What makes the following 13 cities so charmed? They’re all home to drinking holes that get the Inked stamp of approval. Here, 39 spots where we’ll throw one (or more) back—in no particular order, because we don’t like ranking things.
Nothing makes a strange town feel more like home than a great bar. It gives you a sense of the city, a feel for the locals, and—perhaps, most importantly—it can supply a nice buzz. The problem in many cases is picking the right spot. So many cities are overrun with mainstream, cookie-cutter places that it can be tough to find a watering hole with real character. Luckily, you have us. Inked has cut through the clutter to present you with some of the best places in America to have a drink.
Double Down Saloon, Las Vegas
Double Down Saloon 4640 Paradise Rd., 702-791-5775, doubledownsaloon.com. Festooned with murals ranging from erotic to apocalyptic, this dark bar lives by an austere code: you puke, you clean. Double Down is a gritty counterpoise to the glitzy strip, a place where thirsty sinners come to escape from the greed and gaudiness. A small corner stage showcases surf, punk, and rockabilly bands, and a jukebox boasts artists ranging from Black Flag to Frank Sinatra. The signature Ass Juice shots (ingredients unknown) and bacon martinis—that’s right, bacon—are ingested with abandon. Still not entertained? Pool, pinball, and an Asteroids video game are available, as well as video poker and Keno. But the best reason to visit the Double Down is the unmatched people watching: Says one bartender, “A guy once gave me his glass eyeball as collateral for a taxi ride.”
Dispensary Lounge, 2451 E. Tropicana Ave., 702-458-6343. In Vegas, obscurity is practically a virtue, at least for a bar. You need a place where the sounds of bells and coins disappear (or recede a little). Just a simple spot where you can sit, drink, and—provided you have brain cells remaining—think. Dispensary Lounge is just such a place. Owing to its auspicious location behind a coffee shop, this less-crowded lounge is a perfect place to get away from the pomp and pretense of the Strip. Shag carpeting
and fake plants foster a ’70s feel, and the waterwheel (look, but don’t touch) completes the anachronistic environs. Drinks are cheap, the food is good, and service is friendly. It’s a place where you can sit back, talk with some friends, and tend to your wallet’s
wounds before you return to gawk at the green felt for another few hours.
Peppermill Fireside Lounge 2985 S. Las Vegas Blvd., 702-735-4177. This place is Old Vegas, where cocktails are king, waitresses serve you in full-length gowns, and you know that the Rat Pack would feel at home. It is the original Vegas lounge, full of brass rails, exotic-looking drinks with umbrellas, and an actual pool of fire. Upon entering, you’ll immediately understand why it is regularly placed on lists ranging from best margarita to best bars in which to make out (and why it was used as a backdrop in movies such as Casino and Showgirls). Plush booths, fake foliage, and soft lighting create a cozy, if kitschy, feeling. It’s a warm and welcoming atmosphere you’ll appreciate, especially after Lady Luck has made you her bitch.
Red Lion Tavern 2366 Glendale Blvd., 323-662-5337. The Red Lion is perpetual Oktoberfest—a Bavarian oasis in the land of the lifted and tucked. At this comfortable beer garden in sunny Southern California climes, waitresses wear traditional dirndls and serve authentic German fare including schnitzel and bratwurst. The tudor-style decor, including stained glass windows, is authentic and welcoming. And as you might expect, beer is the beverage of choice here—classics like Bitburger and Warsteiner are served in vessels roughly the size of cinder blocks (including a 1.5-liter “boot”). In addition to the cozy downstairs, where entertainers sometimes perform, the upstairs provides a slightly more festive
atmosphere in which to raise your glass in a hearty German toast: “Prost!”
Ivan Kane’s Forty Deuce 5574 Melrose Ave., 323-466-6263, fortydeuce.com. Combining a speakeasy feel and a see-and-be-teased vibe, this Hollywood lounge is famous for a reason. Plush surroundings and lascivious dancing are the order of the day here, with the semicircle bar also serving as a runway for burlesque shows that will melt the ice in your Dewar’s on the rocks. Dry martinis are more common, though, and they fit the cabaret environment well—tasteful and intoxicating. Live jazz bands play during the shows, and it’s not hard to see why the Deuce draws luminaries like Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg; can’t blame the guys for being fans of the erotic arts. If you visit, arrive early so you can avoid the velvet rope rigmarole.
