If a night on the town in New York City for you means knocking back mojitos at an über slick Manhattan rooftop bar or single-malts at a swanky Wall Street banker haunt, then dive bars might not be first on your ‘to do’ list when in town. But if you feel like a night off from maxing out your credit card on drinks, dressing up, or even brushing your teeth, then a trip to one of the city’s dive bars will not disappoint.
What is a dive bar?
New Yorkers take their dive bars seriously and debate runs hot over what constitutes an ‘authentic’ dive bar in the face of the rise of the faux dive bar, which is made to look worn down and rough. Some will say a dive bar is just about the cheap drinks and attitude - a place of no pretensions where all are welcome, except, of course, the pretentious. But generally speaking, the dive bars of NYC are dark, gritty and force you to get in touch with your degenerate side. Upon entering most, you are transported back to the New York of the '70s: semi-squalid dens loaded with attitude that will make you forget how gentrified the city is these days. Play it cool and you might find yourself squeezed between local 'characters' in faded-poster-draped, graffiti-smashed surroundings with duct tape holding everything from the toilet seat to the beer taps together.
Despite a recent trend of some dive bars disappearing (eg the great Mars Bar), for the moment they are still holding steady as a cultural necessity. So take the day off from The Empire State Building and Times Square, and unless you want to get stared down or your drink spit in, leave your Lonely Planet guide at the hotel along with your ‘I heart NYC’ t-shirt. And whatever you do, don’t forget to tip.
Cakeshop, Lower East Side
Cakeshop is a dive bar and well loved music venue on the Lower East Side. Currently fighting to stay afloat, this bar is just about the closest thing to CBGB's that still exists. Head downstairs to the narrow basement band room where the real dinginess can be found as well as some great live music. A few fairy lights are haphazardly draped across the ceiling but that’s all the prettiness you get. Upstairs you can eat cupcakes and drink cheap booze til the wee hours while poring over bins of records for sale.
Get there: 152 Ludlow St (between Rivington St and Stanton St)
Learn more: cake-shop.com
The Levee, Williamsburg
Not many places in the ultra-hipsterized Williamsburg serve beer/shot specials, but the Levee is a bona fide dive bar with a cool relaxed atmosphere. Try the Beam & Cream if you dare, a cocktail of Jim Beam and cream soda and when your tummy rumbles around 3am, grab yourself a frito pie or a hot dog to soak it all up before bed.
Get there: 212 Berry St (at N.3rd)
Learn more: www.theleveenyc.com
Motor City, Lower East Side
A car lover’s dream bar, Motor City is a Detroit-style dive bar full of car memorabilia, road signs and chairs made from car seats. This 50s throwback attracts a crowd of punks and a lot of leather and mostly plays good old rock n roll. With a pinball machine, cheap drinks, friendly bar staff and big windows, it makes a great spot to refuel on whatever your poison might be.
Get there: 127 Ludlow Street (between Rivington & Delancey)
Learn more: www.motorcitybar.com
Holland Cocktail Lounge, Hell’s Kitchen
The Holland rates up there as one of the most authentic dive bars in town, easily judged by the rolls of duct tape holding it all intact and the older locals that frequent the place and know each other by name. It’s a rough-around-the-edges version of Cheers.
Get there: 532 Ninth Ave, near 39th St
Manitoba’s, East Village
A dive bar with punk-rock cred through the roof, Manitoba’s is owned and run by punk royalty, Handsome Dick Manitoba, founding member of the proto-punk band The Dictators. This is your ultimate musicians’ hangout with a bulging jukebox, well-priced drinks and a tattooed crowd.