The oldest standing bar in Detroit -- it survived riots and the collapse of MoTown, plus an endless stream of bar fights -- the 2 Way has also doubled as a store, a jail, a brothel, and a dance hall. Now, it stands as the Motor City's ultimate dive, with a bar as old as the building -- and it's owned by a dude who'll often fire up the grill after a few cocktails strong enough to level a building on Devil's Night. The patrons range from hipsters to old-timers, the bartenders are surly, and the interior is like a time portal into Detroit's heyday… right down to the dude at the bar who probably never left after his last shift at the plant.
St. Paul, Minnesota
Thanks to a recent quasi-renovation, St. Paul's Arcade Bar has transitioned from one of the diviest bars in the state to the best dive bar in Minnesota. The old checkerboard tile floor is gone, but her glorious neon sign and wooden beer-cooler doors remain. More importantly, the character of the place is intact. The Arcade's bartenders are happy to serve anyone with money to spend -- they're also quick to remind offenders that bar rules prohibit crooked hats and foul language. This is the kind of joint that inspires conversation and laughter between strangers. If you're hungry, your choices are Slim Jims, microwaveable burgers and sandwiches, or Heggie's frozen pizza. There are new TVs at either end of the bar, a jukebox against the side wall, and a pool table in back. What more do you need?
The Blue Moon was once frequented by Allen Ginsberg, Dylan Thomas, and Roethke, and stands out amid Seattle's other, more famous dives bars in its commitment to keeping its patrons feeling at home (Tom Morello, you're safe here!). The storied history of this University District icon dates back to 1934, back when the city's laws required that bars be at least a mile from the school, turning the standard walk of shame back to get your credit card into a mini-marathon. These days, the joint's as much a venue as it is a bar, pairing two-ingredient cocktails with eardrum-shattering performances by bands on the come up. Just don't come in if you have peanut allergies: This place is covered in more nut dust than an elephant pen.
You want brotherly love? You'll find it within the storied, stained walls of Bob & Barbara's, where everybody -- hipsters, townies, blue-collar workers, pop-collar youngbloods, street kings, drag queens, and all manner of late-night glory -- comes together under the faint flow of stained glass. This is a place where Friday's dominated by the electric organ-fueled sounds of the Crowd Pleasers, Sunday is sloppy karaoke, Thursday is Philly's longest-running drag show hosted by legendary local icon Miss Lisa Lisa, and every moment is magic. The cocktails in the name are of the two-ingredient variety that double as lighter fluid, but the real one-two punch is "The Special," a shot of Beam and a PBR for $4 that B&B claims is the OG PBR combo meal. It's just another bit of icing on the cake at a party that Bob & Barbara's have kept going for 50 years.
A lending library just inside the door of this gritty saloon is the first indication you've entered a unique place. The bar is long, running a good 50 feet along the right side of the narrow space. At its midpoint, a shaft of sunshine from a skylight in the high ceiling illuminates the serving station. A framed, hand-lettered poster proclaims Bud Olson's is the "Best Dive Bar" for several reasons: "cheap, stiff drinks, a pool table without a line, and a jukebox that still plays Johnny Cash." Tattoo artists and their customers from a shop down the block drink here alongside a wide cross-section of working-class Omahans. The décor is likewise a mishmash: baseball and college football memorabilia along with surprising touches of capital-A Art, including the elevated pool room's three-wall mural portraying George's Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Olson's charms are revealed layer by surprising layer.