Food & Drink

10 DC-Area Chefs Name Their Favorite Dive Bar

Published On 08/26/2015 Published On 08/26/2015
Boundary Stone

The chefs we trust to cook our food should also be trusted to guide us to the best places to blow off steam without annoying things like mixologists, secret doors, or weirdos from out of town. We asked 10 for their go-to dives, and it should come as no surprise that they’re directing you to establishments that specialize in beer-and-shot combos and no bull.

Chef Mike Friedman of The Red Hen and forthcoming restaurant All Purpose

His pick: Boundary Stone (address & info)
What it is: A neighborhood bar named after the mile markers that once shaped DC that’s easygoing and big on brown liquor and beer.
Why he digs it: “It's rare that I get out to tie one on these days, but if I do, I'm a big fan of beloved watering hole, Boundary Stone,” Mike tells us. “I consider The Stone far from a dive bar because of its great whiskey program, awesome food, and one of the best jukeboxes in town. But for me, the true definition of a dive bar is a small pub where people can drink and have a great time, and Boundary Stone fits that bill.” Mike bellies up to the bar to order a shot of whiskey and a Guinness to go with the bleu burger or he gets the wings and washes them down with a draft. “The best part is I can still get home before my wife starts to worry.”

Mike Edwards

Chef John Manolatos of Cashion’s Eat Place

His pick: The Raven Bar & Grill (address and info)
Mount Pleasant
What it is: An iconic no-frills dive older than most of its customers where the drinks are dirt cheap, and the only food you’ll find is a bag of Utz chips.
Why he digs it: John was introduced to The Raven in 1998 when he was living on Irving St. “It was the perfect watering hole for a line cook in his early 20s because it was open early, Seagram’s 7 & 7UPs were $5, and the jukebox was $1 for five songs,” he says. “It was the kind of place that was friendly enough, yet you wouldn’t run into huge groups of overly happy and loud people.”

Showtime Lounge

Chef Rob Sonderman of DCity Smokehouse

His pick: Showtime Lounge (address and info)
What it is: A cash-only, dog-friendly dive serving beer-and-shot combos whose most charming attribute is its house funk band starring an octogenarian.
Why he digs it: Rob says he loves the grungy feel to it created by low lighting, cheap drinks, and the “kinda sweaty” atmosphere created when it’s busy. “It’s just a great place to go if you want to get hammered for $25 over the course of an hour or less,” he says. “The crowd is generally young hipster types from in and around the neighborhood, but the spot is becoming more and more popular by the day.” He’s ordering a Natty Boh or Genesee Cream Ale with a shot of cheap whiskey for $5. You also can’t miss out on Granny and the Boys on Sunday nights.

Laura Hayes

Chef Nick Stefanelli of Masseria

His pick: Ivy and Coney (address & info)
What it is: A Chicago- and Detroit-themed dive with a heavy emphasis on sports, booze, and ballpark eats that isn’t afraid to pour Malört for the uninitiated.
Why he digs it: “It’s one of my favorite no-frills watering holes,” Nick tells us. “It’s easy to miss the green door when walking down 7th Street, so keep your eyes peeled for this low-key spot. I like to post up on a night off for a cold beer and a ballpark-style dog for next to nothing.” He even provides this tip: “It’s cash only, so don't forget your dolla bills!”

Al?c B?rry

Chef Nathan Anda of Red Apron, The Partisan, and B Side

His pick: DC9 (address & info)
U Street
What it is: A nightclub that cranks out live music, juicy burgers, and cheap, stiff drinks without the triple-popped collar pretentious crowd.  
Why he digs it: Nathan’s a big music fan, that’s why one of his spots is called B Side. He tells us he swings by DC9 en route to a show at the 9:30 Club for a couple of Heinekens. “The jukebox and the laid-back vibe are major draws,” he says.


