Food & Drink

The Best Dive Bars in Pittsburgh for a No-Frills Drink

Fancy cocktail places are on the rise in the ‘Burgh, and while that’s perfectly fine, sometimes you just want a cheap drink with an atmosphere to match. Despite those sweeping changes hitting the city’s bar culture, it's still relatively easy to find a great bar with some character, somewhere where you’ll even find yourself chatting with some interesting personalities. Here are a few of our favorite dive bars in town, including one for the willing traveler.

Gooski’s

Est. Circa 1995  | Polish Hill
Follow the rules and enjoy the music at this Polish Hill staple

Gooski’s is always first up when you ask anyone for the best dive bar in town, and rightly so. With a jukebox filled with hits and staff-curated playlists, graffitied walls, pool tables, skilled and sarcastic bartenders, a long list of house rules (like "Know what you want; have your money ready; don’t make us kill you"), a good live music program, and beloved house pierogies and wings, Gooski’s is Pittsburgh's quintessential dive bar.

Remedy

Est. Circa 2007 | Lawrenceville
Pool tables and graffiti-laden walls

The spacy Alien font on the sign may make this bar look futuristic, but Remedy has your classic dive vibe inside with a pool table, graffiti in the bathrooms, and a pinball machine. Two floors, an upstairs bartender, and weekly events and guest DJs make this a joint that certainly has the cure to your common watering-hole woes.

Sonny’s Tavern

Est. 1995 | Bloomfield
Off-the-main-drag spot with pickle shots and mystery beer specials

If a shot of vodka chased by pickle juice sounds like a dream come true, you’ll love Sonny’s: the pickle shot here is the pièce de résistance. Trivia, karaoke, and live music keep you entertained while you down $5 mystery beer specials -- and for all you art lovers, a mural of cats drinking PBR adorns the outside, and indicates exactly when you've reached your destination.

Joe’s Bar

Est. 1962 | Ligonier
A two-floor taxidermy bar worth driving out to

It's a bit of a trek from the center of the city, but Joe’s might just be the craziest dive bar in the state. This two-floor tavern is filled to the brim with taxidermy: elephants, lions, squirrels dressed like Robin Hood -- it's all here. Heads will turn when you walk in, but who cares? There are sights to be seen here, people! How often can you go on a boozy safari in western PA? An indoor one, anyway.

Stinky's Bar and Grill

Est. Circa 2006 | Lawrenceville
A Lawrenceville tradition without the smokey, divey stink 

Iceland is green, Greenland is covered in ice, and Stinky’s is anything but stinky (literally, since it’s 100% non-smoking). Thrillist’s own Kevin Alexander had this to say of Stinky’s: “If there’s a sports dive with a better food menu in the country, I haven’t visited it yet.” There are drink specials every night of the week and 26 HDTVs for watching every Pittsburgh sports team -- maybe even all at once.

Belvedere’s

Est. Circa 2005 | Lawrenceville
Themed dance nights and events make this Lawrenceville’s premier “ultra-dive”

Belvedere’s is proud of its “dive bar” status -- so much so, that it calls itself an “ultra-dive” bar and features quirky themes like Moody Mondays and Total Request Dive (TRD). Known for its ‘80s and ‘90s nights, Belvedere’s has a sizeable dance floor for throwing out questionable moves along to your favorite classics.

Bob's Garage

Est. Circa 1979 | Blawnox
Drink and be merry like it’s always the holiday season 

Every year, the Miracle pop-up bar magically appears downtown during the holiday season, with decor that makes it look like Christmas threw up all over the room. It’s always light-up night at Bob’s Garage, though, since the holiday decorations up year-round; paired with cheap drinks, this is the perfect place to keep the spirit of Christmas alive every day.

Hemingway’s Cafe

Est. Circa 1981 | Oakland
Frequently voted “Best College Bar” in the ‘Burgh

Gummy worm shot pitchers, $2.50 draft specials, and cocktails served in mason jars: This is what Hemingway’s is all about. Located in the heart of Oakland in the midst of the University of Pittsburgh, it’s a popular spot with students and a great choice for a boozy lunch among working stiffs. Order an enormous cocktail and don’t be surprised to see plastic toys floating in your drink. Ernest himself would be glad to know such a fine diving establishment exists in his honor.

Kelly’s Bar & Lounge

Est. 1960 | East Liberty
A vintage interior and strong drinks have helped this place outlast gentrification  

East Liberty is Pittsburgh's neighborhood that's undergone the most “development” in the past decade, Kelly’s is one of the remaining relics that's (hopefully) here to stay. Red booths line the pink-hued room that fills up with hipsters on the weekends. An outdoor patio provides a nice hangout spot and a backyard haven for smokers in warmer months. Along with dirt-cheap drink specials, Kelly’s food menu is top-notch -- the mac and cheese, served piping hot with a burnt crust, is the stuff of legend.

