Distinct from the local pub or neighborhood joint, the dive is an icon of American drinking culture. Inexpensive, unpretentious, and with a grimy charm that evinces history, there’s a divey bastion faithfully serving a thirsty populace in nearly every town and locality from sea to shining sea.
In Brooklyn, there’s a sublime dive in nearly every neighborhood. If you’re looking to meet the locals, learn the area history, or pick up the best gossip on the block, the dive is where the unvarnished truth lives. And if you’re looking for a port in a storm where you can camp out till dawn, only a dive will do.
While there are tons of fabulous low-key bars in Brooklyn, what you’ll find here are the greatest dive bars as they fit a simple criteria: dim lighting, a dollop of weirdness, a staff of local heroes, at least one string of Xmas lights, and no more than a single $ on the cost scale.
Est. The Past | Clinton Hill The archetype of a Brooklyn dive, Alibi ticks every box: barely noticeable on a picturesque strip, it sports dark environs, cheap drinks, a backyard, jukebox, pool table, some Xmas lights, a nightly Jeopardy crowd, and happy hour every day (M-Th/5-8, F/5-9, S&S/5-7) featuring $5 drafts and $4 wells. And in true dive bar form, its official opening date was a challenge to pin down -- just know that it’s been a neighborhood staple for longer than anyone can seem to remember. Rather than try to be everything to everyone, Alibi simply is what it is, and welcomes you to be in kind.
Est. 2000 | Cobble Hill On Smith Street’s quaint row of shops and restaurants, Boat stands out for its merciful unconcern with adorability. Hours can slip by in the appropriately moody lighting as you kibitz with the cast of friendly bartenders, play games, shoot pool, or do some top-notch (not to mention affordable) non-cocktail drinking at the long J-shaped bar or on the back couches. Happy hour runs every day 5-8pm and features $3 drafts, bottles, and wells.
Est. 2008 | Red Hook Nestled in Red Hook’s magical pseudo-isolation, Ice House is a world apart from anything button-down or trussed-up. Drinking here feels like being a member of Our Gang or The Lost Boys. Ice House’s burger is a sleeper hit, the beer selection is great, and a beer/shot combo runs $6. The bar itself is small with some banquette seating inside, but aim for the airy backyard’s big, funky, unfinished wood tables.
Est. 2008 | Gowanus Canal Bar is Gowanus’ oldest, diviest, punkiest, watering hole and it’s wonderful. There’s plenty of room at the bar, the low-lit back tables are perfect for intimate conversation or carousing, and the bench-lined backyard feels like a secret. During happy hour (M-F/3-8) you can snag a Jim or Jack shot for $5 and/or a select $4 draft. A $7 PBR/shot combo, 12 crafty taps, and popcorn are available anytime.
Est. circa 1940s | South Slope What do a video loop of a cat lapping milk, tons of seating, an albino frog, late-night food menu (tater tots!), intimate performance space, $7 draft/shot combo, eclectic junk-shop decor, a happy hour (noon-7) $6 draft beer/hot dog special, and a back patio have in common? Never boring, never tidy, always a good time -- Freddy’s is the answer. It was open for decades in Prospect Heights until it was crushed by Atlantic Yards in 2010. Since relocating in 2011, Freddy’s is where South Slope gets weird late into the night.
Est. 2009 | Park Slope Escape The Slope’s morass of strollers and Lululemon. Pass through High Dive’s firetruck-red gateway to find an oasis of understatement. Plenty of indoor seating, pinball, 19 taps of affordable craft beer, takeaway growlers, popcorn, and a patio make this dive a great option for a party, but low-lit, intimate corners mean that it’s suitable for a date. Happy hour (M-F/3-8) features $3 Yuengling or PBR, $4 well drinks, and a buck off other selections.