Saints & Sinners 10899 Venice Blvd., 310-842 8066, saintsandsinners lounge.net. When in heaven, do as the hellions do! This themed bar incorporates
the best of good and evil, a decorative celebration of prurience and purity. With music ranging from house to indie rock and the loungy atmosphere—black leather seats surrounding a white fireplace, chandeliers, faux-bordello wallpaper, buttoned vinyl ceiling, angel and devil statues—Saints & Sinners creates an appealing environment unlike any other you’re likely to find. The intimate space is perfect for mingling and generally attracts a diverse, fun crowd. Order up a “Holy Water” high-end martini or get the juices flowing with a Hell Fire (Bacardi 151 and cinnamon schnapps mixed with Monster energy drink) and let the best and worst in you battle it out.
Clermont Lounge 789 Ponce De Leon Ave. NE, 404-874 4783, clermontlounge.net. Underground and overwhelming, this strip club-cum-dive bar might scare some at first, but after a one-night initiation, it’s likely to be their best night out in Atlanta. Clermont Lounge is the city’s oldest continuously operating
strip club (opened in 1965) and has been praised by the long-haired likes of Kid Rock and Marilyn Manson. Set in the basement of the Clermont Hotel, the legendary bar’s dingy environs are brightened daily, from 1 p.m. until 3 a.m., with dancing ladies (some seemingly as old as the bar itself). PBRs can be had for $2.50, and the bar offers karaoke on Tuesdays. Part-owner Kathy Martin—herself a former bartender, manager, and dancer—is proud of the clientele. ” It’s all walks of life, like a Fellini movie,” she says.
Northside Tavern 1058 Howell Mill Rd., 404-874-8745, northsidetavern.com. Northside Tavern is a story of blues-and-booze evolution. Originally a grocery store, over the years it’s gradually succumbed to its destiny—that of a gin-soaked blues den. Bikers, warehouse workers, students, and music mavens flock to this grungy Atlanta institution bearing a simple stone facade with the promise of “Live Blues.” Wednesdays feature Northside legend Mudcat Dudeck, and the famed Monday night Blues Jam has seen the likes of Taj Mahal and Tinsley Ellis take to the stage. A faded-felt pool table adds to the bar’s divey personality, and low to no cover means you can save your cash for the cheap drinks and the tip jar.
Star Community Bar 437 Moreland Ave. NE, 404-681-9018, starbaratlanta.com. Maybe it’s the wood-paneled walls, the photo booth, or the Olympia beer served in cans. Perhaps it’s the live punk, alt-country, or straight-up honky tonk music. Or it could be the potent shots served in paper medicine cups—a daily dosage for the Dixieland dipsomaniac. But most likely what makes the Star Community Bar stand out is the Grace Vault, a shrine to Elvis complete with kneeler, candles, and a King visage worthy of veneration. Whatever the reason, Star Bar is a good-time bar with a friendly staff and all the necessities for a memorable night. In addition to the raucous environment upstairs, the Little Vinyl Lounge downstairs sports all-red ambience and old-school country music.
Zeitgeistst 199 Valencia St., 415-255-7505. Some days you just need to be saved, from boredom, listlessness, work … whatever. Enter Zeitgeist—a place in San Francisco’s Mission district where bikers, bohemians, ne’er-do-wells, and do-nothings can enjoy grimy environs, tasty pub food, and 30 different kinds of beer. The walls inside are haphazardly covered with signs, paintings, and posters—which are cool, but not the reason you’re here. Rather, the draw is the spacious area of picnic tables in the backyard. This is the reason that Zeitgeist is great: a wide-open, airy swath of anything goes. “I was here one time when there was a backyard-wide game of spin the bottle going on,” shares on local. “Classic San Francisco,” she adds. Should you get blitzed or lucky, hotel rooms can be had upstairs for a reasonable rate.
500 Club 500 Guerrero St., 415-861-2500. This is a neighborhood bar, not a scene. It doesn’t put on airs, it doesn’t have a tagline, and its suspicious-looking carpet seems to be vacuumed very rarely. What it does have is a fireplace, plenty of cheap booze, and a lively and loyal clientele. Arrive early enough, and you may be able to snag the 500 Club’s holy grail—a booth. From these vaunted, padded thrones you can witness everything that’s great about this place: the interesting mix of people crowding around the circular bar, regulars playing pinball, and perhaps a dog sniffing for discarded popcorn on the floor. Show up with just $20 for the night and you should be able to amply self-inebriate. Plus, your booth status marks you as veritable royalty—people may come up and talk to you simply because you have a seat.
