The Dive Bars Not to Miss in Our Nation’s Capital
Dive bars are a treasure. Cocktail bars and brewpubs and speakeasies are all great, too, but the dive is perhaps the bar as it was meant to be: a place where the drinks area cheap, the music is good, and everybody’s just there to hang out and have a good time. Washington, DC, has plenty of these, from basement dives serving giant beers for $5, to decades-old classics with killer jukeboxes, to cash-only spots that refuse to serve you shooters and expect you to be chill. Here’s a look at 11 of our favorites.
Pretty much everyone passes through the Big Hunt at some point if they spend enough time in DC. It’s got a lot going for it: an excellent location just off Dupont Circle, quirky adventure safari decor, and a top-notch 32-tap beer list heavy on local brews and American craft beer. It’s best to come here on a weeknight when its three floors and four bars aren’t so packed—that way, you’ll have a better chance of dominating the skee ball machines.
Since 1979, the Bottom Line has been an ideal spot for the office workers of downtown DC to unwind with a beer in an environment that isn’t trying too hard. The Bottom Line describes itself as “your home away from home,” and vows that “there won’t be any fancy waiters, and table manners are checked at the door.” The menu at this below-ground bar includes burgers, sandwiches, soups, and salads alongside 11 beers on draft and 22 bottles.
Notorious for serving shots in plastic squeeze bottles, Dan’s Cafe is an Adams Morgan institution. Unobtrusively located on 18th Street’s teeming nightlife strip, without much in the way of signage, Dan’s Cafe is often the place you go after you go to that other place. Booze is plentiful and cheap—it’s cash only, too—and no one seems to give a damn how much of it you’ve consumed (2315 18th St. NW; 202-265-0299).
Ivy & Coney
If you’re from Chicago or Detroit, Ivy & Coney is the best dive in the city, serving hot dogs in the styles of both cities, as well as peanuts, cracker jacks, Strohs, Goose Island 312, and Bell’s Two Hearted. But Ivy & Coney is a reliable hangout for Shaw residents no matter where they’re from. Regular customers can reserve liquor lockers, and they’ll show local sports games in addition to all the Chicago and Detroit teams.
The Pug’s website sums up its philosophy neatly: “No idiots. No bombs. No shooters. No specials. No politics. Relax. Drink. Be cool. Behave.” In short, this place is a delight. The Pug has a good selection of cans, bottles, and local beers on draft—though if you want to stick with a Natty Boh tallboy, it’s there for you—and plenty of whisky, too. Just don’t come here looking for fancy cocktails. Cash only.
Recessions has always been a welcome respite in a neighborhood historically full of underage-friendly bars that turn into nightclubs after a certain hour. This subterranean bar has all the chill that a true dive bar should, as well as a happy hour menu (including super-sized glasses of beers for $5) running from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays. Recessions recently also started serving a weekday-only Indian and Pakistani lunch buffet for $10.95 per person.
Though it’s been around more than 80 years, the Raven Grill has retained an under-the-radar neighborhood feel in the terrifically unique Mount Pleasant. Contrary to the name, there’s no food here, but there is a killer jukebox, cheap drinks, and a bar lined with locals who have been coming here forever. Beer comes in bottles and cans; many come priced at $3, while Natty Boh is $2 until 8 p.m. Cash only (3125 Mt Pleasant St. NW, #101; 202-387-8411).
Red Derby’s beer list splits up its extensive length into their proper categories: lagers, IPAs, stouts, porters ... and “your old man’s beer.” That would be Bud, Natty Boh, Schlitz, PBR, Strohs, and Highlife available for a couple of bucks each. (Cash only.) Red Derby also has a list of beer-and-a-shot specials, as well as a small list of classic cocktails that it only serves on particular nights from Sunday through Wednesday. Combine all that with a relaxed vibe, and you’ve got an A+ Petworth bar.
One of DC’s newer dives, Showtime has quickly become a favorite hangout for drinking a shot and a beer or wildly dancing to live bands. This small cash-only bar packs in the Bloomingdale locals (and Washingtonians who wish they live in Bloomingdale) for its no-cover dance parties, killer jukebox, and Sunday night performances of the local funk band Granny and the Boys—a group that features an actual granny on the keyboard.
Over its more than 10 years serving drinks in DC’s Hill East neighborhood, Trusty’s has perfected the dive’s traditional role as a community gathering place. Here, you can grab a few tallboys out of the refrigerator and drink on the upper level’s bus bar, which is a repurposed school bus. Trusty’s beer list is mostly cans, though you will find a few things on draft and in bottles. They also serve burgers, hot dogs, cheesesteaks, chili, and other great bar foods.
The Tune Inn
The Tune Inn is more than just a dive bar. It’s an iconic dive bar. A Capitol Hill fixture for nearly 70 years, it’s long been popular among politicians and their staff. This bar is delightfully laid-back, quirky in decor, and full of locals who have patronized the place for decades. A diner-style menu rounds it all out (331 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-543-2725).