They’re grungy, run-down and even a little stinky. But that’s exactly why we love them. DC’s best dive bars are where folks head when they need to unwind and lose track of time. The following are some of our favorite watering holes (despite the fact that many of them only accept cash). True Washingtonians will agree.
Best dive bars in DC
This no-frills watering hole, which was founded in 1935, shows its age. But faithful customers keep coming back to the tattered bar for $3 cans of Natty Boh and $1 bags of potato chips. (Despite having “grill” in its name, not a morsel of food is cooked here.) A soul- and country-heavy jukebox sets the soundtrack for dates, catch-up sessions and the occasional conversation with a drifter. The bartenders can be a little rough around the edges, but keep the cash flowing (credit cards are not accepted), and they’ll warm up.
You’d walk right by this DJ-owned bar if it weren’t for the “thump thump” of the bass spilling onto the sidewalk. The free jukebox streams long-forgotten ’50s tunes, and on Sunday’s you’ll find Granny and the Boys, a funk band led by an 83-year-old woman. This place is admittedly quirky, but how can you argue with cans of Natty Boh and a shot of whiskey for $5 (cash only)?
A bar within a bar, Dr. Clock’s is a temporary pop-up that could pack up and leave at any time. It’s located on the second floor of Rendezvous Lounge, smack dab in the middle of the Adams Morgon action, though you’d never even know it existed. Since opening in 2013, there’s been absolutely no signage to identify the bare bones space, decorated only with a few Star Wars cut-outs. Still, a cast of characters flock to Dr. Clock’s for classic rock, Brit pop or new wave music, and cheap cocktails.
If you’re looking for a low-key night, don’t make the mistake of visiting Ivy & Coney when the Cubs or Tigers are playing. The Chicago- and Detroit-themed sports bar can get raucous on game nights, but is usually on the tamer side. Modeled after your run-of-the-mill basement, Ivy & Coney is a big kid’s dream: There are video games, comfy couches and cheap hot dogs—served Chicago (yellow mustard, chopped onions, sweet pepper relish, tomato slices and a sport pepper) or Detroit style (chopped onions, chili and yellow mustard), of course.
There’s always something going on at Little Miss Whiskey’s, whether it’s a Game of Thrones screening, a pig roast on the patio, stand-up comedy or karaoke. The New Orleans Saints bar is the sister establishment to Jimmy Valentines, the hidden bar off of H Street where anything goes. The same attitude applies at Little Miss Whiskeys, where the Awesomeness (a dangerously strong alcoholic slushie) has fueled many late-night dance parties.
Red Derby has everything you want in a dive bar (cheap drinks, an unpretentious crowd) and then some (a covered roof with strung cafe lights, Jenga). The Columbia Heights bar hosts occasional community-oriented events, like fundraisers for local schools or Easter basket building for kids. But the main draw is the can-only beer list and $1 Natty Boh happy hour. Like most dives, Red Derby only takes cash, but there’s an ATM on the lower level.
This soulful standby on U Street is always good for a dance party. The floor gets crowded as the night goes on, so plan accordingly. (In other words, stand next to whomever you find the most attractive.) There’s a large outdoor patio in the back and often a new band to discover. To end on a high note, grab a slice of pizza from the truck that’s often parked out front before heading home.
Get ready to fall into the rabbit hole that is Wonderland Ballroom. The Alice in Wonderland-themed bar has excitement at every turn, including a sprawling front patio packed with picnic tables and a bar upstairs that hosts book readings, comedy nights, trivia and dance parties. Every spring for the past 10-plus years, Wonderland has thrown a wildly popular Sundress Fest where men and women are encouraged to don their finest frock. It’s worth flipping through the bar’s Facebook photos.
There are three levels of bars at this worn-in Dupont institution, meaning you can choose your own adventure. In the basement: a small stage that hosts occasional comedy nights and beer-and-jerky tastings. The ground level holds a spacious bar with 32 beers on tap, Skee-Ball and quirky decorations like president head sculptures nailed to the wall. Continue upstairs for closed patio seating. Broke and hungry? Grab some $1 tacos on Friday or half-price burgers on Wednesday.
Harry’s is low on frill but high on Americana. The bar serves a mean burger (and free popcorn) alongside cocktails made with the booze from miniature airline bottles. Founded in 1994 on the street level of the Harrington Hotel, Harry’s is known for drawing a gay crowd. It’s located in a bit of a bar desert downtown, making it a beacon of fun for those who work nearby.