Hemlock Tavern 1131 Polk St., 415-923-0923, hemlocktavern.com. Sandwiched between gritty Polk Gulch and the watch-where-you-walk neighborhood known as the Tenderloin, Hemlock’s vibe is suitably unrefined. Cheap drinks can be had at the spacious two-tiered, wraparound bar, and a buck buys you a bag of warmed peanuts (shells go on the floor, not the bar). Faded landscape paintings and amateur taxidermy create a kitschy, oddly welcoming setting. The tiny back room features unique (and often experimental) live acts in an intimate atmosphere. And in smoke-free San Francisco, the Hemlock’s comfortable smoking lounge sets it apart from other bars that make customers stand outside for a drag. A grungy yet homey aesthetic pervades this gem where underground music fans and thrifty drinkers convene.
The Jackalope 404 E. Sixth St., 512-472-3663, jackalopeaustin.com. Set on famed Sixth Street—that miracle mile of liquid courage and live music—the Jackalope is a place where the drinks are big and pretense is nonexistent. Velvet pictures of nude women line the walls. Cult movies flicker on three different screens. A bust of the titular mythical creature is mounted for all to see. And, unlike some of the student-heavy bars on this stretch, the Jackalope draws a crowd that’s as diverse as it is lively. Patrons are treated to great food—the bar has a full menu, and on Wednesdays there are two-for-one burgers from the wood-fired grill. Lone Star Beer and Jameson whiskey are also staples here, as is the signature Helldorado. When asked what was in this Jackalope exclusive, the bartender simply replies, “Magic.”
Creekskside Lounge 606 E. Seventh St., 512-480-5988, thecreeksidelounge.com. If you’re looking to break away from the Sixth Street vortex, head to this haunt in the Red River district. A true neighborhood bar filled mostly with regulars, Creekside features the best of both worlds—laid-back lounge and lazy outdoor oasis. Inside, two-dollar Lone Star tall boys as well as pool and pinball are always available. The outside deck, lined with lights and canopied by trees, offers a view of the creek below. Stop in for DJ on the weekends, and look out for the live music venue that’s opening soon. Or, for something a little different, visit on a Tuesday night when games of Guitar Hero become larger than life on a projection screen.
Lala’s Littttle Nugget 2207 Justin Lane, 512-453-2521. Take a look around this roomy bar—wood paneling, wagon-wheel chandelier, pool and foosball table—and you immediately think you know what you’re dealing with. Look closer, and the picture gets more confusing: cigarette smoke fills the place (Lala’s was grandfathered out of the local no-smoking ordinance) and there’s year-round Christmas decor, complete with impish dancing elves and a bedecked tree. This is not an ordinary neighborhood dive, it seems, but an ongoing experiment—an epicenter for the trenchant Keep Austin Weird movement. The small menu offers basic food like burgers and dogs, and beers actually still come in pull-tab cans. It’s also cheap—happy hour well drinks can be had for $3. And in its strange, North Pole-meets-Twilight-Zone way, Lala’s is pretty cozy, too.
PhiladelphiaTattooed Mom 530 South St., 215-238-9880. Nestled in among the sneaker shops of South Street, this bar brings a welcome irreverence to one of Philadelphia’s most famous thoroughfares. In keeping with its motto (“Beer. Food. Fun.”), the bar offers an extensive menu, plenty of beer choices (including local micro brews by Yards and Yeungling), and toys. Yes, toys. Things like spinning tops, plastic jumping frogs, and temporary tattoos are left out to keep customers entertained while their malted beverages take effect.
The first floor of Mom’s is a bit tame, so head upstairs; every inch of the walls is covered with graffiti and posters, and metal and punk music fills the space. A haven for musicians and out-of-town tattoo artists, this is a unique spot in the midst of the tourist throng.
Bob & Barbara’s Lounge 1509 South St., 215-545-4511. Every night, Bob & Barbara’s offers a drink special: $3 for a can of Pabst and a shot of Jim Beam. This exquisite pairing—bound to engender some questionable decision-making as the night wears on—is reason enough to visit the Philly mainstay. During the day, regulars belly up, reaching for new blood-alcohol-level heights. At night, the lounge takes “mixed crowd” to a whole new level, drawing a diverse medley of professionals, students, and revelers of every size and stature. On Wednesdays, Bingo is only $3, and Thursdays feature the infamous drag show. Although bands and singer/songwriters also play here, jazz music is what it is known for—house band the Crowd Pleasers takes the stage several nights a week for what is described as “liquor-drinking music.”
