Food & Drink

The Essential Nashville Dive Bars You Should Hit This Weekend

Published On 01/25/2016 Published On 01/25/2016
Chris Chamberlain/Thrillist (edited)

A good dive is often determined by the preference of its regulars. For some, that could mean the seedier (and stickier) the better, the best karaoke night, most lovable bar staff, most random decor, or best late-night food. But Nashville requires a far simpler formula: cheap food, cheaper beer, and good music. And if the music is really good, whether it’s from a karaoke king, local DJ, jukebox, or live band, stickiness can easily be overlooked. Here are the 13 essential dives in Nashville.

The Villager Tavern

The Villager Tavern

Hillsboro Village

A local headquarters for darts enthusiasts, the Villager was recently inducted into the hall of fame from the Greater Nashville Darting Association. The beer is cheap and comes in a dog bowl on your birthday, and the walls are papered with photos of fellow drinkers enjoying the same good time. And the same bowl.

Dino's

Dino’s

East Nashville

East Nashville’s oldest dive bar changed owners around this time last year, receiving a slight nip and tuck to the space and extending the diner-style menu -- their pies are now baked by renowned chefs like Lisa Donovan (formerly of Husk) and Utterly Nashville’s Mayme Gretsch -- but otherwise remaining the same old bar with ice cold beer. And how many dives do you know that will actually muddle something? Their Mojito Mondays are one of the most popular nights of the week.

Bob Algie

Bobby’s Idle Hour

Music Row

As the only bar on music row, both aspiring and acclaimed songwriters have been playing Bobby’s Idle Hour since 1979. As long as you’ve got an original, anyone’s welcome on stage. Can’t carry a tune? Just leave it to the pros and drink Natty Light (always on special) while gorging on a fistful of MoonPies.

Melrose Billiards

Melrose Billiards

8th Avenue

When the historic Melrose theater underwent an extreme renovation, adding new dining hotspots like Sinema and The Sutler Saloon, the building’s basement thankfully remained untouched. Melrose Billiards is one of the few places you can go when your 20s are a distant memory and staying out past midnight feels like an eternity, yet still lose all sense of time and walk out after last call like a champion.

Duke’s

East Nashville

One part dive and one part deli equals one glorious combination for Nashville’s newest dive bar. Located in Five Points, Duke’s offers great music with DJs every night till 3am, happy hour from noon to 8pm, and deals like a $6 shot and beer and a $9 beer and sandwich.

Chris Chamberlain/Thrillist

Santa’s Pub

Fairgrounds

By now, Santa’s is way past the point of a secret late-night hang or essential dive and moved on to being a Nashville rite of passage for visitors and locals alike. While its fame has reached national publications, its essence remains more classic dive than ever. No nonsense (Santa’s always watching), $2 beers (cash only), karaoke every night, and year-round holiday cheer.

Springwater Supper Club

Springwater Supper Club & Lounge

Elliston

Said to be the oldest bar in Tennessee (established in 1896), Springwater possesses a certain charm in that green linoleum, sticky vinyl booths, and flashy red streamers that locals and even Nashville’s more famous residents just can’t resist. Springwater has served as the perfect backdrop in music videos for The Black Keys, Ke$ha, and Yelawolf, to name a few.

Fran’s Eastside Tavern

East Nashville

Fran’s is the type of bar where first timers walk out feeling like family and the regulars probably are. The beer is always cheap with $2 domestics and deals like 10 beers for $10 on Tuesdays, but locals swear by their cocktails. They will give you the pro tip of entering through the side door unless you want to make a grand entrance on the karaoke stage.

Twin Kegs

Twin Kegs

Berry Hill

Twin Kegs is another quintessential Nashville dive bar where the smoke is thick, the karaoke is loud, and fried pickles are considered an appropriate entree. Located just south of town, Twin Kegs’ regulars prefer to be called Keggers, and they order their burgers bad (double the patty) and unapologetically play shuffleboard, one cigarette after another. If that’s not your thing, you can have the same great time sans smoke at their Hermitage Ave location.

Brown's Diner Nashville

Brown’s Diner

Hillsboro Village/Belmont

Brown’s Diner was founded in and converted from an old trolley car in 1927. They hold Nashville’s oldest beer license but are equally famous for their cheeseburgers (order ‘em with a side of hush puppies.). But while cold beer and good burgers are a bonus of dive bars, the charm of the genre  is all about its characters, and Browns’, family owned and operated since the ‘70s, has that in the Southern hospitality of every staff member.

The Gold Rush

Gold Rush

Elliston

Since 1974, The Gold Rush has been one of Nashville’s oldest bars. It’s the locals’ choice for essentially any occasion, whether it’s a nightcap post Exit/In show, craving for a world-famous bean roll (served till 1:30am), playing some pool and day drinking, wanting a boozy brunch with $4 Bloody Marys and mimosas, or a happy hour that lasts till 8 pm with $2.50 PBR and High Life drafts.