Est. circa 1980 | Greenpoint A brick-and-mortar rebuke to neighborhood encroachment, this cash-only stalwart stands, sans signage, on the corner of Manhattan Ave -- the beating heart of Greenpoint. Inside, you’ll find it’s always happy hour, with inexpensive beer alongside your pick of jello-shots. This ain’t the Ritz -- it’s a small room consisting of just a few tables and a short bar with no food or patio. Knock back a Żywiec as you browse the jukebox, and you’ll want for nothing.
Est. 2015 | Bushwick The J train rattles above the corner location as the nightly DJ spins to a young, tattooed crowd. The general ambiance, great beer selection, and purposeful aesthetic make Lone Wolf feel cool without being scene-y or detracting from its dive bonafides. Inside you’ll find a pool table, stage, and back yard. During happy hour, select drafts, wells, and wine are just $4, but there’s always a $5 or $6 beer/shot happy meal on the menu.
Est. 1939 | Brooklyn Heights The nautical theme harkens back to this bar’s origin as a stevedore’s hangout, but these days, Montero is a low-key, inexpensive ($4 PBR), destination for everybody and anybody. The seasoned bartenders all have stories to tell, but Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, karaoke is the activity du jour. Karaoke host extraordinaire, Amethyst has your back if you’ve ever dreamed of belting “My Heart Will Go On” to a room out of On the Waterfront.
Est. 1998 | Bay Ridge Light spills from the front windows as the jukebox, sconce lights, and TVs glow. As cheery as a dive can be, PC’s is somewhat reminiscent of ski chalet and is ideal for an afternoon of pool, darts, or catching the game alongside the easygoing, local crowd. Happy hour (M-Th/4-7, F/5-8) features $4 drafts, but the Mon-Thurs bucket special ($20 for 5 Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, or Highlifes) is the real MVP.
Est. 2009 | Prospect Heights Like its spare signage, what you see when you walk into Sharlene’s open barroom is what you get. Comforting and placid (owing largely to the moody lighting and absence of TVs), Sharlene’s is home to drinkers of every stripe, so if you’re looking to be seen in a scene, off with you. The long bar terminates in a couple of pinball machines and a well-curated CD jukebox that may or may not be working, depending on the bartender’s mood.
Est. 1987 | Kensington Cash only and zero-frills, it may look like an Irish bar out of Central Casting, but much like Kensington itself, Shenanigans is home to Brooklynites of every stripe. That goes double on Saturday nights when Karaoke draws a crowd. The emerald-green, one-room, hyper-neighborhoody establishment has a couple of tables and a decently large bar, so stake out a spot on a weeknight if you’re down to down cheap domestic brews in peace.
Est. 2013 | Williamsburg With a number of lovely dives in Williamsburg's “trying too hard to appear as if it’s not trying too hard” hipster hive, Skinny Dennis’ unironic honky tonk variation on the theme sets it apart. Cozy with just a few tables and a smattering of seats, the welcoming vibes, shitkicker aesthetic, live country music, noon-7 happy hour featuring $3 wells, Tito’s Tuesdays ($4 Tito’s lemonades and $2 Tito’s shots), house-made bourbon sweet tea, and affectionately monickered “boozy frozen coffee thing” make Skinny Dennis feel lively and unique.
Est. 1929 | Sunset Park This institution is the perfect place to throw some darts or knock back brews while catching a game. Zany shots and cocktails are on offer, but booze snobs can take a hike. The mien here is endearingly old mannish and blessedly #influencer free. “Authenticity” is overused, but damn if this spot isn’t unapologetically itself and hopefully staying that way.
Est. circa 1968 | Bed Stuy Open Wednesday-Sunday, Tip Top is family owned and operated; spending an evening in the low-ceilinged, streamer-festooned bar feels like you’ve popped over to your neighbor’s house. The modest storefront belies a side-room hosting live performances and a cavernous back patio. The kitchen is only open Friday and Saturday with a changing menu, and $5 gets you a beer/shot combo. The only accepted currencies here are cash and a neighborly attitude.
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Julien Levy is a writer and native to downtown Manhattan. He now lives in Brooklyn.