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Best dive for free homemade food: Scarlet Lady Saloon
The Scarlet Lady tempts you with many of the usual trappings of a genuine dive bar: cheap and strong drinks, colorful clientele, unpolished karaoke, and well-worn pool tables. But where it really comes through strong is with regular appearances of homemade food (chili, hot dogs, nachos, breakfast burritos...), often times for free, or at least all you can eat for cheap.
Best pre-flight dive by LAX: Lei Aloha
Unlimited airport lounge cocktails are all well and good, but if you’re in need of some cheap, stiff drinks and local charm before your flight, this cash-only, no-frills dive is a must. Mixed drinks for $5 and under? Check. Pinball machine? Double check. Microwave available to heat your own food? TRIPLE check.
Best Tiki dive: Purple Orchid
Classic Polynesian joints like Tiki Ti and Tonga Hut have a special place in our rum-soaked, tiny umbrella-topped hearts, but most seem a bit refined when compared to the dive-ier Purple Orchid. The multi-bottle strong tropical pours, loads of salty locals, and attitude all just chant "dive bar" (ooga booga). The inexplicable Barbie dolls in the mouths of Tiki masks only add to the charm.
Best dive for $2 beers all the time: Branch Office
It’s hard to argue with $2 beers and $3.50 well drinks. Also, you should probably stop arguing with alcohol, it’s a sure sign that the booze is winning the argument. It's sort of like an ungodly cross between Moe’s Tavern and the bar at the Elk’s Lodge, and the free pool tables and decent grub make the Branch Office a reliable dive-y haven in the South Bay.
Best all-you-can-drink dive: Stovepiper
Normally the drinks are pretty cheap at the ‘Piper, but when they slap on that all-you-can-drink wristband for $20 on Friday and Saturday nights, there’s no telling what’s going to happen on that dance floor. Just be sure to fuel up on pastrami at Brent’s Deli next door before attempting the challenge.
Oldest continually operating dive bar West of the Mississippi: Joe Jost's Long Beach
This dive institution has been doling out frosty cold schooners of cheap beer, split Polish sausages on rye, and pickled eggs for decades, and thankfully hasn’t changed much over the years. Don’t forget to grab some peanuts from the 100-year-old roaster.
Best dive with ping pong: The Castle Sports Bar
While some may enjoy watching their sports on the screens behind the bar, the real move is to head for the ping pong table in the back. Just don’t ignore the bar completely, as there’s a bit of a Coyote Ugly-vibe up there that's not to be missed.
Best you-gotta-see-it-to-believe-it dive: Jumbo's Clown Room
The tattooed girls at Jumbo's come in all shapes and all sizes, but this much is true: when they hit this bar's pole-abetted stage (despite what you may have heard, it's not a strip club -- there's actually no nudity at all), they're all equally devoted to their craft, defying gravity with crazy climbs or giving insanely believable come-hither stares in the name of making an extra couple bucks. Is it the perfect location when you've run out of locations? Yes, it's definitely that.
Best dive with potential for disaster: Alhambra Cocktail Lounge
With buckets of King Cobra and $3 Fireball shots making regular appearances at this historic San Pedro dive-of-dives, there’s a lot that can go wrong. But, there’s also a lot that can go right.
Best dive where you can win a "water pipe" while singing karaoke: Bar 107
On Wednesday nights, the grimy, stickered-up Bar 107 gets C-list comedians to judge karaoke there, and they. Are. Brutal. They also give a, um, hand-blown, um, water pipe to the winner. And, not that we know from experience, but fat dudes doing the splits to "You Give Love A Bad Name" totally win.
Best Hungarian dive with cheap pitchers and pool: Ujpest Sports Lounge
When you need a Hungarian sports bar with mini-pitchers of beer for $3.50 and pool tournaments (for whatever reason), Ujpest is your dive of choice. Also: free hot dogs on Monday nights and karaoke most nights.
Best "everything around us is fancy and screw that crap" dive: Frolic Room
Next door to the Pantages. Across the street from the W. A few doors down from luxury condos. The Frolic Room: your fantastic alternative for Hollywood BS since 1930.
