Welcome to Chef's Choice, where culinary whizzes school you on everything from their favorite dive bars to donut shops.
There is no better place to drink on Earth than a dive bar. Whether you go because of the cheap drinks, the company of regulars, or the fact that you look better in dim lighting, it doesn't matter. The best dive bars welcome one and all, as long as you're fine with not drinking anything too fancy. If the cocktail has more than two ingredients, you need to go elsewhere.
Chefs often gravitate to dive bars to blow off steam after a long shift -- especially because these types of establishments are often open when they get off work late at night. We asked chefs all across the USA where they go to kick back with a cheap brew. Here are their favorite watering holes.
"I live in Boulder, where I also went to college, and my go-to dive reminds me of those good old days. The Sundown Saloon is not a secret, quiet place, but I have a lot of fun memories of late night shenanigans there. I've been going to that bar since they allowed smoking inside and you couldn't see the bar through the smoke from the front door 20ft away. Oh, the memories... " -- Hosea Rosenberg, Blackbelly Market (Boulder, CO)
Los Angeles, CA
"This is one of the first bars I ever went to in Los Angeles. It's been around for 50 years and still has a great crowd and local bands. The Irish punk band Flogging Molly used to be the house band. Fun story, my mother was once kicked out on St. Patrick's Day." -- Kris Morningstar, Terrine (Los Angeles, CA)
New York, NY
“From the days of my first paid job in Soho in 2002 to today, the Spring Lounge is still my favorite dive bar in NYC. It's that place that's always open, has at least a couple familiar faces, cheap drinks, and that dive bar smell we can all relate to. The people in there are always the most diverse (and tipsy), leading to some great people watching and interesting conversations.” -- Michael Ferraro, Delicatessen (New York, NY)
San Antonio, TX
"MK's is a great old-school neighborhood joint where you can sit at the bar and drink a frosted 30oz schooner of beer and chow down on crispy dogs. The hot dogs have been slit with cheese in the middle, wrapped in a tortilla, deep fried, and served with mustard. It's a great spot to head over to after work to kick back with the guys in the kitchen!" -- Steve McHugh, Cured (San Antonio, TX)
Las Vegas, NV
“The Sand Dollar is down and dirty (in a good way). It’s raw but organic, there’s live music, and it’s the kind of place where a guy with a harmonica might show up and jump on stage to play with the band -- no pretenses and no frills. I love it.” -- Rick Moonen, RM Seafood (Las Vegas, NV)
“I love The Anderson. Not only is it in my neighborhood, but it’s low stress -- something that's hard to find in Miami. Great cocktails and good food, too.” -- John Kunkel, Yardbird Southern Table & Bar (Miami, FL)
San Diego, CA
"I lived in San Diego for a few years and this place kept me sane. Your only choices were old-school hardcore or thrash metal on the jukebox and warm or cold Fernet. My girlfriend once tried to order a cocktail and they almost threw her out. A great dive bar doesn't care about what you want." -- Jason Roberts, Rue (Portland, OR)
New Orleans, LA
"Roberts' Bar is great mix of Tulane students and neighborhood people without the typical college bar vibe. It has an old, distressed bar with an awesome captains wheel on display, cheap PBR, and video poker machines. And it's just few blocks from my house!" -- Slade Rushing, Brennan's (New Orleans, LA)
Los Angeles, CA
“Toe Bang is like Cheers but Korean. So, Norm is a little-old Korean lady, and beer nuts are replaced with hot and spicy blood sausage and bubbling cauldrons of ramen and cheese. Soju rains from the sky!” -- Chris Oh, Hanjip (Culver City, CA)
"It’s where our staff heads after a long night of buttering chicken. Nice table top hockey game, karaoke, burlesque nights, comedy nights, and music all neatly packaged in the darkest, scruffiest bar around. Bonus for having cheap drinks and bartenders who just seem to really understand you.” -- Josh Kulp, Honey Butter Fried Chicken (Chicago, IL)
“Not only does this spot have affordable (and tasty!) bar snacks, it’s a neighborhood staple that's been around for a long time. It’s got that old-school hangout vibe -- you never really know who you’ll see on any given night.” -- Troy Guard, Mister Tuna (Denver, CO)
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1. The Sundown Saloon1136 Pearl St, Boulder
2. Molly Malone's Irish Pub575 S Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles
3. Spring Lounge48 Spring St, New York
4. MK Davis1302 N Flores St, San Antonio
5. Sand Dollar Lounge3355 Spring Mountain Rd, Las Vegas
6. The Anderson709 NE 79th St, Miami
7. Cherry Bomb2237 1st Ave, San Diego
8. Robert's Bar3125 Calhoun St, New Orleans
9. Toe Bang3465 W 6th St #110, Los Angeles
10. Reed's Local3017 W Belmont Ave, Chicago
11. Candlelight Tavern383 S Pearl St, Denver
Tucked underneath the walking mall that is Boulder’s Pearl Street – safely away from the bleary-eyed trustifarians, hula hoopers, and drum circles – the bar affectionately known as the Sundowner is a welcome juxtaposition to Boulder’s hippie-dippy image.
