Like many things in Washington DC, what is and isn’t a dive bar is a matter of great debate. The qualifications from some of the most orthodox dive bar enthusiasts are time, grime, and dime: how long it’s been there, how dirty it is, and how cheap. (But one bar owner, when asked how long his establishment had been open, told us, “The first 10 years were a blur, so I really have no idea.” Obviously, that place qualifies.) Others swear a dive has to have a jukebox -- and not one of those pesky digital ones. Of course, the very word dive itself implies it’s subterranean.
The one thing we can agree on is that there is a spectrum of “diviness.” And we’ve included 11 bars that fit somewhere on the scale. Not all of them are below ground, filthy, or dangerous. While those may well define the perfect dive, there are other qualities we admire, too, including a gruff personality, canned beer, and a host of regulars. Each one of these bars deserves a spot for being a dive, or pretty damn close.