Texas is getting the love it deserves. Paris is copycatting barbecue with The Beast, Houston is still riding a Super Bowl high and two Texas-based bars have made the most authentic (i.e., the best) dive bars in America list. Every year, The Washington Post does its best to locate what they call the “quirkiest, grungiest and most interesting spots” in the country. In addition to having a whole lot of character, the bars vetted for the list had to have history, because, really, what dive bar doesn’t?
Also, no expensive fancy drink menus and there had to be regulars. The kind of regulars who don’t have to actually order their drink and have a favorite seat.
Lists like these are exciting and nerve-wracking, especially when it comes to dive bars because while we want our favorite haunts to succeed and stay open forever, good PR also means more people know about your beer-soaked slice of heaven.
So while there are pros and cons to sharing your favorite dive with the world, we couldn’t be more excited for Texas to dominate this list.
The Texas Winners
(Ginny’s) Little Longhorn Saloon
5434 Burnet Rd., Austin, 512-524-1291
One of the most important weekly events at the Little Longhorn Saloon takes place every Sunday and involves a poplar senior citizen recreational activity and chicken shit.
Dale Watson, a country music producer and one-time partner in Ginny’s, created chickenshit bingo and it was way too popular to discontinue when he sold his shares to his sister Terry Gaona.
Regulars are entertained the rest of the week by local bands and find sustenance in six local taps, around 50 other offerings (some craft) and cocktails like the wine-a-rita which proves you can create a drink from anything you have a half bottle of.
It’s the kind of place that has dinner specials, but asks you to potluck the sides and locals couldn’t love it more.
Lone Star Saloon
1900 Travis St., Houston, 713-757-1616
This is the kind of place that celebrates happy hour with pitcher and bucket specials. Sure you can get a ‘drink’ here, but it won’t be anything fancy. Think whiskey sours, rum and cokes, and margaritas. The bar is the one rare leftover from the mid-20th century and is surrounded by loads of mod-style buildings and grab-n-go snack places. Regulars were probably once out-of-towners (there’s a bus station across the street) who decided to stay put.
Low-key charm comes courtesy of owner Joe Lee Thomas who has filled up the juke box with the likes of Bob Seger, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and George Strait, and favors a shot or two daily to stay active.
The Washington Post is particularly taken with the Lone Star’s history, which, Thomas explained involved two really bad days “tied to drivers who rammed their vehicles into the saloon.” The first was a failed robbery attempt. The second? A customer’s reaction to being cut off. “He was on drugs.”
Saturday night’s are reserved for Jam Sessions the decor favors Texas-pride in the form of longhorn skulls and state-shaped wooden signs. It’s an easy place to love. Especially if you can appreciate a bucket special.
Other Authentic American Dive Bars
History is on Nancy’s side. This was a Prohibition-era speakeasy that morphed into a Jimmy Hoffa hangout. When the Tigers’ stadium was nearby, the team used to come in, but that stopped when the stadium moved. Times got a bit rough for the Irish-centric spot, but that’s when the Nancy Whiskey really earned its dive bar status. Guinness is on tap, Irish music on the jukebox and Tullamore shots for celebrating.
The ‘hood is still tough, but things are changing slightly and slowly. “All the young people are moving back, buying up all the houses, redoing them,” says bartender Sheryl Grogan. “Our night business has changed. It’s young professionals, hipsters — just a big difference. We sell more craft beer now.”
Double Down Saloon
Las Vegas, Nevada
Ass Juice is the signature drink at the Double Down Saloon, Vegas’ punk-centric dive bar where locals and tourists alike flock.
Celeb attendance would normally result in a revoking of dive bar status (Prince Harry was spotted once), but there is something about DD that is too addicting to diss. Every inch of the place is covered with a sticker — most cursing at the reader — and live music happens often with no cover. An offshoot was opened in NYC, but locals will tell you it has nothing on this OG.
The Frolic Room
This Hollywood Blvd. haunt is famous for its long history – first as a hangout for tinsel town elite in the 40s and then as a biker bar in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Not much has changed here since then – there is still no menu and just two beers on tap (one of them Budweiser).
While gangs don’t assemble here anymore, regulars still do and they like the place dark, loud and sometimes rowdy. A bar fight between a drunk woman and sober man ended with her punching him to death.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Cinderblock walls and a plywood roof are partly on purpose and partly the result of a still unfinished hurricane Katrina renovation. Owner Leona “Chine” Grandison keeps things simple here.
No draft beer, but loads of commercial stuff, no menus and a brass band on Wednesdays. It may not look fancy, but it is near and dear to locals’ hearts. The kind of place locals come to celebrate in the neighborhood of Treme.
New York City, New York
Regulars complain that the Subway Inn isn’t as ‘dingy’ as it used to be when it was located two blocks away. Owners did their best to sh*t the place up, but it’s just too nice for those that long for the stained floor tiles and beer-soaked bar of days past. Co-owner and bartender Steve Salinas says that kind of look doesn’t come easy.
“It took 77 years to get to that point,” he says. “We just made it to our second year. That dirt and grime came with time.” There’s no rhyme or reason for the music here. The juke box plays it all from Italian-mob movie hits to vintage rock. Hardhats serve as decor and the original neon sign hangs outside. It’s the kind of place people come to hide and that’s just what they’ll do – the entire window is covered in stickers like a construction site.
Bob and Barbara’s Lounge
The drink special here is a can of Pabst and a shot of Jim Beam, not the kind of thing you’d expect at a bar that hosts a weekly drag queen show.
Then again, we’ve learned to expect the unexpected from a good dive bar. The cushioned red leather bar has vintage appeal as does the Motown-filled juke box and three-dollar drink specials.