The Most Essential Dive Bars in Seattle
It's fun to be in the know. To say "Yeah, I've been there" when someone asks about the hottest places to eat in the city. Or know where to find Seattle's friendlist singles. But sometimes you just wanna go someplace dimly lit, with neon signs of beers no longer produced dangling from the walls. A place where trivia night could be on a Tuesday or not at all because no one seems to give a shit. Sometimes you need a bar with some history.
And we don't mean the “I used to get cheap drinks there when I was in college," kind of history. We mean the famous rock stars and beat poets used to drink here kind of history. The “this bar opened almost a hundred years ago and hasn't closed since” kind of history. That's why we've assembled a list of Seattle's best dive bars -- some have breakfast happy hours, some serve peanuts and sell drinks for peanuts, but all of them are good places to go drink pretty much anytime. Except maybe right after you meet one of those friendly singles.
THE place for peanuts and pinball
Sure, there are gorgeous views of Lake Union from the underutilized balcony in the back, but other than that, this place is all dive. There are peanut shells strewn everywhere (peanuts are the only food they offer), and it's cash-only. It's also got pretty much every old-school bar game you can think of, from pool (including one of the city's only snooker tables), to ping-pong, darts, shuffleboard, and an Indiana Jones pinball machine. Plus a stand-up arcade game that was presumably named after what Indy always said was the thing he hated to do before taking off on one of his adventures, Pac(k)-Man.
A wood-panelled roadhouse with excellent fried chicken
Known for karaoke (plus bingo and trivia) as well as some of the city's best fried chicken, this tiny dive is set back from 15th, giving it room for a huge front "yard" (it's astroturf) that's screened off from the street by tarps. Waterwheel also hosts all kinds of lawn games including ping-pong, ladderball, and cornhole -- none of which you'll actually be able to play after too many of the $2 domestic drafts they pour during happy hour.
Family run bar that's impervious to gentrification
The neighborhood has changed dramatically from its industrial roots -- there's a Trader Joe's a block away now -- but "The Chili" hasn't changed at all, even forcing the massive Ballard Blocks development to build around it, so it could keep slinging the same excellent chili it has for 80 years.
Serving Seattle's best (perhaps only) breakfast happy hour
The motto is “alcoholics serving alcoholics since 1929,” they’re pretty mean to anyone wearing Google Glass (they were the first bar in the country to ban them -- months before they came out), and every morning from 6-9am they (rather subversively) serve up bacon pancakes and quick-fried mini donuts, plus cheap wells, and $2 drafts during their morning happy hour, all of which actually make it -- despite its dim black-and-white checkerboard interior -- a pretty nice place to grab a drink at dawn. Or anytime, really.
Kurt Cobain's favorite Seattle dive
For almost 20 years, LT's been a destination for musicians getting ready for a show (or bartending, serving, and working in the kitchen), and is supposedly the last place Kurt Cobain was seen alive. Also, some of their bathrooms are really nice. Just kidding, but the Cobain thing is true.
A drinking destination for almost a century
Opened a year after The 5 Point (1930) by the same family, the Mecca's two narrow rooms boast all the usual dive hallmarks: surly bartenders, delicious & greasy eats, and drinks that are so stiff they'll put anyone, well, on their knees.
Looks like a dive. Feels like your favorite bar.
This taxidermy-heavy bar has some serious deals on Oly and 14 other drafts, 15 burger options (like the peanut butter/bacon-based After School Special), hot wings, onion rings, and other "sidekicks", a massive patio out back, bar games (Buck Hunter, skeeball, etc.), and bottled craft cocktails served at "beer speed," whatever the hell that means.
A metal bar that definitely doesn't take itself too seriously
Opened by a pair of bar and restaurant vets, this black-painted drink spot down the block from Dick's is serving signature old-timey cocktails (try the Italian vermouth/dry gin/brandy/lemon Victor) under the kind of muted red lighting ideal for displaying their ironic graffiti-style wizard mural, and playing all their games, like pin-ball, free darts, and a gratis arcade-style console loaded with ‘80s classics like Galaga, Pac Man & Pole Position.
No frills dive from a prolific restaurateur
Opened by a Montana-born industry veteran (La Bete, Matt's in the Market, etc.) and the entrepreneur behind Rachel's Ginger Beer, this 40-seater is serving better-than-usual beers and a few classic cocktails in a charmingly awkward space that used to house Buck's. It’s now transformed thanks to stained wood and highway signs (some bullet-riddled) into the kind of intentionally divey space where you're encouraged to carve your name into the tables.
Same dive. New address.
This Coney Island-themed hot dog-and-pinball emporium moved a block down 2nd Avenue but it's still serving a half-dozen dog options, and pouring stiff drinks -- as well as its less stiff boozy slushies -- in a festive, casual space.
Iconic and "infamous" college bar
Opened a mile or so from UW in 1934, when the law required bars to be at least that far from the school, this wood-heavy tavern spent the middle part of the century as a destination for literary figures like Roethke, Dylan Thomas, and Allen Ginsberg. Nowadays it's a destination for music lovers thanks to live shows almost every night.
Everyone thought it was curtains for this well-loved bar in 2013 until new owners stepped in and launched an updated, more polished version of the former venue/bar in 2014. Though music doesn’t happen quite as often as it used to, they've still got a solid booze selection -- and $4 pitchers -- plus the bar connects to Lost Lake so you can grab a late-night breakfast or plate of tater tots.
Gritty strip club-adjacent boozer
All you really need to know is that TT is connected to one of Seattle's best strip clubs, but if that's somehow not enough for you, this iconic dive reopened in 2014 (after shuttering the year before) with some help from the guy behind the Secret Sausage food truck. Meaning you can always score a hotlink with housemade cream cheese to go with their better than average beer selection.
Sign up here for our daily Seattle email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.