Chef Harper McClure of Brabo by Robert Wiedmaier

HIs pick: O’Shaughnessy’s Pub (address & info)
Old Town Alexandria
What it is: A Cheers-like, laid-back den with pool tables, live bands, an interesting cast of characters, and Jewish deli food from downstairs.
Why he digs it: Harper picks O’Shaughnessy’s if he’s going to get wild. “You can still smoke in there, they have three pool tables in the back, and a good jukebox, not to mention cheap pitchers and cheap whiskey shots.” He says the crowd is made up of Alexandria locals and “a bunch of poor line cooks drinking away their last $10 on a pitcher.”

The Pug

Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley of Ripple, Roofers Union, and Jug & Table

Her pick: The Pug (address & info)
H Street NE
What it is: A cash-only dive with a sense of humor, barely playable board games, Rock'em Sock'em Robots, and rules like “relax,” “behave,” and “no politics.”
Why she digs it: "I love that the walls are covered in knickknacks and memorabilia, and it always feels welcoming,” Marjorie tells us. She lives down the street so that helps too. “The best thing to order at any good dive is a beer and a shot; I go for Jameson and a Narragansett."

Art’s Tavern

Chef Victor Albisu of Del Campo and Taco Bamba

His pick: Art’s Tavern (address & info)
Falls Church
What it is: A pub offering all the staples: trivia, karaoke, game day specials, burgers, and chili mac.  
Why he digs it: “Art’s is the kind of neighborhood bar that is typical in other parts of the country, but rare in this area,” Victor tells us. “It has genuinely nice people and live music and is just a really comfortable and friendly spot to grab a domestic draft after a crazy dinner rush at Taco Bamba.” He also likes the darts and local sports on TV.

Laura Hayes

Chef Russell Jones of Jack Rose Dining Saloon

His pick: The Saloon (address & info)
U Street
What it is: A multi-floor dive with a big heart, German beers, and a lot of rules (the best of which is no standing).
Why he digs it: Russell says The Saloon is his favorite bar, though he’s not sure it’s all that divey (it’s pretty clean after all). “The owner doesn’t bother with trying to please everyone, but every year he closes for a few weeks and goes to build a school for a community in need with a percentage of his earnings,” he says. The bar is actually considered a non-profit. “The beer selection is fine, and the food is all it needs to be -- I’m a creature of habit and usually keep it simple by ordering a Kasteel Tripel and some nuts.”


Chef Travis Weiss of Mad Fox Taproom and Mad Fox Brewing Company

His pick: The Codmother (address & info)
U Street
What it is: A sweaty cave filled with hormones and high energy that’s not afraid to put out a sign that proclaims “three steps down to what some call the shittiest bar in DC.”  
Why he digs it: “There’s nothing better for a tired, stinky chef than to go to a quiet, dark, and underground dive,” Travis says. “Except, when said bar has shot-and-beer combos for like six or seven bucks. The bartenders don't bother you if you don't bother them, but they are quick with a drink when you nod.” He calls the crowd typically very easygoing, and digs that you’re encouraged to write on the walls and “be yourself.”  

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1. The Red Hen 1822 1st St NW , Washington, DC 20001

The open kitchen, bare brick walls, and simple, maple furnishing make you feel like you're in your own home when you eat at The Red Hen, as does the comfort of their classic Italian and American dishes. Just upscale of what you'd find in a chain, roasted chicken with black truffle polenta, house made cavatelli with spicy lamb, and grilled swordfish show impressive culinary chops but don't break the bank. They stick to simplicity here, even with its global wine list, and it works.

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2. The Raven Grill 3125 Mount Pleasant St NW, Washington, DC 20010 (Mt Pleasant)

Look no further for your best Mount Pleasant dive -- The Raven Grill's got the cracked booth seats, bright neon glow, stocked jukebox, and $5 bourbons to get the job done right.

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3. Boundary Stone 116 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Shaw)

Named for the mile markers that once shaped the city, Boundary Stone encapsulates DC style with exposed brick, original tin ceilings, oak bars, and even a stained glass DC flag. The Bloomingdale American restaurant boasts a menu of snacks, appetizers, sandwiches, and entrees, with favorites including daily changing deviled eggs and the honey hot chicken with honey hot sauce, bleu cheese, lettuce, and fries. Try one of the eight drafts on tap as you slide into one of the rustic, charcoal-colored wooden booths.