Malone's is a West Hollywood institution with Guinness on draft, friendly vibes, and tasty bar food to scarf down in between games of darts.
There's nothing quite like getting up bright and early to toss back a couple of brews at 8am. OK, so eggs and coffee may be the more sensible route, but at least you know you have the option over at Spring Lounge. This Nolita dive has a diverse crowd, a great beer selection, and free beer-braised hot dogs on Wednesdays. The bar was opened illegally in the 1920s as a "to-go" shop and has gone through several transformations since. It became Spring Lounge in the '70s, but is referred to as Shark Bar throughout the neighborhood.
M.K. Davis offers up all the comfort of Southern and Mexican cuisine with the no-effort attitude of a dive bar -- "flashy" is probably the last word you'd use to describe this place, however, "homey" works just fine. The older crowd known to haunt this joint throw back frosty beer schooners, on a daily basis while the full-service kitchen whips up chicken fried steaks and hot dogs that have slits for melted cheese, are tortilla wrapped, and deep fried (talk about a Texan's dream come true).
Since 1976, the Sand Dollar has been a Vegas home away from home for rock 'n roll legends-- Mick Jagger, B.B. King, and Prince have all stopped by for craft cocktails on the house. In fact, nearly all of the Sand Dollar's drinks are named for these stars' greatest hits: try a Rolling Stone with rye and bitters, the Born on the Bayou benedictine and bsinthe combo, or a Purple Rain with luxardo cherries.
This '80s-themed bar with vintage cigarette ads and nostalgically-named cocktails might get creative with its styling, but it keeps things simple with the ambience. The back is set up like an urban beach with picnic tables on the sand and a beach bungalow shack where you'll find a snack-centric menu.
If you're into heavy pours, cheap drinks, a trusty jukebox, and friendly regulars, you should get into Cherry Bomb.
This dive is so under the radar that you've probably been driving past it on Claiborne for ages now and didn't even realize it. The minimally labeled corner liquor shop hosts a dive bar that only the locals and the hyper-keen Tulane Students know about -- it's the ideal spot to get away from cliched campus life, and even better, the beer is cheap, the neighborhood is quiet, and the nights full of video poker guarantee a laid-back night of fun and PBR.
Toe Bang is an outdoor restaurant serving Korean barbecue. Get the lunch special which will only cost you a cool $10.
This simple yet beloved bar might not impress with glitz, but does attract large local crowds for after-work drinks and laid-back games of table hockey. The dark and unadorned red interior hosts karaoke, burlesque nights, comedy shows, and live music almost every night, and weekly specials ensure no one's left with an empty wallet after they've had one too many. Rare for a dive of its nature, there are a handful of specialty cocktails, but this place's thing is really local craft beer.
Despite the romantic name, Candlelight Tavern is not the spot to serenade your sweetie over soft mood lighting and wine-- it's an old school neighborhood dive that burns the candle at both ends with live cast sports games, pub fare and beer and shot specials.