Silk City Diner 435 Spring Garden St., 215-592-8838. Mixing a classic ’50s diner with a nightclub atmosphere, Silk City serves up delicious
comfort food with a unique, modern twist. Black velvet is in evidence throughout, whether it be the paintings on the walls or the signature Black Velvet (espresso) martini. Depending on the night, you may run into hipsters, rockers, or Rastafarians, since the eclectic music runs the gamut. But whatever
the music, the food is sure to impress at Silk City. Thai chili-glazed ribs, a BLT made with Wild Boar bacon and fried green tomatoes, and organic chili dogs are just a few of the options available. People considering a new tattoo may want to visit Silk City, too—the diverse display of body art here is inspiring.
ChicagoMarie’s Riptide Lounge 1745 W. Armitage Ave., 773-278-7317. Change is so overrated. This bar prefers to stick with its original decor—circa 1961—and to stick with the things that have made it great over the years. First, an inexplicable location under a freeway, in between Chicago’s Lincoln Park and Bucktown neighborhoods. Second, no draft beers—just a limited selection of bottles. And, of course, a 4 a.m. liquor license that guarantees late nights and the characters that go along with them. Most of all, though, it is Marie that never changes; if you’re lucky, this septuagenarian proprietor may even come downstairs in her housecoat (she lives above the bar) to have some Jaeger shots with you. She decorates the place for every holiday from Easter to Independence Day, and may even show you a magic trick if you’re lucky. It’s like going to your grandmother’s house—if your grandmother were a bootlegger.
Danny’s 1951 W. Dickens Ave., 773-489-6457. Behind a wooden facade, under the stark neon glow of a “Schlitz On Tap” sign sits a prime example of the don’t-judge-a-book cliché. Originally an apartment, Danny’s still boasts a homey feel inside, with upstairs alcoves featuring leather furniture, small chairs, and candlelit tables. Beers (there’s a decent selection on tap) and a mind-bending mix of cocktails are available, but it’s the music that sets the tone here. A low-key blend of hip-hop, rock, soul, and jazz (spun by a rotation of DJs) usually creates a dancing atmosphere. Special events include Danny’s Reading Series, a poetry session that’s followed by a DJ set. Dark and sometimes crowded, Danny’s cozy space requires early entry if you want a prime seat. Oh, and despite the sign, they don’t have Schlitz on tap; Danny’s keeps you on your toes.
Club Foot 1824 W. Augusta Blvd., 773-489-0379. Club Foot is part pop-culture time capsule, part people-watching drinking den. Looking around the bar, it’s almost as if someone set off an M-80 at a garage sale. Random trinkets are strewn everywhere: action figures, Billy Beer cans, magazine covers, and punk and rock and roll memorabilia. There’s even Tetris, that beloved game of raining puzzle pieces. Music varies from Arcade Fire to The Who to Motley Crüe, and is played next to a welcoming dance floor. Like most good bars, the drinks are cheap and accessible, and the staff is friendly. Due to the myriad musical styles and quirky surroundings, this bar attracts all types and makes most feel right at home. Extra points are due for a name that blends the nightlife with a podiatric ailment.
PortlandBasement Pub 1028 SE 12th Ave., 503-231-6068, basementpub.com. This place has some great beers and some cheap beers, and neither will disappoint. A Pabst can will run you $1.50, but if you happen to find yourself in this mecca of micro brews, you’re better off splurging for local options, like a $3.25 Full Sail Amber or Slipknot IPA. The “Big Ass Monday” special of 20-ounce beers at regular pint prices transforms the first night of the weekday into the best night of the week. While you’re enjoying your beer, take in some of the understated ambience; the atmosphere is a bonanza for those with ADD, with a fish tank, pinball, board games, encyclopedias, a Dig Dug machine, and, of course, a generally easy-going clientele. If you’re looking for liquor, though, you’ll need to move on—the Basement offers only beer and wine.