Mickey's Tavern

Mickey’s Tavern

East Nashville

Mickey’s Tavern forgoes the DJ parties, karaoke, and trivia nights, but their values remain loyal to the dive essentials of cheap food and drinks. (The most expensive menu item is a $7 Cuban sandwich.) There’s also pool, a Ms. Pac-Man machine that also plays Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, and Galaga, and one of the best Jukebox libraries in town. Essentials indeed.

Tin Dog Tavern

Tin Dog Tavern

Wedgewood-Houston

Located in the heart of the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood, Tin Dog Tavern (or any dive bar, really) proves that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Once you get passed the barred windows, you feel right at home, if home was your high school best friend’s basement where walls boast alternating  tin and neon signs, there are shot-skis, and the well-worn couches are especially welcoming. Your best friend’s basement, however, didn’t offer the Sunday Funday deal of half-off pitchers.

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Kendall is a Nashville native who will drink at any bar not made of reclaimed lumber.

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1. The Villager Tavern 1719 21st Avenue S, Nashville, TN 37212

Known among dart enthusiasts -- and recently inducted into the hall of fame from the Greater Nashville Darting Association -- this friendly, neighborhood dive bar in Hillsboro supplies cheap beer, foosball, video games, and, if you're celebrating your birthday, an honorary dog bowl to drink out of.

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2. Dino's 411 Gallatin Ave, Nashville, TN 37206 (East Nashville)

This East Nashville spot was given a facelift under owner Miranda Whitcomb Pontes, but it still sticks to its divey, culinary roots with the same delicious burgers and beer it always served, plus added options for a more expansive menu.

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3. Bobby's Idle Hour 16th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37212 (Music Row)

Frills aren't especially extensive at this Music Row spot, but you will find cheap beers, live music, and a friendly ambiance for a game of pool and a drink.

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4. Melrose Billiards 2600 Franklin Pike, Nashville, TN 37204 (8th Ave)

This 8th Avenue dive bar is a genuinely sweet spot to shoot some pool or play ping pong while the regular day drinkers quietly watch cooking shows on the televisions until SportsCenter comes on. Pro tip: frequent visitors set aside a special set of “Melrose clothes” that they can air the smoke out of without stinking up their hampers.

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5. Duke's 1000 Main St, Nashville, TN 37206 (East Nashville)

Located in Five Points, this part dive bar part deli, has a great DJ, cheap drinks and happy hour specials like a $6 shot and beer or $9 beer and sandwich. Plus its open until 3am so you can get in your drinks plus your late night eats all at one location.

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6. Santa's Pub 2225 Bransford Ave, Nashville, TN 37204 (12south)

Santa's been bad. That's why he now operates this beat-up double-wide and its storied karaoke night, which serves $2 beers.

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7. Springwater Supper Club & Lounge 115 27th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37203 (Music Row)

This Music Row bar is considered one of Nashville's best dives; with cheap beer, loud music, and the standard bar games, Springwater is a good bet for an inexpensive, but quality night out.

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8. Fran's Eastside Tavern 2109 Greenwood Ave, Nashville, TN 37206 (East Nashville)

This East Nashville drinkery is a dive, through and through. You'll need to bring cash, but not a huge wad since the beers are cheap and the only food is microwavable. You can also save money by not bothering to buy your own cigarettes since the thick secondhand smoke will give you enough of a buzz.

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9. Twin Kegs 413 East Thompson Ln, Nashville, TN 37211 (Berry Hill)

Three reasons to love this Berry Hall dive bar: fried pickles, a fine cheeseburger, and cheap beer. If you need more than that from a dive bar, you're not looking for a dive bar.

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10. Brown's Diner 2102 Blair Blvd, Nashville, TN 37212 (Music Row)

Brown's in Hillsboro Village has been serving the drinking class out of a converted trolley car since 1927 and is the owner of Nashville's oldest beer license. A no-frills restaurant space was added to the trolley years ago, and the kitchen still serves one of the most iconic cheeseburgers in town. Head here if you're low on cash as almost all of the menu items will only have you handing over around $5.

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11. The Gold Rush 2205 Elliston Pl, Nashville, TN 37203

The Gold Rush is one of Nashville's oldest dive bars, open and serving cheap drinks and greasy bar food since 1974. Check out their boozy brunch with $4 Bloody Marys and mimosas, and happy hour lasting until 8 p.m. with $2.50 PBR and High Life drafts. Plus you have to try one of their world-famous bean roll, served till 1:30 a.m.

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12. Mickey's Tavern 2907 Gallatin Pike, Nashville, TN 37216 (East Nashville)

In a town full of music, Mickey's is proud to offer no bands, no DJs, and no karaoke. What it does offer is a tight list of affordable beers on tap or in bottles and a no-nonsense food menu featuring nachos, fried bologna, and pimento cheese sandwiches.

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13. The Tin Dog Tavern 1401 4th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37210

Don't let the barred windows turn you off from this friendly, neighborhood dive bar. Take some shot-skis and relax on the worn out couches, or if you come in on Sunday Funday, all pitchers are half off.

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