Fancy cocktail places in the ‘burgh are on the rise. Which is fine and all, but sometimes you just want a cheap drink and an atmosphere to match. While sweeping changes in bar culture are hitting the city hard, it's still fairly easy to find a great and (let’s face it) dingy place to grab a beer and chill with friends. Maybe meet some characters here and there. Here are a few of our favorite dive bars in town, and one for the willing traveler.
“What’s the best dive ba -- ” “GOOSKI’S.” Gooski’s is always first when you ask anyone for the best dive bar here. And rightly so. With a jukebox filled with hits and staff-curated playlists, graffitied walls, pool tables, solid 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.
Another Polish Hill charmer, the Rock Room is dark and smoky with a small, gather 'round bar to watch the big game with the other locals. It doesn’t pack the same hip punch as Gooski’s, but the ridiculously low-priced beers and food specials make this a great place to fuel up. And the open galley kitchen in the back of the front room makes some decent pierogies.
Gummy worm shot pitchers, $2.50 draft specials, and cocktails served in mason jars: this is Hemingway’s. Located in the heart of the Oakland in the midst of the University of Pittsburgh, this is a popular spot with students (it's one of the best college bars in the country!), and a great choice for a boozy lunch for 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.
If you blink walking down Copeland St 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. 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. Many a patron has stumbled back down the stairs to the street after a night out.
East Liberty is Pittsburgh's neighborhood that's undergone the most development in the past five years. 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.
Jack’s Bar opens at 7am six days of the week and 9am on Sunday. So, there’s that. With a friendly atmosphere and Iron City specials on the reg, this is a Pittsburgh bar through and through. Or as Jack’s says: “The most really real bar.” Plus, you never know who you might run into -- Aaron Paul, Justin Long, and Amanda Seyfried?!
Hambone’s is a no-nonsense neighborhood hang with a drop ceiling, bad lighting, and a selection of craft beers. A small bar area spills out into a bigger performance room that hosts stand-up comedy, open mics, game nights, and more. The tables look like something your grandma has in her basement, which makes the atmosphere all the better for watching hit-or-miss Pittsburgh comedy and eating surprisingly complex food like crab cake-stuffed haddock.
Shot of vodka, then a shot of pickle juice. Sound good? Then you’ll love Sonny’s where the pickle shot is the pièce de résistance. Trivia, karaoke, and live music keep you entertained while downing $3 mystery beer specials. And for all you art lovers, a mural of cats drinking PBR adorns the outside, so you know exactly when you've reached your destination.
It's a bit of a trek from the center of the city, but Joe’s in Ligonier is absolutely worth the day trip. Quite possibly 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 Pennsylvania?
1. Gooski's3117 Brereton St, Pittsburgh
2. Rock Room1054 Herron Ave, Pittsburgh
3. Hemingway's Cafe3911 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh
4. Le Mardi Gras731 Copeland St, Pittsburgh
5. Kelly's Bar and Lounge6012 Penn Circle South, Pittsburgh
6. Jack's Bar1117 E Carson St, Pittsburgh
7. Hambone's4207 Butler St, Pittsburgh
8. Sonny's Tavern630 S Millvale Ave, Pittsburgh
9. Joe's Bar202 W Main St, Ligonier
Gooski's is the gold standard for Pittsburgh dive bars. The spot's true character is revealed by mottos scrawled onto the wall behind the bar like: “We decide who has a good time,” “If you needed Yelp to find this place, you don't belong here,” and “The Rules: Know what you want; have your money ready; don’t make us kill you. P.S. No making out at the bar. Crying at the bar is also forbidden.” With a dozen drafts and plenty of bottled beers to choose from don't forget to also order Gooski’s beloved pierogies and wings.
This Polish Hill dive bar might have the absolute best happy hour deal of all time: $1 (yes, one dollar) drafts offered every. single. damn. night. If that's not crazy enough of a score for you, they also serve $2 burgers, 75 cent tacos and 15 cent pierogies. Run, don't walk, to this crazy cheap hotspot.
Hemingway’s Cafe is where everybody in Pittsburgh celebrates their 21st birthday. Located near the University of Pittsburgh campus, it’s a classic college dive bar with karaoke, dirt-cheap drink specials (Miller Lite drafts for $1.50), and an always-electric atmosphere.
Since the 1950s', Mardi Gras has been serving artisanal spirits and craft cocktails to the people of Pittsburgh. As the oldest cocktail lounge in the city, rest assured they've got all the classics down pat. Come here when you want to feel extra fancy.
A retro fluorescent sign accented with a martini glass calls drinkers into this vintage-style East Liberty hangout. Throwback tracks will sound as you make your way through the 1940s-styled space to the bar for cheap daily cocktails, which could be a Moscow Mule or a Paloma. You can grab any of the bar bites to eat in a booths -- from pot stickers to burgers -- but we can't stop thinking about the mac & cheese. It takes a while for the kitchen to make, but thankfully you can drink while you wait.
At Jack's, the beers start flowing at 7am (9am on Sundays). All mixed drinks are doubles, beers are cheap, the music is loud, and beer cocktails are on the menu.
Friendly and lively are two words we'd use to describe Hambone's. This charmingly low-key pub welcomes drinkers from near and far with a congenial attitude to service and extensive menu that's sure to please.
You'll have found Sonny's Tavern when you see the mural of cats drinking PBR on the outside. And on the inside, you’ll find plenty of humans drinking 24oz cans of PBR (no cats, though).
Joe's Bar is named after the late Joe Synder, a Ligionier, PA, man with an odd hobby: he collected taxidermy animals, all of which now adorn the interior of this wacky dive bar and grill. Come for the cheap beer, stay for the endless selfie opportunities among this treasure trove of dead pets.