Space Room Lounge 4800 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503-235-6957. If Captain Kirk and Jane Jetson opened a bar together, there’s a good chance it would look like the Space Room. Diner-style booths, flying saucers for light fixtures—it’s as if you’ve stepped into distant-past version of the space-age future. The quirky decor, combined with good bartenders and rocket-fuel-stiff drinks, means this place is often crowded. If there happens to be a show at the nearby Mt. Tabor Pub, it can be nearly impossible to find a seat. To entertain the mix of 20- and 30-somethings, the jukebox features soul and lounge favorites. All in all, Space Room is a great spot to sit with friends and launch yourself into the stratosphere.
Devils Point Bar, 5305 SE Foster Rd., 503-774-4513. Oil lamps, red carpet, and soothing upholstery give Devils Point a haughty Hades feel. And in addition to the standard bar elements that you’ll find here—pinball, pool tables, video poker—you will also find something less common: strippers. Monday nights include a fire dancer—and the flaming feats on display go well beyond the typical exotic routine. Sundays are Stripperoke nights, a no-cover free-for-all of amateur singing and nakedness. Regularly recognized as one of the top erotic clubs in Portland, Devils Point also features a small stage for bands, meaning you can see a crowd whose attention is tugged between dancing ladies and rock and roll. With strong drinks, a fun staff, and enthralling entertainment,
this is Portland’s polestar for pole-dancing.
Velvet Lounge 915 U St., NW, 202-462-3213, velvetloungedc.com. A tiny outpost in the burgeoning U Street corridor, Velvet Lounge’s red drapes and warm lighting make you feel welcome as soon as you walk up to the door. As a self-respecting lounge, it bears the requisite neon martini glass on its sign, and that’s supported by well-made martinis from the bar. Once inside, you can proceed to the downstairs area, which, while diminutive, provides a cozy setting to enjoy those martinis or other expertly made cocktails. Live music is the claim to fame here, with up-and-coming bands ranging from alternative rock to experimental acts (past players have included Gene Loves Jezebel, Earlimart, and We Are Scientists, among others).
Wonderland Ballroom 1111 Kenyon St., NW, 202-232-5263 the won derlandballroom.com. The dark, shabby-chic setting at Wonderland isn’t a manufactured
conceit—it’s just designed for comfort. This is a low-key bar, after all, a neighborhood place where you should be able to sit and enjoy an evening with friends. So, what does that entail? Well, good music for a start: Sunday nights feature live acts, and the best-in-class jukebox includes drinking soundtracks from Buena Vista Social Club and Johnny Cash to Outkast. A good happy hour is necessary, of course, so Wonderland takes $2 off their impressive list of world-class beers, which you can put toward a $2 chili dog if you’re so inclined. And a neighborhood hangout should feel a little like home, so the free Wi-Fi and a Ms. Pac Man machine don’t hurt. Of course, in providing this type of environment to its Columbia Heights neighbors, the Wonderland now attracts swarms from all over the city—the inevitable curse of doing things right.
Madam’s Organ 2461 18th St., NW, 202-667-5370, madamsorgan.com. Upon seeing the mural of an amply endowed woman on the side of this D.C. institution, you may not be quite sure what you’re getting into. She looks weather-beaten and wily, as if she’s been around the block a few times. Which, in fact, makes her the ultimate introduction to Madam’s Organ. This is a wood-and-neon, blues-and-soul, soul-food-and-sour-mash kind of place, the standard-bearer for the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Inside it’s decorated with mounted animal heads, wagon wheels, and local art, and the sign out front says “Sorry, We’re Open.” Live music plays seven nights a week, and spans genres from alternative rock to zydeco (with an emphasis on blues). The bar’s motto, “Where the Beautiful People Go to Get Ugly,” may seem funny at first, but it’s oddly appropriate after a long night here.
Twin CitiesCC Club 2600 Lyndale Ave. S, Minneapolis, 612-874-7226, ccclubmpls.com. CC Club is a quintessential dive bar: crowded and somewhat shady, with plenty of pitchers of beer and more than a few haggard souls. Around the room you’ll find dartboards, pool tables, beer signs, punks, and drunks—all staples of a true hole-in-the-wall ethos. There is no posturing here, and drinkers from all walks of life are welcome—the stumbling daytime regulars to evening buzz-seekers. Today’s inked-and-pierced-musician set appreciate the cheap and strong drinks, just as they have in the past (CCs was reputedly once a haunt of The Replacements). Inexpensive food comes in copious portions, and the decor could best be described as retro cabin in the woods. It all adds up to what may be the defining characteristic of a great dive: what you see is what you get.