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4. Cashion's Eat Place 1819 Columbia Rd NW, Washington, 20009 (Adams Morgan)

Located in Adams Morgan, Cashion's churns out inventive a local dishes from a menu that changes daily. Be sure to check out their Craft Beer Brunch, available at the bar.

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5. DCity Smokehouse 8 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Noma)

DCity Smokehouse hosts a four-seat BBQ joint led by pitmaster Rob Sonderman. You’ll find menu items like the chicken and red velvet waffles and Sondermans’ smoked meats, and you can get a protein grand tour with a smokehouse meat platter. As far as we are concerned, DCity is one of the best places to get BBQ in Washington DC.

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6. Showtime 113 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001

This Bloomingdale spot is one of DC's most beloved dives, thanks to its funk & soul jukebox, weekly live music, and dirt-cheap beer. Painstakingly curated by owner & DJ Paul Vivari, the jukebox contains more than 2,000 tracks of soul, R&B, jazz, and ‘60s pop. As for the booze, the selection isn't quite as extensive: the converted barbershop offers just four draft lines and a compact liquor selection, and fuses them with its $5 shot-and-beer combos, which are ideal if you’re looking to loosen up before getting down to some funk music.

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7. Masseria 1340 4th St NE, Washington, DC 20002

Hidden in the rows of wholesale stores surrounding Union Market, you might miss Masseria if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Inside the wooden gate, the warehouse vibe gives way to a stylish courtyard, which leads to an industrial-chic covered patio and dining room. Both the decor and the menu are inspired by Chef Nicholas Stefanelli’s fond memories of Puglia’s idyllic landscapes and welcoming country houses. The tasting menu is the only way to play, unless you take a seat at the bar for small plates. Choose between a three-, four-, or five- course meal -- or splurge on the customized six-course La Cucina menu. The dishes are modern and artistic takes on classics, like the linguine with XO sauce and the tripe topped with lobster. Don’t skip the cocktails, or you’ll miss the smoke show that is the Fumo di Uva.

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8. Ivy and Coney 1523 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Shaw)

Ivy and Coney is a homey dive bar in Shaw that delivers a relaxed neighborhood vibe, delicious hotdogs, and a menu that includes nothing over $6.

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9. Red Apron Butcher 709 D St NW, Washington, DC 20004 (Penn Quarter)

Start with a quality butcher that's got all the meats and provisions you could ask for, add a delicious menu of specialty breakfast and lunch sandwiches, mix in some coffee from Ceremony, and you've got yourself Red Apron Butcher. Speaking of their breakfast sandwiches, all of them are served on tigelle -- a tasty Italian flatbread reminiscent of an English muffin -- and come in varieties that you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in DC, like the Southern Comfort with tasso ham, egg, and spicy pimento cheese.

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10. The Partisan 709 D St NW, Washington, DC 20004 (Penn Quarter)

With 30+ charcuterie options, medium plates like sausages and corned beef belly, and feasts like a whole roasted pig's head, The Partisan will cater to your meat cravings, no matter your appetite.

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11. B Side 8298 Glass Alley, Fairfax, VA 22031 (Fairfax)

From meat-monger Nathan Anda, this Mosaic District neighborhood bar and restaurant serves a nice array of bar snacks and main dishes, including rotisifried chicken, steak frites, and the Mosaic Burger: a double patty with Italian beef, provolone, and giardiniere.

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12. DC9 Nightclub 1940 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

DC9 is a club with great live music and a nice rooftop bar, but it also has fantastic food, including some of DC's best burgers.

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13. BRABO by Robert Wiedmaier 1600 King St, Alexandria, VA 22314 (Alexandria)

This Belgian-French joint is seasonally driven and features items like Spanish octopus en brodo and roasted Amish chicken.

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14. O' Shaughnessy's Pub 1324 King St, Alexandria, VA 22301 (Alexandria)

This laid-back spot has pool tables, live music, and Jewish deli food from downstairs. Interesting fact: you can still smoke inside here.

