Friendly vibes, $5 beers and bartenders who don’t pester you about tinctures — the best places to feel right at home while you drink.
When you ask bartenders where to drink, you should know, they rarely mention bars where they would drink. That’s because those watering holes are often dark, dank and boxy, sometimes housed in a sketchier stretch of town.
But they serve a civic purpose, these holes-in-the-wall. They’re working-class haunts for sustenance, for some bolstering on the way home. They do Taco Tuesday. They have pool tables, Big Buck Hunter video games and jukeboxes to sing along to.
They may be harder to locate than those neo-speak-easies, but they open earlier and close later. And maybe the bar man looks more like a Hatfield or McCoy than a well-coiffed mixologist, but he’ll likely remember your name and offer a generous pour.
My favorites aren’t the grittiest, where you feel you might get shanked. In fact, they’re not so much divey as they are homey. I favor bars that resemble a den or basement or have a shoebox dimension, though I’m not beholden to just those criteria.
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The eye test is that I can plop down on a bar stool and feel as relaxed as if I’m in my living room. The vibe is unpretentiously friendly. And I know without scrutinizing the menu that the beer will be under $5 and a shot of Evan Williams bourbon will be under $6.
The sun is out, and there’s too many good watering holes to whittle down to a Top 10 list. Isn’t the U.S. Open around the corner? Let’s make this my favorite 18 holes-in-the-wall instead.
Blue Moon Tavern
This repeal-era bar may be the most visited dive for tourists after Linda’s on Capitol Hill. Blue Moon was one of the few mainstream bars that allowed people of color during segregation. It can be overrun by University of Washington students now, but there’s still no place like it.
“How much for a shot of Knob Creek (bourbon)?”
“Between six to eight bucks. Depends whether we gotta pay the band that night,” the bar man answered. “You can have it now for six.”
712 N.E. 45th St., 206-675-9116 or bluemoonseattle.wordpress.com
The ownership of this Kirkland watering hole has changed only a handful of times since 1936. But its mantra to serve the working class hasn’t wavered despite the million-dollar-waterfront condos nearby. PBR still rules. The latest owner, Diane Krushelnisky, worked behind this bar 20 years ago. “A couple once came in slippers and pajamas,” she recalled. “ They didn’t even bother changing. It was like their living room.”
124 Kirkland Ave., Kirkland, 425-827-0808 or centralclubkirkland.com
Chungee’s Drink ‘N Eat
The best hidden dives these days are bars inside Chinese restaurants because they offer cheap grub and stiff drinks. They draw musicians, service-industry workers and the party-hardy crowd who get the late-night munchies. Chungee’s on Capitol Hill has a bamboo bar with open-air windows and a row of stools facing the quiet section of 12th Avenue. Read: no hipsters.
1830 12th Ave., 206- 323-1673 or chungees.squarespace.com
Clever Dunne’s Irish House
Capitol Hill has a lot of pseudo dives instead of real ones. This Irish bar’s grittiness feels organic, a haunt where starving artists with too much time on their hands can get $6 whiskey shots filled to the brim. Being tucked away from the hip Pine-Pike corridor and off Broadway East ensure that Clever Dunne’s won’t be overrun, at least not soon.
1501 E. Olive Way, 206-709-8079
Cozy Nut Tavern
You have to love a bar whose theme evolved from this brainstorming session: “Where would a gnome hang out?” The investors’ answer is a den with stuffed squirrels drinking airplane-size Courvoisiers and walls painted with animals frolicking in the woods.
123 N. 85th St., 206-784-2240
While this tiny bar in downtown Edmonds has cleaned up nicely in recent years, it’s still a hole-in-the-wall to me, with only seven bar stools and a couple of banquettes. Bar man Desmond Van Rensburg is as loved in Edmonds as Murray Stenson is in Seattle. He holds court Tuesday through Friday, making sure everyone gets along in this tight quarter.
415½ Main St., Edmonds, 360-778-3462
Ebb Tide Room
This blue-collar bar sits under the West Seattle Bridge, with Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard blaring from the jukebox. But the drunk karaoke is the best here. An afternoon hangout for longshoremen, the bar opens at 6 a.m. everyday.
