A Room with a Brew

Get your spirits with a splash of local color at these dive bars where customers slum it and soak up some low culture.
Oh, what a little moonlight can do over drinks at the Blue Moon in Seattle.
How we love thee, let us count the ways: the sawdust on the floors, surly patrons, brusque bartenders, peanut shells and pocketknife-chiseled tabletops are just a handful of appealing dive bar traits. But the key ingredient always must be an antiseptically strong drink in a place where Lysol seems lacking.

If you're looking for a down-to-earth watering hole with a story of its own, then sink into a vinyl seat for a drink at one of these classic dive bars. We suggest bringing cash (perhaps several cigarettes to make friends) and readying a steely gaze. These spots might not be reputable, but they've certainly earned their reputations.
Jumbo's Clown Room (Los Angeles)
Around the corner from sanitized-for-primetime Hollywood & Highland, and in the heart of Thai town, is Jumbo's Clown Room, a strip club-cum-burlesque show that one fan dubbed "a dive bar with entertainment." Scantily-clad dancers aren't always the main attraction. The people who fill Jumbo's small bar area are a perfect blend of the fascinating subcultures that make up Los Angeles. Besides a respectable mix of your average Jacks and Jills out for a fun evening, you'll spot bikers, ex-porn stars, hipsters, celebrities, lesbians and wayward tourists. Rock 'n' roll provides the backdrop for the ladies' athletic performances. LA Weekly's Lina Lecaro, author of recently published, "Los Angeles's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the City of Angels," says of Jumbo's: "We were reminded why we love this landmark's ladies so much: aside from their obvious assets, they've got great taste in music."
Deliciously strong drinks in an historical setting hit the spot at Fort Defiance, Brooklyn.
Fort Defiance (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
When most people think about the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Brooklyn isn't the first skirmish that comes to mind. When most people think about local pubs, they don't necessarily think about the original Fort Defiance, built right before the Battle of Brooklyn and commemorated by this local bar. This Revolutionary War-inspired local favorite defiantly offers a combination of basic Southern fare with extremely affordable drinks in an environment that doesn't condone fighting, but celebrates it. Armed with a slogan like "Now and forever serving wine, beer and cocktails," you know they're going to be pouring potables here for a very long time. While the menu includes surprisingly good brunch treats, the real draw is the wine and cocktail menu where most generously-served spirits are under $11 including the colorfully titled "Colonial Cooler" and classic "Tom Collins" which both come in at $8 and keep thirsty locals coming back for more.

To make the Revolutionary experience complete, visit local National Historic landmark Green-Wood Cemetery in late August for their annual commemoration of the Battle of Brooklyn, the first major battle to take place after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Marie's Riptide Lounge is an enduring Chicago landmark, for good reasons.
Marie's Riptide Lounge (Chicago)
When Marie's Riptide Lounge (1570 W Armitage Avenue; 773-278-7317) opened in 1961, the surrounding Bucktown neighborhood was not the trendy, arty enclave it is today. Marie Wuczynski's namesake corner bar is nestled beneath an underpass for the Kennedy Expressway; that seedy locale sets the tone in this well-traveled watering hole.

Well past the age most folks retire, Wuczynski still holds court in her linoleum-clad "dive." For more than four decades she's decked the halls for every holiday (think "snow" on the bar at Christmas and cardboard jack-o-lanterns at Halloween). With no kitchen, Marie's treats customers to such luxuries as pickled eggs and beer sold by the six-pack.
Literary legends have been known to hide out among the booths at the Blue Moon.
Blue Moon Tavern (Seattle)
The novelist Tom Robbins phoned Picasso from a phone booth here (the painter refused to accept the overseas charges). During the McCarthy trials, maligned UW professors such as Joe Butterworth sought sanctuary within these wood plank walls. Allen Ginsberg, Mark Tobey and Dylan Thomas visited the bar. And the poets Theodore Roethke and Richard Hugo regularly frequented its countercultural counter.

Since 1934, the Blue Moon has courted controversy, been threatened with demolition, become the site for impending condominiums and vied for landmark status, which to this day the city hasn't granted. But it endures and, according to its latest lease, will make it until its centennial anniversary in 2034.
Today, open mic performers, punk bands and alt-country acts regularly entertain (or try to) a contemporary crowd of grad students, laborers, freelance writers and nouveau hippie twenty-somethings in the dark, time-varnished interior. First time visitors need only look for the naked lady reclining on a crescent moon sign, or the Hammered Man (a mechanized cutout parodying the Hammering Man sculpture located outside the Seattle Art Museum). Britt Olson
A G&T with a little history at these dive bars.
The Raven Grill (Washington)
The Raven Grill (3125 Mt. Pleasant Ave., NW; 202-387-8411) opened shortly after Prohibition as a liquor store, and gradually morphed into a bar and restaurant. Mr. and Mrs. Warren ran the Raven from the '50s until the mid-'90s. Local lore posits that the name may come from the raven sketch over the bar or from Mrs. Warren's love of Edgar Allen Poe, or both.

This hardy bar survived D.C.'s devastating Civil Rights-fueled riots in 1968, when entire blocks of the city went up in smoke, and the Mt. Pleasant disturbances of 1991. Yet the Raven remains a bastion of solidarity, as the diversity of the neighborhood transitions from suburb to yuppie enclave to a beloved village. 
Want an authentic dive in Dallas, matey? Try Ships Lounge.
Ships Lounge (Dallas)
One of the true dive bars still gracing the Dallas nightlife scene, Ships Lounge (1613 Greenville Ave; 214-823-0418)
has been in business since the 1950s. A guy named Charlie Red has owned the place for about 30 of those years and can usually be found at the bar sipping his beverage of choice and making sure everybody behaves. Does it get more authentic than that?
True to its name, the Lower Greenville bar's décor includes nautical touches such as anchors, ships and treasure chests. Christmas wreaths and lights decorate the place year round. Like any dive bar worth its salt, the joint is cash only. Beer and boxed wine are the only alcohol you can buy here, but you can always BYOL (bring your own liquor) and one of the longtime bartenders will set you up with ice and glasses.
Cheap beers, friendly regulars and a couple TVs (even one flat screen) make it a great place to check out Dallas' beloved Cowboys. The bar's eclectic jukebox -- filled with old-school country, blues, jazz and everything in between -- has been named one of the best in Dallas.
If you need a break from the family during those seemingly never-ending holiday visits, the bar is open 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day of the year. Yep. Even Christmas. Just remember to mind your Ps and Qs once you walk in: Violate the bar's no-cursing/no-fighting rules and you'll likely be asked take your money elsewhere
Have a drink and a smoke while you shop a flea market.
Kingpin Bar
(New Orleans)

Located just off a compact commercial strip in an Uptown neighborhood four miles from the French Quarter (it's within easy reach via the St. Charles Streetcar), the Kingpin is the defacto headquarters of some of the city's more offbeat social clubs, like the Pussyfooters (a pink-wigged dance troupe that practices here in preparation for Mardi Gras) and the Flying Elvi (a band of Elvis impersonators that roams the city on tiny scooters, like Legionnaires in a bad, beer-induced dream).
Its ties to the neighborhood are particularly plain on the occasional weekend when the bar hosts a flea market/art fair: the event starts inside and spills over to a narrow wedge of park across the street. If there's a finer way to spend a slow afternoon than sipping an Abita while weighing the merits of a bowling ball bag, it hasn't yet been unearthed.