Despite the allure of New York’s bespoke cocktails, sometimes, you just want a beer and shot combo. While carefully curated bar bite programs are nice, so too are griddled burgers, haphazard stacks of takeout menus, single-serve bags of Fritos and communal snack-mix bowls. And while there’s a definite time and place for meticulously designed and lushly appointed lounges, just as many of life’s moments call for the no-pretense attitudes of dives.
That’s why we solicited members of our Collective—a hospitality-focused think tank of bartenders, artists and chefs—to examine the indisputable yet often undefinable appeal of their favorite New York dive bars:
Have a favorite dive not listed below? Tweet to us @ediblemanhattan.
What do you think makes the ultimate dive bar?
Rustan Nichols, O/NY Bar at Our/New York Vodka Distillery: A sense of time and character. Far too often, places open with old beer signs and jukeboxes full of songs that their parents listened to. It’s a false narrative. The owners, staff and regulars also make or break a dive bar. And it has to be open in the afternoon. Day drinking is crucial for any true dive.
Sarah Jane Curran, host of “Beer Me” on Full Service Radio: Darts, and at least one old dude who gives you a sad-ish, half-smile.
Dick Burroughs, DJ, writer and independent art curator: The ultimate dive bar is made up of a few things…. It has to have a hard, 4 a.m. closing time. None of this last call at 3 a.m. business. Needs a certain level of squalor as well, some grime around the edges. It also needs to have been open for a minimum of 10 years.
Jenn Sandella, bartender at Lyric Theatre in New York, and beverage operations director and co-owner of Barter Detroit: Dive bars are great when they are free of pretense. You can walk in and feel at ease knowing that you can be whatever you want there. Had a bad day and want to chat with the bartender? Do it. But if you want to hide in a dark corner alone with your thoughts, that’s fine, too.
Jennel Tiller, freelance chef: The ultimate dive bar feels welcoming and cozy … and is somewhat dark, so you can anonymously hide in a tall booth sipping a cocktail if you want.
Shalini Singh, owner and founder of Shalini’s Kitchen: The ultimate dive bar for me is a place that’s not pretentious, serves cheap but good drinks and has a fun and laid-back vibe.
What’s your favorite dive bar and why?
Rustan Nichols: Jimmy’s Corner, 140 W. 44th St., NYC 10036
If life hands me the lemons of Times Square, my lemonade is this palace of boxing, cheap beer and unfussy behavior.
Sarah Curran: O’Hanlon’s, 349 E. 14th St., NYC 10003; Astoria Tavern, 33-16 23rd Ave, Astoria 11105
They have darts and pour a good Guinness. Also Astoria Tavern, near my old apartment. It also has darts, and an insanely wonderful mix of people.
Dick Burroughs: Alibi, 242 Dekalb Ave., Ft. Greene, Brooklyn 11205
My favorite dive bar is Alibi on DeKalb Avenue, for all of the reasons I named above. They pour drinks kinda heavy and have an awesome mix of local lifers, Pratt students, incorrigible drunken degenerates, artists, actors and famous people who live in the neighborhood that nobody even bothers when they’re at Alibi drinking. They close at 4 a.m. every night as well! I think it’s saved into my favorites in Uber.
Jenn Sandella: The Icehouse in Red Hook, 318 Van Brunt St., Red Hook, Brooklyn 11231
It’s the perfect neighborhood bar. I always feel welcomed when I walk in the door, they will never turn their nose up at you, and there is always a great mix of people there. Want a beer and a shot? Done. Want a Negroni? Done and done. Plus, their back patio is the best hang in Brooklyn.
Jennel Tiller: I’ve been to quite a few local dive bars. Yet my favorite is not in New York, but Yorktown, Virginia—right across the river from the town of Gloucester, where I grew up. The Pub has a lot of history for me. My father owned it back in his single days when it was called the Cannonball, and it’s where he met my mother. It had sold and they had moved on before I was born. The name changed, but the bar remained part of the community. Definitely a hotspot in the summer with tourists and beachgoers, and in the winter it’s mostly locals, who sip beer and eat crab cake sandwiches listening to different local bands or just the jukebox. The Pub has special memories because it’s always been that dark cozy bar where we had our first beer when we turned 21. Then it became where we’d meet after our shifts waiting tables at a nearby restaurant. Finally, it’s where we would meet in later years for mini reunions on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when everyone was in town visiting family.
Shalini Singh: Montero’s, 73 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, New York 11201
My favorite dive bar is Montero’s in Brooklyn. It checks all the boxes for me—great drinks at affordable prices, I regularly run into neighborhood friends, and they play great music. And last but not least, they have karaoke—something my friends and I love about the place.
What’s your go-to order at a dive bar?
Rustan Nichols: Bottled beer. Domestic or Mexican. Maybe some whiskey or tequila if I’m free the rest of the day.
Sarah Curran: Guinness and/or bourbon neat.
Dick Burroughs: Neat Jameson.
Jenn Sandella: Rye whiskey, neat. If they have a decent Belgian I’ll chase it with that. No muss, no fuss.
Jennel Tiller: Beer and a burger.
Shalini Singh: If I’m looking at having a really good time, then my go-to order is Jack and Coke!