Some nights it feels like you got all dressed up for nothing. Instead of blowing your party budget on overpriced cocktails in the crowded new “it” bar, wouldn’t you have had more fun drinking a few tallboys in a no-frills, no-pressure space? Enter the best dive bars in Boston. Ask ten Bostonians for the definition of a dive bar and you’ll get ten different answers, but cheap cocktails, unsavory locals, greasy food and throwback bar games are de rigeur. Most Bostonians call dive bars, simply, "bars." This is a real city where real people drink beer and whiskey while cheering on the Sox, not one of those towns where fake people quaff chocolate martinis while rooting for those Bronx bums who spend all the money..... Sorry, we are writing this from a Boston dive bar and as you can see the vibe is contagious. Boston is home to some of the most authentic dive bars. Many of the city’s Irish pubs and sports bars also fit the description and, while dive bars aren’t usually associated with craft beer, Bukowski’s is a much-loved exception.
Best dive bars in Boston
If you don’t mind a backdrop of loud rock, the beer selection (more than 100 choices) in this tiny bar is fit for the most advanced beer geeks. If your taste runs to spirits, go elsewhere. As one employee aptly put it, “it’s all about the beer”—but for hopheads, this perch above the Massachusetts Turnpike is heaven in a shoebox.
A wall of record sleeves, graffiti-covered restrooms and a low budget, laid-back feel make this place a favorite among locals, passing bike messengers and people from all over town who appreciate a cheap drink or two. Friendly bartenders and the Cartoon Network on the TV add to the kind of jolly atmosphere that can only be found at a place that keeps a fake Christmas tree on the bar all year long. Delux Café, in all its kitschy glory, is a hidden treasure.
Muster up your courage: There’s a reason this notorious South Boston spot designates itself “Boston’s #1 Dive Bar.” The building is dilapidated, the drinks are cheap and strong, the pool is free, and the patrons are more than a little rough around the edges (the dim lighting allows for some surreptitious staring). There’s no signage, but when you come to a low-slung, Kelly green stucco building with the Pabst’s Blue Ribbon neon sign in the window, you’ll know you’ve found the spot.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Oriana L.
Dark, dingy, low-ceilinged space? Check. Cash-only? Check. Cheap pitchers? Check. Darts, pool and Buckhunter? Check. The Northeastern undergrad hangout checks all the dive-bar boxes, but what makes it legendary is its pizza window, a literal hole in the wall that lets you order a greasy slice from University House of Pizza next door. Now the bad news: Northeastern recently bought the bar’s building and plans to eventually turn it into an 18-story dorm. They’ve promised not to touch the space for two more years, so take the next 24 months as an excuse to hit Punter’s early and often.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Ryan S.</>
Don’t be fooled by its FiDi location and credit-card machines—Biddy is pure dive. A bucket of two-buck beers is the order of the day (or night), along with Keno, a few games of Golden Tee and a turn at the jukebox. Only one entrée—the steak tip plate—surpasses the $10 watermark; otherwise it’s cheap burgers, club sandwiches and a “legendary” shepard’s pie. Be sure to snap a photo of the cigarette machine for Instagram—it might be the last one left in the city.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Laura K.
Davis Square condos may now go for a million bucks a pop, but at least we still have the Sligo. One of the last bastions of the square’s blue-collar traditions, the bar is small, dimly lit, plays classic rock on the jukebox and slings PBRs for $2.50 each. Although it's been infiltrated by Tufts students, the bar still serves generous shots of the hard stuff to guys who look like they've been regulars since Eisenhower was president. Take some time to read the messages carved into every inch of the wooden bar top.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Nicole M.
It’s a dive bar with a wink. Rising from the ashes of the unironically dive-y Abbey Lounge, the Inman Square gathering spot is a beloved meeting point for savvy locals. Trina's low lighting and dark wood paneling are brightened up by retro images just about everywhere you look (the bathrooms are wallpapered in mid-century magazine pages), but it's the menu full of diner-style comfort food (oh, the hot dogs) that really keeps the clientele smiling into expertly executed cocktails. Head here for brunch on Monday to recover from the weekend's excesses.
Despite the rampant fancifying of everything within a five-mile radius of Harvard, the stalwart Charlie's Kitchen has hardly changed a bit. This place may be known as the double cheeseburger king, but the loud, ready-to-drink crowd of punks, students, professors and local rock luminaries pile into the upstairs bar for the massive glasses of Hoegaarden, cheap eats, snippy waitresses and the best damn jukebox in Cambridge.
If you’ve lived in Allston or had friends who lived in Allston, then you’ve spent way too much time at “The Silly”—and not regretted it one bit. Its appeal might lie in the dated signage, or the darts and pool, or the profane bathroom graffiti—all dive bar staples, certainly. But mostly it’s the cheap beer, the potent (and still cheap) mixed drinks, the convivial staff and the metal-leaning soundtrack that keep you coming back for more. All that free popcorn doesn’t hurt, either.
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/David Tan
“The Model” started off as an unpretentious little neighborhood dive and then one day, through no fault of its own, suddenly became an “it” spot, playing host to the cream of the college crowd (who inexplicably started calling it the 'Mow-dell'). So be it—nowadays, the trendy crowd and the divey neighborhood crowd share the place, the former devoted to dancing and the latter to sucking down the cheap, lethal drinks (don’t call them cocktails). The jukebox remains one of the best around town.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Jessica H.