Memory Lanes 2520 26th Ave. S, Minneapolis, 612-721-6211, memory lanesmpls.com. As a full-service restaurant, bar, and bowling alley, Memory Lanes combines a remarkable array of Americana under one roof. Young and old, blue-collar and white-collar, gutter-ballers and league-leaders all descend on this Minneapolis venue not only for the thirty lanes, but for the live music and libations. Drink specials are always available (cheap pints and pitchers—this is bowling alley, after all), and bands play everything from rockabilly to punk. What makes Memory Lanes special is not just the live music—but the fact that said music is offered on the lanes themselves, with a portable stage that’s positioned right over the paneled alleys, so bowlers can rock while they roll. It all brings to mind the sage words of Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski: “Come on, Donny. Let’s go get us a lane.”
Half Time Rec 1013 Front Ave., St. Paul, 651-488-8245, halftimerec.com. We all have different sides: Mellow and excitable, active and lazy, whiskey and beer. Luckily, Half Time Rec is a bar split in two—each side appealing to a different need. One side is your basic neighborhood bar, full of diversions: pool tables, dart boards, bocce ball courts, and even weekly Texas Hold ‘Em. The other evokes the bar’s Hibernian roots—offering a “bit o’ the craic” by way of authentic Irish music and karaoke. An extensive list of beers and no-frills surroundings make this an appealing stop if you find yourself in the Twin Cities. And considering the Irish reputation for hospitality and the Midwest’s penchant for friendliness, you’re bound to feel welcome.
MiamiMac’s Club Deuce 222 14th St., 305-531-6200. Club Deuce is open until 5 a.m., it’s been around since Calvin Coolidge was President, and if you ask for a frozen drink, the bartender will tell you the blender is broken, and then someone will probably hit you with a pool cue. It’s shady in the best way, sketchy for its own sake, the antithesis of what you might expect from a Miami Beach bar. This is a local’s hangout where anything can happen—including a transsexual throwing an iguana against a cigarette machine (this actually did happen). Happy hour is from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the jukebox is as likely to belt out Billie Holiday as it is Rage Against the Machine. Melissa, one of Mac’s straight-talking bartenders, sums it up this way: “If you’re a good drinker, it’s a great place for you.” So stop in, and keep an eye out for projectile lizards.
Pawn Shop 1222 NE Second Ave., 305-373-3511, thepawnshoplounge.com. Its exterior lives up to the name—from the outside, this Miami nightclub looks like a pawnshop (in reality, it once was). Once inside, the theme becomes even more clear; with old dentist chairs, a school bus, and a carnival photo booth, this is a rag-tag collection of accoutrement. The two bars proffer premium cocktails, and a comfortable lounge (created from the fuselage of a jet) provides respite from the pulsing energy of the dance floor. The outdoor lounge features shag carpeting and great opportunities for people watching. This is a place to see, be seen, and apparently sing—on the opening night a number of celebrities took to the stage to sing their favorite covers. Live bands play here weekly, and DJs spin a range of musical styles.
The Nightcap Lounge 15544 W. Dixie Hwy. North, 305-940-6700. The Nightcap Lounge is a bit like an old, curmudgeonly neighbor—it’s been around for a long time, has seen just about everything, is friendly to locals, and wary of interlopers. After more than 40 years, the North Miami Beach dive still sticks with what works: jukebox, pool table, good times, and great people. Happy hour is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., you get 50 cents off what are already inexpensive prices. The lounge has live rock or country
music on some Saturday nights, but the Open Jam on Tuesdays is the signature event. This is where musical styles can blur, and musicians have the freedom to let loose. Sure, the Nightcap is a bit idiosyncratic and maybe a bit rough around the edges, but it’s chock full of stories once you get to know it.
DetroitHonest John’s Bar & Grill 488 Selden St., 313-824-1243. This is the story of Honest John and his bar: Honest John’s mother was a prostitute who died of an overdose when he was a boy. Later, Honest John bought a bar from man who was in jail. And though it has moved locations over the years, that bar—Honest John’s Bar—is still a Detroit stalwart. Drinks are cheap, John still has to kick people out on occasion, and the signature drink is still the H.A.A., an acronym for one of John’s former customers, “He’s an Asshole.” The bar sponsors several offbeat fundraisers, including the Moon Drop (a charitable collective mooning) and the Dipps for Tots, an annual toy-drive fundraiser that involves dressing up in costume and wading into the Detroit River.
