First, let’s clear one thing up. We are not using dive bar as a pejorative term. No, a dive is a place with long-established neighborhood charm. More important, it doesn’t feel the need to dress anything up from what it is: a hangout for people looking for an honest pour at an affordable price. (Plus maybe a pinball machine and some Christmas lights). There will sometimes be a free bar snack, usually a good jukebox, typically pool or darts, and always a few regulars (who are on a first-name basis with the bartender) propping up the bar. Oh, and let’s leave the craft beers, homemade syrups and oversize ice cubes behind. Read on for a dozen or so establishments that fit the bill.
Is St. Mark’s dead, as a recent history might lead you to believe? This throwback, running since the 1970s, would say no. Or more likely it would say it doesn’t care either way. Grassroots chugs on, offering a roomy place to listen to punk and hard rock on the jukebox and knock back dirt-cheap Red Hook ESB (delicious, but not officially a craft brew!).
Dive cred: Gruff bartenders, multiple dart lanes, heavily graffitied restroom, below-street-level location
The price is right: Pitchers start at $9
Under another name, this was once an ironworkers’ bar emblazoned with the motto “Where Good Friends Meet” (some of us non-ironworkers used to meet there too, when we lived around the corner). The friends gathering now typically come to hear rockabilly bands or just sit on stools at the long bar downing Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Dive cred: Black exterior wall painted with orange and yellow flames, (usually) free live music, cash only, no phone
The price is right: PBR can and a shot of Old Granddad for $7
Montero Bar and Grill
OK, the popular weekend karaoke has made this place skew a bit younger than it did in year’s past, but we can’t resist it: it’s decidedly out of place, bordering two of Brooklyn’s poshest neighborhoods (Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights); it’s filled with charming bric-a-brac; it’s got great neon signage; and it’s been running since World War II.
Dive cred: Former longshoreman’s bar, there is definitely no grill
The price is right: “The cheapest beer in town,” according to the man on the other end of the phone (note: bottles only).
Mother Pug’s Saloon
Mother Pug’s Saloon checks off all the Dive-Bar-Bingo boxes—an Irish name, punk bands and an outside patio featuring tiki bar décor. The live punk rock shows run weekend nights with occasional karaoke for the crowd.
Dive cred: The Staten Island bar sells New York Lottery tickets.
The price is right: Cheapest beer on draft is $4 Budweiser.
Nancy Whiskey Pub
Nearing 50 years old, this atmospheric den pulls in a mix of locals, cops (there’s a police station around the corner) and curious grammarians wondering where the missing apostrophe-s went. Just kidding: “Nancy Whiskey” is a phrase from an old Scottish folk song and was the stage name of a midcentury Scottish folk singer, so we guess that’s where it comes from. There’s a decent pub menu and plenty of good cheer to go around these days.
Dive cred: Shuffleboard game; narrow staircase, leading up to/down from very low-ceilinged second floor, can be hard to navigate after a few drinks
The price is right: Burgers are $7.
Ready Penny Inn
Tucked near a bunch of produce stands in the heavily South Asian section of Jackson Heights, Irish bar Ready Penny is like a neighborhood living room—the kind of place where strangers will strike up conversations and you’ll be flipping a three-sided coin between Guinness, Smithwick’s and Bud.
Dive cred: A decent portion of space is given over to a pool table.
The price is right: $5.50 for a pint of Guinness
Don’t judge a place by the plastic pig outside. Or do; it doesn’t really matter. This Hell’s Kitchen institution feels like it has been around forever, and it has (more or less). Plenty of theater types stop by, but so do long-time customers, attracted by the inexpensive drinks and lively chatter.
Dive cred: Free hot dogs, banquette cushions in serious need of replacement, wine by Sutter Home (one red, one white)
The price is right: Pitchers start at, glug, $8.
This Irish pub is a local hangout that’s a laid-back reprieve for those who don’t want to be wading through the crowds in other Brooklyn bars. The simple bar has a jukebox, some TVs and even karaoke on Saturday nights.
Dive cred: Kensington is one of the few Brooklyn neighborhoods that’s not completely overrun by craft beer and cocktail lounges.
The price is right: $5 for a draft of Budweiser
Though it’s practically famous (it was featured in one of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations), the bar doesn’t let its notoriety go to its head. Still stacked with neighborhood regulars, “crappy beer” and a pool table, the 100-year-old joint is just as grungy as the East Village used to be.
Dive cred: The owner’s “drink of choice” is Budweiser.
The price is right: Average price of draft beer is $6
A stalwart in its original spot for 77 years, the new location on 2nd Avenue and 60th Street still retains the noir neon sign on the outside and convivial comfort on the inside. It’s set right by the Roosevelt Island tram with the same red lights and checkered floors design scheme as before. Imbibers can start pouring in at 10am.
Dive cred: It still serves Atomic Wings.
The price is right: Draft beers are priced from $5 to $6.
There’s no place quite like Sunny’s, an unassuming waterfront bar that lives on after the recent death of owner and Red Hook fixture Sunny Balzano. The warm, welcoming vibe extends to the frequent bluegrass jams that take place on its small stage.
Dive cred: Knickknacks lining the wall; no beer on tap
The price is right: Bud bottles for $4, and the music's free.
Turkey’s Nest Tavern
You may have heard that Williamsburg is a-changing (if not completely transformed) from its uber-bohemian “good old days.” But, thankfully, Turkey’s Nest—an early entry in the neighborhood’s nightlife scene—is still holding out strong with large, strong and cheap drinks.
Dive cred: They serve drinks in giant Styrofoam cups.
The price is right: $6 for a 32-ounce Bud, $14 for an oversize margarita