3527 Chelan Ave. S.W., 206-932-7383
This biker’s hang-out looks like a shack you would find at the end of a winding, gravel driveway in rural Snohomish County. Opened more than a year ago, Fuse Box doesn’t have the staining and caking that come with time and drunkenness. But that will come once word gets out about this charming man-cave and its three beers on tap, record player and motor parts as hanging décor. This biker bar on the drag of Aurora Avenue North is not as scary as it sounds, though: The scooter community hangs here, too.
4911 Aurora Ave. N., 206-701-9411 or fuseboxmoto.com
The bar inside this lily-white Chinese restaurant in Magnolia is all locals all the time, with lots of inside jokes and folks yelling out the first names of arriving patrons, much like “Norm!” in Cheers.
3418 W. McGraw St., 206-284-7000
It boasts one of the city’s best whiskey collections for a dive. Not to mention there’s something amusing and disturbing about seeing dudes in Daniel Boone-style coonskin caps and camouflage playing shoot ’em up on the Big Buck Hunter video game.
1721 First Ave. S., 206-264-2428 or hoovervillebar.com
Marco Polo Bar & Grill
Many bartenders consider the chicken wings here the best in town. It’s a favorite Georgetown after-shift haunt for restaurant-industry folks to shoot pool and drink cheap whiskey in the south end. Come on Monday when wings are 50 cents and Manny’s are $3.
5613 Fourth Ave. S., 206-762-3964 or marcopolopub.com
Pacific Inn Pub
Peek into the nautical front window here and you see a sea of patrons munching on fish and chips, considered to be some of the city’s best. The batter recipe is a well-kept secret, but you get big flavors of garlic and cayenne pepper.
3501 Stone Way N., 206-547-2967
Seattle’s Historic Triangle Pub
It looks like one of those tiny bars along the alleyway of Tokyo’s famed Golden Gia. The pub opens at 6 a.m. on Seahawks game days, when up to 60 tailgaters will shoehorn into this seven-seat bar. You can make a game of it by trying to squeeze your posse in before kickoff. Bonus points if you can order a round at the bar and walk the pints back without spilling.
553 First Ave. S., 206-628-0474 or trianglepub.com
A bastion of old Belltown, this carnival-theme watering hole is grungier and edgier than the rest of this hip, barhopping ’hood. Patrons didn’t take kindly to the stilettos-types who wandered in after Anthony Bourdain was seen nursing a Manny’s by the pinball machine. But Bourdain’s cameo is now a distant memory, and all is right in Shorty’s universe again.
2222 Second Ave., 206-441-5449 or shortydog.com
Fishermen, factory workers and longshoremen made this the hub of Ballard back in the 1950s. Sloop still doesn’t draw the mainstream since it sits beyond the gentrified drag. But the cheapstakes will go out of the way for the 33.8-ounce mug of Rainier for $5.
2830 N.W. Market St., 206-782-3330 or theslooptavern.com
How this upper Queen Anne dive hasn’t been squeezed out despite being surrounded by houses that are north of $800,000, we’ll never know. But there it sits, defiantly at the elbow of West Crockett Street and Sixth Avenue West, like some funky time machine, serving the cap-wearing, old-timers who have lived in this neighborhood for about a half-century.
600 W. Crockett St., 206-352-8882 or targys.com
Dear Amazon newbies, Brave Horse Tavern is not a dive. But seven blocks east of it is Victory Lounge, which serves a working-class happy hour with $1 Taco Tuesday and 50 cent Wing Wednesday. Nice deck, too.
433 Eastlake Ave. E., 206-382-4467
White Horse Trading Co.
It’s a local hangout in Pike Place Market because tourists see its name and assume it’s an import-export shop and move on. This tiny bar with an English accent is the kind of pub you would see if you ventured outside of London and headed north to Yorkshire for a Samuel Smith’s ale.
1908 Post Alley, 206-441-7767