17 Best Dive Bars in NYC
They’re the beating heart of Big Apple nightlife.
The term dive bar invites many interpretations, after all what are the required qualities of a dive bar? Cheap drinks? Dingy floors and surfaces? A dank bathroom? Being super old? It’s hard to say exactly, and maybe it comes down to more of the feeling you get when you’re inside: comfort, mixed with nostalgia, spiked with the charming aroma of stale beer. These are bars where drinking is the priority, and nobody’s going to pretend otherwise. Which is probably why New Yorkers love them so much. At a dive bar, you know what to expect: no frills, no pretension, and probably no food. But cheap drinks. Always cheap drinks.
And there’s never been a better time to pull up a barstool at your favorite local haunt, now that New York officially ended its Covid-era allowance of to-go drinks. Many dive bars have also set up outdoor seating in order to embrace the times. And in April Governor Cuomo discontinued the Covid-era law mandating that food must be served with any alcoholic beverage—a definite plus for the return of the dive bar in full, old-school force.
Ready to get to drinking? Us too. Read on for some of the top dive bars in the city.
Grimy and grungy, this downstairs bar is popular with lifers and Pratt college students alike, thanks to its Big Buck Hunter game in the back room, pool table, and jukebox. The low tin ceiling, a lone strand of Christmas lights, and graffitied peeling paint provide the only décor—but there is a serviceable patio with tables. Most importantly though, the drinks are stiff and cheap (there’s a $3 happy hour), ensuring this is a drinker’s bar more than anything else.
This slightly-below-ground-level spot is dimly lit, filled with worn vintage furniture, and has a spacious backroom often hosting a DJ, band, or karaoke. It attracts a post-work hipster clientele who enjoy the laid-back vibe, pizza, and above-average drinks (try the Ginger Yum-Yum) at moderate prices.
A little less dingy than some of the other spots on this list, Blue Ruin features a tin ceiling, exposed brick, and repurposed wood floor and bar. It’s going for an old timey look, but it actually opened in 2009. Still, the drinks are well made by the accommodating bartenders, the music is loud, and the pool table in the back is often in use. Oh, and the men’s room is plastered with vintage Playboy magazines.
A hipster haven from the owner of Lucky Dog and Skinny Dennis, the decor here is irreverent and the drinks slightly more complex than a typical dive (see the boozy frozen coffee slushie and list of nutcrackers). Bartenders are friendly and the back patio is more pleasant than it needs to be (dogs welcome!). The kitschy sign is in homage to the previous tenant here, much loved and acclaimed restaurant Do or Dine.
Upper West Side
Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the Dublin House was opened in 1921 by the Caraway family from Ireland, first as a speakeasy during Prohibition and then began operating officially as a pub in 1933. Today it's owned by Mike Cormican, an Irish bartender who bought it in 2006. The iconic neon harp outside is lit whenever it's open, the long wooden bar is the original from 1921, and the linoleum checkered floor has stood the test of time. The thing to order is a pint of Guinness or glass of Jameson and then join the conversation with the friendly clientele.
A South Brooklyn legend, Farrell’s has been a time capsule of old school Brooklyn since it opened in 1933. Mostly remaining unchanged (minus the iconic Styrofoam cups that had to go when the city instituted the Styrofoam ban), the tin-roofed, no frills bar has functioned as a community meeting place for the borough’s young and old for decades. It’s also the end point for Park Slope’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and has attracted the likes of Harvey Keitel and Shirley MacLaine in the past. Expect ice-cold beers, lots of regulars, and a feeling of history.
Glacken’s Bar & Grill
The oldest bar in the Bronx, Glacken’s has been welcoming working-class patrons since 1940. Second-generation owner Tom “Pops” Glacken is a fixture at the bar and known for welcoming all, and his son Tommy (also an owner) is also a constant presence. News clippings, photos, and memorabilia dating back to World War II adorn the walls, and the only beers available are Bud and Bud Lite.
