Ask ten Bostonians for the definition of a dive bar and you’ll get ten different answers. Dollar drafts? Unsavory locals? Big Buck Hunter? The term “dive” may have its roots in the Wild West, when bar patrons would dive under tables at the first sign of a drawn weapon. You’ve no need to fear loaded firearms in these neighborhood joints offering cheap drinks and a no-frills atmosphere. 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.
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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 of 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 with 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. The Delux, in all its kitschy glory, is a hidden treasure.
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.
With a name like Old Sully’s, it has to be good. Technically named Sullivan’s, this dive-bar standard bearer has no website, no credit card machine and no signage. What it does have is a worn Formica counter, cheap beer, shots of Jameson and a photo of JFK on the wall. If you’re seized by a feeling of deja vu upon entry, that may be because scenes from Ben Affleck’s The Town were filmed here.
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.
This delightfully dive-y Central Square haunt offers everything from bring-your-ax blues jams (Sundays/Wednesdays) to singer-songwriter open mics (Mondays). There are a couple undisputed stars: on Tuesday nights, some of the best fiddlers and banjo-pickers this side of the Mississippi trade licks while host Geoff Bartley sends around a donation hat (More recreational bluegrass players can sharpen their skills together downstairs). On Thursday evenings, a bevy of unbridled grad students dance their cares away to the Chicken Slacks’ mix of Motown covers and funky originals. A well-stocked jukebox fills in during quieter moments at the bar, which draws a diverse clientele ranging from twentysomethings to grizzled barflies. The one Cantab constant throughout is high-quality musicianship and an undeniably unpretentious vibe.
A dive bar for dive bar connoisseurs, the Tam is a Boston legend—and rightly so. Everything here is just as it should be: the beer is cheap, the whisky is plentiful, the neon is garish, the music is loud, and the toilets…er, have running water. An eccentric, eclectic crowd gathers to sample its delights.