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15. Ripple 3417 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008 (Cleveland Park)

Boasting a linen-lined, curtained rear dining room and a 40ft tiled bar backed by huge mirrors and flower-patterned lightboxes up front, Ripple's a casually airy, beige-walled winer n' diner.

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16. Roofers Union 2446 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 (Adams Morgan)

Roofers Union Restaurant marries German and American tastes in a beer-focused Adams Morgan gastropub. You can’t come without ordering a trio of sausages stuffed in-house: one beer-poached brat on sauerkraut, one veal heart wiener on caraway-purple cabbage slaw, one boudin blanc with red onion confit and cranberry. You can always go more American with a bacon burger or fried chicken sandwich, though. The three-storied building is diverse: the first floor plays hosts to an affiliated wine bar called Jug & Table, the second-floor dining room boasts floor-to-ceiling windows and four-top seating, and a covered third floor rooftop is ideal for street-gazing and lapping punch bowls.

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17. Jug & Table 2446 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 (Adams Morgan)

At Jug & Table, wine is on tap and served in carrafes from the music themed wine list. Bar food includes meat and cheese boards as well as sandwiches and plates like summer pea ravioli.

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18. The Pug 1234 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002 (H Street Ne)

Much like the dog it’s named after, this H Street dive is small, friendly and ugly in a cute way. A regular cast of characters come in to check the list of draft beers on a chalkboard above the bar, and settle in to a seat surrounded by walls littered with vintage photos of boxers and posters from the 80s. Whatever you do, don’t ask for a craft cocktail, as you might be denied and then shamed: it’s not that kind of place. Though, while it may not look like a typical brunch spot (and the kitchen amounts to a few hot plates behind the bar), unlimited mimosas are dirt cheap and ‘The All American Special’ (a plate of eggs, sausage, hash and gravy on a biscuit) does satisfy.

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19. Del Campo 777 I Street NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Penn Quarter)

Using a wood-fired grill is one way to cook a steak, and at Del Campo, that smoke helps add another level of flavor to the meat. This upscale Argentinian restaurant in Chinatown is a beautiful tribute to Argentinian grilled meats, all served in an elegantly rustic space outfitted with oak wood floors and leather sling-back barstools- perfect for enjoying the 48oz ribeye on the menu.

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20. Taco Bamba 2190 Pimmit Dr, Falls Church, VA 22043 (Falls Church)

Check out Taco Bamba in Falls Church, VA for Victor Albisu’s take on Mexican street food, which includes adventurous tacos like El Beso, with crispy pork and beef tongue, along with staples like carne asada, barbacoa, and carnitas.

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21. Art's Tavern 2190 Pimmit Dr, Falls Church, VA 22043 (Falls Church)

This pub has all the staples: trivia, karaoke, game day specials, burgers and chili mac. It's a neighborhood bar and a friendly spot to grab a drink.

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22. The Saloon 1205 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009

They say it straight at The Saloon: No standing, no martinis, no American Express, and so forth. You gotta love them, both for their Belgian beer selection, and because a portion of bar tabs go towards building schools abroad.

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23. Mad Fox Taproom 2218 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20007

Newest member of the Mad Fox family, this Glover Park location boasts a mean brew selection and an even meaner (meatier) menu.

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24. Mad Fox Brewery 444 West Broad St , Falls Church, VA 22046 (Falls Church)

With brews named "Headcracker" and "Blithering Idiot", it's OK to be afraid of barleywines. But if you're not, head out to Mad Fox this weekend for the two-day bash with live music and more than 30 of the high-octane suds on draught and cask.

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25. The Codmother 1334 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009 (U Street)

As dive-y as it gets, this U Street Corridor joint has fish & chips to rival the best chippies in The Big Smoke (that's London, mate). On top of that, they've got free-flowing PBR, some killer desserts -- deep fried snickers and oreos -- blaring British punk, and walls covered in photos of Sid Vicious, Joe Strummer, and other punk legends. It'll be just like being in London, and be amazing enough to maybe make you reconsider that whole 1776 thing. For a second, anyway.