Bar 11

Est. 1995 | South Side
Each drink comes with a toy at “Pittsburgh’s Ultimate Party Bar”

You’ll want to wear clothing you’re OK with writing on at this South Side establishment, so you can brand yourself and your friends with highlighter pens and see what messages you have for each other under the black light. (Or maybe you don’t want to do this!) Bar 11 gives patrons toys and candy necklaces with their drinks, which makes you feel a bit like a kid again -- only with alcoholic beverages.

Hambone’s

Est. 1985 | Lawrenceville
Come for the live entertainment, and stay for the cheap eats

Hambone’s is a no-nonsense neighborhood hang, with a drop ceiling and a fine selection of craft beers. A small bar area spills out into a bigger performance room that hosts stand-up comedy, open mics, burlesque shows, game nights, and more. The tables look like something your grandma has in her basement, which makes the atmosphere all the better for watching local entertainment and eating delicious snacks like mac and cheese bites and gouda and bacon fries.

Rock Room

Est. Circa 2009 | Polish Hill
A dive for everyone, home to hipsters and Yinzers alike

A Polish Hill charmer, the Rock Room is dark and smoky with a small, “gather 'round” bar where you can watch the big game with other locals. Just around the corner from Gooski’s, Rock Room offers ridiculously low-priced beers and food specials, making this a great place to fuel up. The open galley kitchen in the back of the front room makes some delicious pierogies.

Chief’s Cafe

Est. Circa 1984 | Oakland
Firefighter-themed bar with memorabilia-strewn walls

With its firehouse theme and motif, Chief’s Cafe is a lifesaver for thirsty patrons with its ice-cold beer and inexpensive drinks. You can come here to watch Pens or Pitt games, but Chief’s also plays host to jazz and reggae shows that are worth stopping in for.

Jack’s Bar

Est. Unknown | South Side
A timeless spot open every legal second for drinking alcohol

Jack’s Bar opens at 7am six days of the week, and 9am on Sunday -- so, it’s a place where everybody can know your name A LOT. With a friendly atmosphere and regular Iron City specials, this is a Pittsburgh bar through and through. Or as Jack’s says: “The most really real bar.” The colorful lights and fluorescent glow make it easy to spot on Carson Street, and the cheap drinks make it easy for sidling up to the bar.

Lefty’s

Est. Circa 2006 | Strip District
The perfect place to watch the Steelers and enjoy $4 Strong Islands

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be left-handed to hang out at Lefty’s. That said, it may help to be ambidextrous when throwing back drinks that can knock you off your bar stool (including the infamous Strong Island). Located in the heart of the Strip District, before you head to Lefty’s you can pick up some cheap black and yellow memorabilia to wear while you watch the big game.

White Eagle

Est. Circa 1940 | South Side
This bird bar soars with must-have specialities like the pudding shot

In addition to being family-owned and operated as well as cash-only, White Eagle is probably the only place in town where you can get a flaming pumpkin pie shot. It’s also the home of the pudding shot, which is just what it sounds like. The smokey smell may stick to your clothes, but the cheap fun will stick with you longer.

Yesterday's

Est. Circa 1982 | Greenfield
Neighborhood bar where you can drink today into yesterday

Not only does Yesterday’s have delicious food and inexpensive drinks, but it also hosts events like tarot card readings and murder mystery nights. Plus, if you drink too much and need to repent, St. Rosalia’s Church is right across the street.

Jekyl & Hyde

Est. 1996 | South Side
Where it’s Halloween 365 days a year

If your favorite holiday falls at the end of October, you definitely need to head to Jekyl & Hyde -- and yes, that’s the way it’s really spelled. Campy spider webs and decorations fill the establishment, along with actual cigarette smoke (vs the dry ice kind), and the menu includes Evil Shots like the “Grim Reaper” and the “Bloody Brain.”

Le Mardi Gras

Est. 1954 | Shadyside
Pretend it’s Fat Tuesday at this self-proclaimed “Hysterical Landmark”

If you blink walking down Copeland Street in Shadyside, you will miss Le Mardi Gras. Open since 1954, this tiny, dark space is a holdout gem tucked away in the swanky neighborhood. The drinks here are always strong; if you can bear the smoky interior, order a Greyhound, made with a generous pour of vodka and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. Just be careful as you’re leaving: many a patron has stumbled back down the stairs to the street after a night out.

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Laura Zorch once had three Fire Fly cocktails at Kelly's and... end scene. Follow her and her pals at @eatpgh.
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer living and working in Pittsburgh.