as well. And this is pretty much a lunchtime-only spot. The Workingman’s Friend closes by late afternoon on most weekdays and Saturdays, proving that it’s not just late hours that make a good dive bar.

Jolene Ketzenberger/Thrillist

Connor’s Pub

Broad Ripple

Another Broad Ripple mainstay, Connor’s Pub is located well off the beaten path on the north side of the canal. It draws a loyal clientele of neighborhood regulars, old-school hippie types and Butler University students, but this crowded Irish pub also wins fans for its late-night eats, including cheese balls and pizza. Or even cheese balls on pizza (we won’t judge).  

Chatterbox Jazz Club

Mass Ave

If you’re going to the Chatterbox, you’re going for music, ambience, and a congenial crowd -- and you’ll find all of that just about every night in this tiny bar that’s always strung with Christmas lights. Expect a cover on Fridays and Saturdays, but other nights the jazz is free, and you’ll hear some terrific musicians. Don’t expect much in the way of food, but the Chatterbox makes up for it with the sheer coolness of the place.

Michael Thierwechter

Red Key Tavern

Meridian-Kessler

The Red Key doesn’t really have a dive bar feel -- the place has its rules and patrons are too well behaved for it to be a real rough-and-tumble dive. But the place has been open since Prohibition ended in 1933, and it seems like little has changed. A recent renovation restored the front windows and brightened things up a bit, but the Red Key pretty much stays the same -- and that’s the appeal. Well, that and the cheeseburgers.

Flickr/Steve Baker

Melody Inn

Butler-Tarkington

A longtime live music joint, the Mel maintains a rock-n-roll vibe -- even if you’re just there to shoot pool or play the jukebox. But there’s plenty of live music, from metal to hillbilly, plus the infamous punk rock Saturday nights. It’s loud, dark, and crowded, and if that’s not divey enough for you, there’s room to smoke out back.

Jolene Ketzenberger/Thrillist

Sam’s Silver Circle Bar

Fountain Square

This corner place is a classic. The stand-alone building features neon in the windows, a covered patio,  friendly owners, good-enough food, and an interior that’ll keep you busy checking out the floor-to-ceiling signs and old magazine covers. Go for the karaoke or trivia nights or just get a craft brew and a pizza -- or have the stromboli with pepperoni, sausage, and banana peppers.

The Dugout

Fletcher Place

Though it’s located in Fletcher Place, the trendiest of hipster neighborhoods, the Dugout has its own straightforward no-nonsense style. This tavern's got a friendly vibe, good prices and decent bar food -- all the hallmarks of a classic dive. Though a little too brightly lit to look really divey, the Dugout wins kudos for its new menu and, during warm weather, patio tables where you can’t beat the people watching.  

Jolene Ketzenberger/Thrillist

Dorman Street Saloon

Cottage Home

According to Historic Indianapolis, bank robber John Dillinger likely hung out at the building that would one day be the Dorman Street Saloon, around the time that he robbed the nearby Massachusetts Avenue State Bank in 1933. Back then, the establishment was called Anacker’s Tavern. It’s had other names since, like the Mahogany Bar (which yielded the nickname The Hog), and was apparently a tough joint in the past. But today it attracts both a neighborhood clientele and a younger late-night crowd for craft beer, cocktails, and 25-cent pool.  

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Jolene Ketzenberger is a freelance writer who covers local food at EatDrinkIndy.com and who can occasionally be found hanging out in one of these dive bars. Follow her @JKetzenberger.

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1. Alley Cat Lounge 6267 Carrollton Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46220 (Broad Ripple)

Enter this classic dive bar in an alley just off the Broad Ripple strip and be prepared for pool tables, a jukebox, and cheap drinks. The space is dark and grungy yet comfortable and friendly. You can stop in pretty much any time: the bar and kitchen are both open from 7am-3am. If you're there for dinner, try the exceptional tenderloin -- it's practically legendary.

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2. Workingman's Friend 234 N Belmont Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46222

Workingman's Friend serves as a lunch haunt for local politicos and journalists, and their cheeseburger is legendary (its crispy edges make it one of the best in the city). Add a side of onion rings and a beer and you're set. Just don't make dinner plans here: it closes by late afternoon on most weekdays and Saturdays, proving that not all dive bars thrive on late nights.

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3. Connor's Pub 6331 Ferguson St, Indianapolis, IN 46220 (Broad Ripple)

Like any quality dive bar, Connor's Pub is a bit off the beaten path, but it has a local following from neighborhood regulars and Butler University students. The bar's cheese balls and pizza draw in a late-night eating crowd, and for good reason -- those balls are delicious.

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4. Chatterbox Jazz Club 435 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46204

Indianapolis’s Chatterbox is everything a dive bar should be: a provider of live jazz performances, cheap, classic cocktails, and a buzzy atmosphere lit by Christmas lights all year round. Chatterbox’s salty bar snacks, like soft pretzels and popcorn, will keep you sipping on drink after drink, and when you feel the need for some fresh air, you’ll appreciate the small patio with outdoor seating. Remember to keep some cash on hand for the cover fee.

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5. Red Key Tavern 5170 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46205 (Meridian Kessler)

Not much has changed since The Red Key opened at the end of the Prohibition in 1933, which is what makes it so appealing. Rules are followed here and patrons behave themselves, so it doesn't have the classic scrappy dive bar feel. What does it have? A jukebox and cheeseburgers that will turn "another round" into three.

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6. Melody Inn 3826 N Illinois St, Indianapolis, IN 46208

The Mel is one of the city's best dive bars and live music joints. From metal to hillbilly, plus the infamous punk rock Saturday nights, you're in for a headbanger of a night here. The loud, dark, and crowded space makes this a classic rough-and-tumble spot.

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7. Sam's Silver Circle 1102 Fletcher Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46203 (Fountain Square)

Sam's Silver Circle pulls out all the stops: neon signs in the windows, floor to ceiling posters and magazine cut-outs, friendly staff, and a covered patio. This classic Indy dive serves up decent-enough food and drinks at more than decent prices to keep you happy all night long. Go for the karaoke or trivia nights, or just get a craft brew and a pizza. The stromboli with pepperoni, sausage, and banana peppers is always a solid choice, too.

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8. The Dugout 621 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46203 (Fletcher Place)

The Dugout has all the requirements of a go-to local dive bar: cheap drinks, decent food, and a neighborly vibe. Once the warm weather comes around, grab a brew and a seat on the patio -- a prime spot for people-watching.

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9. Dorman Street Saloon 901 Dorman St, Indianapolis, IN 46202 (Cottage Home)

The Dorman Street Bar has been boozing up guests for almost a century. This saloon is about as divey as they come: the joint is dim and humming with locals enjoying a night out or a post-work drink, the jukebox is singing classic rock anthems and indie songs, and there is a substantial selection of craft beefs on tap and in bottles. The pay-to-play pool goes for about a quarter a round, so bring your jingling pockets on over.

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