This Irish watering hole has been around for decades, and it’s a dive bar through and through. No draft or craft beers, a crew of regular barflies, no food to speak of (unclear what the “Grill” in the name refers to) and a pool table in the back. It generally attracts an older crowd but bartenders are friendly and capable and prices are low.
A punk rock bar with a jukebox to match that screens movies on the back wall and has shelves full of books, The Library is a dive with an attitude that any culture lover will appreciate. Plus, the bartenders are friendly, prices are low (especially if you snag the two-for-one happy hour deal), and there’s a solid booze selection. We’ve started and ended many a night here, and it’s always full of happy bar-goers glad to be out.
People are obsessed with Lucy, the eponymous owner of Lucy’s. The Polish babushka has been tending bar here since the 1970s (under its previous name and location a few blocks away) and she can usually be found behind said bar chatting with regulars—it’s a favorite of off-duty bartenders, neighborhood locals, and Polish immigrants. The dated décor is classic dive bar (some consider it the last true dive bar of the East Village), with plain tables, a jukebox, and two pool tables in the back. Drinks are simple and cheap—and cash only.
If a place has been around since the 1880s, it probably has something going for it. In Milano’s case, it’s a bunch of regulars at the narrow bar, a jukebox, and a welcoming enough atmosphere for a few good drinks minus the pretension. Faded photos on the wall, Christmas lights, and reasonable prices complete the picture.
A former longshoremen bar that’s been slinging drinks since 1939, Montero is still family owned, today being run by Joseph “Pepe” Montero and his wife Linda (Montero’s father, a former seaman, opened the bar). After a 15-month closure due to Covid (the longest the bar has ever been closed), it relit its iconic neon sign this May and opened its doors to relieved customers eager to return to the nautical themed watering hole. And thankfully, the raucous karaoke is back, too.
We’ve spent more than a few New Year’s Eve nights (and others) here, wanting to avoid a loud drunken crowd, actually get a table, and be treated to the straight-to-the-point bartender’s potent pours. Sharlene’s is a neighborhood dive through and through, with well-loved booths, a long wooden bar easy to sidle up to, and pinball machines and a jukebox in the back. Although it’s only been Sharlene’s since 2009, the Flatbush Avenue spot has been a bar for decades.
Dating back to the 1890s, this venerable waterfront saloon came into its current incarnation in the 1990s, managing to draw crowds that were a mix of artists and blue collar workers, even when Red Hook was deemed too hard to get to. Vintage collectibles and knicknacks line the shelves, there’s a comfortable outdoor patio, and there’s often live music. On colder days, try the hot cider with whiskey.
This family-owned bar is reminiscent of your grandparents’ basement rec room—in a good way. Friendly and welcoming, you’ll often find owners Irene Alston and her daughter Linda Greer, who has lived in Bed-Stuy since she was 4-years-old—behind the bar. Greer’s father, Walter Alston, started the bar as a social club more than 50 years ago; when he passed away his family kept it running. The décor is dated in the best way possible, with permanent tinsel, a Happy Birthday sign, and a photo collage of the Obamas, plus there’s a spacious backyard patio. The jukebox is stocked with late 20th-century R&B.
Lower East Side
When this 1970s basement rec room themed bar opened in 2005, it seemed like a passing gimmick. But somehow the wood paneled room populated with sports trophies , overstuffed floral chairs, and vintage couches has become a beloved hipster dive over time, even spawning a second location in Bushwick. Aside from being comfy and showing old school VHS videos on a tube TV, the drinks are cheap ($2 PBRs from a retro fridge) and the potent margaritas (only available in summer) are excellent.
This neighborhood hole-in-the-wall is filled with baseball memorabilia and has a solid selection of beer on tap and basic well drinks (but no Red Bull, as a helpful sign points out). Prices are fair, only cash is accepted (but there is an ATM), and there’s zero pretension. Regulars sometimes get served faster than newcomers, but isn’t that the way it should be?