New York

20 Essential Dive Bars in New York City

by Christopher Kompanek  |  Published March 15, 2016

Drinking in New York can be a pricey endeavor with a single cocktail costing as much as a meal in some places. While true dive bars are few and far between, these no-frills watering holes offer not just a refuge for your wallet but a window into the forgotten past of some of the city’s most iconic neighborhoods. 

Sunset over Sunny's (Photo: Christina Cipriano)

Sunset over Sunny’s (Photo: Christina Cipriano)

Jimmy’s Corner

Tucked into a tiny storefront on a side street in the theater district, just steps from the blinding lights of Times Square, Jimmy’s Corner is a dimly lit haven where a quarter controls the jukebox and $5 gets a seriously strong mixed drink. Pints of Captain Lawrence IPA can be had for about the same price at the long narrow bar or one of several tables in the back.

140 West 44th St

Rudy’s

Rudy's in winter (Photo: Rudy's Bar & Grill)

Rudy’s in winter (Photo: Rudy’s Bar & Grill)

Rumored to have started as a speakeasy frequented by Al Capone in 1919, this Hell’s Kitchen mainstay can be spotted by the giant pig statue out front. Inside, pitchers of beer can be had for $8 and free hot dogs are served all night. With booths made almost solely of duck tape at this point, it’s easy to feel the decades of history in this raucous spot.

627 9th Ave

Holland Bar

Sitting in the shadow of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, this is the place to go when you want to evoke the New York of Travis Bickle’s “Taxi Driver.” The name comes from its former location in the seedy Holland Hotel.

532 9th Ave

Sunny’s

Sunny's Bar Interior (Photo: Christina Cipriano)

Sunny’s Bar Interior (Photo: Christina Cipriano)

Located in the remote former dock workers neighborhood of Red Hook, this Brooklyn mainstay is known for its live bluegrass, folk and country music. Oozing Americana, it likely looks pretty similar to when it opened in 1890.

253 Conover St, Brooklyn

Boxcar Lounge

This tiny bar sits in the heart of Alphabet City with prices that hearken back to when the neighborhood was a haven for struggling artists. Their 2-for-1 happy hour that stretches till 10pm most nights is one of the best deals in the city.

168 Avenue B

The Library

Around the corner from famed deli Katz’s and intimate music spot Mercury Lounge, The library is an ideal late night stop with several shot-and-a-beer specials and old movies screening in the book-filled back area.

7 Avenue A

169 Bar

169 Bar (Photo: 169 Bar)

169 Bar (Photo: 169 Bar)

Formerly known as the “Bloody Bucket” and open since 1916, this historic spot features a leopard-print pool table and cheap cans of beer along with pricier options like a bourbon mint lemonade. A cheap food menu makes it easy to stay a while.

169 East Broadway

Welcome to the Johnson’s

Resembling a basement from the seventies – complete with pool table and that musky smell – Welcome to the Johnson’s serves a mostly college-aged crowd who rest $2 PBR’s on makeshift surfaces like retro video game machines.

123 Rivington St

Rosemary’s Greenpoint Tavern

This classic spot features Christmas lights year round and could have been airdropped in from the Midwest. It sits next to the Bedford L train stop in the heart of Williamsburg and echoes the neighborhood’s working class roots. Cheap beer can be ordered in 32 oz Styrofoam cups while craft brews are served by the pint.

188 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn

The Levee

Outside The Levee (Photo: The Levee)

Outside The Levee (Photo: The Levee)

Pool tables, darts and Big Buck Hunter are just a few of the many draws at this drinking palace of amusement. There’s a fratty vibe in the sense that everyone’s just one drink away from the best night of their lives. Get things started with a Sportsman special.

212 Berry St, Brooklyn

Milano’s

Capture the old downtown vibe of the CBGB’s era at this high-ceilinged haunt where jazz is as likely to be heard as grunge. Situated between the borders of the Lower East Side, Soho, East Village and Greenwich Village, it makes an ideal stop during a walking tour.

51 East Houston St

Reif’s Tavern

The Upper East Side is an unlikely location for a dive, but the neighborhood institution has been here since 1942 and locals attest that it hasn’t changed much. Instead of heading up to Yankee Stadium, you could watch the game here to soak up the local spirit, just don’t root for the Red Sox.

302 East 92nd St

Lucy’s

From the colorful phrases written on the back wall to the sharp-tongued retorts you might elicit from owner Ludwika Mickevicius for an overly fussy order, Lucy’s is a place that echoes the former grit of the East Village. To this day, there’s no lock on the bathroom door to discourage illicit behavior.

135 Avenue A

East Village Social

The bar in East Village Social (Photo: East Village Social)

The bar in East Village Social (Photo: East Village Social)

Located on St. Marks Place – a street that now has more frozen yogurt options than used CD stores – East Village Social hasn’t been around long but the wood-chipped décor and decent prices echo a vanishing spirit of the neighborhood. Comfort food like pulled pork sandwiches is served till 4am.

126 Saint Marks Place

Mona’s

Mona’s is a brick-walled spot in Alphabet City featuring live jazz on Tuesdays, and a Skeeball machine for amusement at any hour. They also squeeze a jukebox filled with 70s hits and a pool table into the tiny space.

224 Avenue B

McSorley’s

With only two choices of ale (light or dark) and sawdust on the floor, McSorley’s is an old-timey throwback. This antique Irish watering hole, opened in 1864, is the oldest tavern in the city.

15 East 7th St

Montero’s

Montero’s is one of the last remaining longshoreman bars, shining a light on a lost era when Brooklyn wasn’t a brand but an immigrant community. Nautical décor like a large model of an 1873 Spanish warship and cheap, strong drinks make the karaoke they offer the next logical step in an evening out.

73 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn

Duff’s

Duff's Interior (Photo: Duff's)

Duff’s Interior (Photo: Duff’s)

This heavy metal bar in Williamsburg’s south side has been likened to a trip to hell – in the best possible way of course. Musician Rob Zombie and bands Pantera and Iron Maiden have stopped by while in the city for a show.

168 Marcy Ave, Brooklyn

Old Town Bar and Grill

With a tin ceiling and functional dumbwaiter, this Flatiron watering hole lives up to its name. The upstairs room with quiet booths and stained glass windows is a favorite for writers. Nick Hornby held his book party for “About a Boy” here and the late Frank McCourt counted it among his favorites when he was in town.

45 East 18th St

Boobie Trap

As its name implies, this dive is a whimsical ode to a certain female body part. Illuminated in pink light, it draws you inside where breasts abound: on the bathroom ceiling and above taps are two of the more creative appearances. A selection of board games adds to the fun factor.

308 Bleecker St, Brooklyn

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