Bronx Bar 4476 Second Ave., 313-832-8464. With only candlelight and muted Tiffany lamps to illuminate Bronx Bar, it’s earned its unofficial title as the “darkest bar in Detroit.” The good news? There’s not much to see. Bronx Bar is a triumph of simplicity. The walls are not adorned with campy flair or neon beer signs. There is no live music, no tap beer, and very little to distract the regulars other than a pool table. For more than 70 years, this has been a neighborhood, shot-and-a-beer bar, and the shot of choice is overwhelmingly Jameson. “We can’t keep it on the shelf,” says one bartender. If it’s the whiskey that gets the crowds in the door, however, it’s the music that keeps them coming back. The dual jukebox spins everything from classic hip-hop to indie rock to soul, from G.G. Allin to Paul Anka. The food isn’t bad either—the signature Arabic ciabatta bread helps give each of Bronx’s sandwiches inimitable flavor.
The Old Miami 3930 Cass Ave., 313-831-3830. Though its name may indicate pastels and jai alai, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Owner Danny Overstreet opened The Old Miami as a place for returning Vietnam Veterans, and Miami is an acronym for Missing in Action Michigan. Inside, the comfortable couches, pool table, and fireplace create a family atmosphere, but it’s the stage that’s famous here. The Miami has had nearly every Detroit band of note grace its stage since 1975 (and quite a few national acts as well). The good times don’t end inside though—the huge outdoor area has a deck, a grill where customers can cook their own food, and even a koi pond. Though it may sound like a relative’s home, it still has earmarks of a true dive bar: Old Milwaukee in a can, cheap shots—even bathroom graffiti. “My favorite is, ‘You’re all whores,’” says one bartender of the scrawls on the walls.
New York City
Motor City Bar 127 Ludlow St., 212-358-1595. An automotive-themed tribute to Motown, this Manhattan staple is still infused with Lower East Side spirit. Hubcaps adorn the walls and rock and roll fills the air. Though you’ll find musicians and mechanics in the crowd, it is by no means exclusive—all drinkers are welcome. The booths are reminiscent of an old-school Ford’s backseat, the pinball machine and Ms. Pac Man add diversions for your amusement. The bartenders are friendly, spunky, and slick as a gear shaft—when ordering two beers here you might get the response (as this reporter once did), “Seven dollah,
make you hollah!” All in all, this is a great place to drink with friends, even if they arrive late; buy your absent pal a drink, and the barkeep will put his name up on a board so he can collect it later.
Duff’s 28 N. Third St., Brooklyn, 718-302-0411, duffsbrooklyn.com. Jimmy Duff’s bar in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood is a bigger, riverside version of his old, gritty bar in Hell’s Kitchen, the Bellevue Bar. Bearing all the marks of its former incarnation (including red lights, doll parts, and an Elvis bust) the new place also features some upgrades—most notably an outdoor deck. Here you can cook steak on the grill, smoke a cigarette, and take in the Brooklyn sunshine; it’s a (relatively) fresh-aired Eden near the East River. Garnering awards both for best outdoor bar and best dive bar, this drinking hole never forgets its roots: hard rock (one of the best jukeboxes in the five boroughs), hard drinking ($1 PBRs and enough shots to make your liver shiver), and hard-core loyalty (pictures of Dancing Dominick, the bar’s smooth-stepping mascot, still grace the place despite his passing). Magnetic Field 97 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, 718-834-0069, magneticbrooklyn.com. Just a brief train ride away from the madding Manhattan crowd, this warmly lit haunt offers a little something for everyone. Vintage 45s spin in the classic jukebox, and a regular rotation of bands (from prototypical punk to faux ’50s harmony groups) play on stage. If that doesn’t work for you, DJs spin a few times a week—including an open turntable night on Mondays—and you can always keep yourself entertained at the Ms. Pac Man machine. Order the bubbly French 75, the rum-happy Dead Elvis, or choose from the unique list of local and legendary craft beers. The subtle Wild West milieu adds just the right amount of camp, and nights like Rockstar Wednesday ($5 for a beer and a shot) remind you what deals can be had on this side of the Brooklyn Bridge.