Best if you don't want to see who you're with dive: The Drawing Room
Sure, there are a lot of dark, dimly lit dive bars. And then there's this dark, dimly lit dive bar in a Los Feliz strip mall, which has its lights at such low levels that playing darts is an issue. Or maybe that's just the booze. Either way, good luck finding your way around without bumping into something.
Best dive bar breakfast: Roadhouse Bar & Grill
You may not find Swayze at the door, but the breakfast and Bloody Marys at this open-at-6am South Bay favorite are worth getting up early for.
Best "I like my live music chill" dive: Cinema Bar
Wanna go to a dive that's got live music, but don't wanna bring earplugs? This Culver City spot has free bands nearly every night, most of whom fall into the gypsy jazz/swing/country/country-swing-gypsy-jazz realm, and not the OH-MY-GOD-I-STILL-CAN'T-HEAR-ANYTHING-THE-NEXT-DAY realm.
Best "I like my live music ROCKING" dive: The Escondite
Not only do they have burgers we'll never stop talking about, but this adjacent-to-Skid-Row barstaurant also books some of the best bands in LA, with Black Keys-ish blues blasters Snakearm (formerly Restavrant) and rowdy genre-smashers Blackwater Jukebox both regular rockers.
Best dive for bar games: Cozy Inn
Yo: full-size shuffleboard. Also: pool. Also: darts. Also: full-size shuffleboard. Also.
Best dive with bad karaoke: The Smog Cutter
It's on our list of the Best Dive Bars in the US, and deserves its place for many reasons -- the sticky bar, the, uh, brutally-honest/abrasive bartenders, the regulars playing pool, and silently-or-not-so-silently judging you as you walk in. But more than any of that, it's the karaoke, broadcast on a tiny tube TV and often featuring people singing "Circle of Life" out of tune, that makes this bar stand out. Really, it's so wrong that it's SO RIGHT.
Best bar with good karaoke: Tattle Tale
What, you expected the Brass Monkey? Too busy. Dimples is closed (RIP). The Gaslamp is full of American Idol wannabes. But the Tattle Tale? You can usually sing a song from its massive list within an hour of walking in.
Best dive with a cheeseburger: Hinano Cafe
Let's be honest: the superlative post-drinking burger is your #1 reason to go Hinano, and you may not even remember it the next day, but it's worth it, because it is so good. It is even better topped with a hot dog. For real.
Best dive with a cheeseburger... and plenty of history: Ercolés
If you’re looking for a place where everyone will eventually know your name and be eating great classic cheeseburgers, this Prohibition-era haunt is your spot. There’s nothing fancy about the burger, but you didn’t come here for fancy, you came for cheap beer, and now you’re ALSO eating a tasty burger.
Best dive with a cheese...steak: Philly West
Cheesesteaks? Yep: this spot from a Philly expat's got the real-deal-American-cheese-griddled goodness, in a hall that feels ripped right from the home of the Liberty Bell and ingloriously unloaded on West LA. In other words: magic.
Best updated dive: King Eddy Saloon
Last year, LA lost perhaps its best dive, The Powerhouse -- a dingy Hollywood haunt populated by characters like Mini Mr. T on carpeting that hadn't been cleaned in decades -- to the throws of capitalism, with new drinks-slingers now mixologizing great cocktails, and none of the original spirit. So when King Eddy -- a similarly beloved, possibly even more-run-down bar -- announced it was being updated, it stood to reason the same would happen there. Not so: it's still dank, and dangerous-feeling, and you can still get an extra-strong rum-and-coke and not feel like you gotta order some frou-frou drink with, like, muddled whatever. It just smells a bit better (and has better music) now.
Best free popcorn???: The Roost
Seriously, has anyone ever said "Let's go to the Roost" without following it up with "they have awesome free popcorn"...? The answer is no. No one has ever done this. Which is why it's a bummer they seem to have TAKEN AWAY THE FREE POPCORN MACHINE. Bring it back. Now.
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Jeff Miller and Danny Jensen are both glad they've never had to be escorted out of any of these fine establishments. Hit them up at @ThrillistLA and @dannyseamus on Twitter, respectively.