Dive Right In
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30 Historic Dive Bars Across the Country

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Dive Right In
Jitalia17 / E+ / Getty Images CC

Dive Right In

The term "dive bar" doesn't always signify a saloon of questionable reputation. Many watering hole owners are embracing a new definition: a no-frills establishment where you can find a stiff drink, good company, and living history. These dens have special, memorable stories worth knowing.

Related: The Oldest Eateries in All 50 States

Jeff Rindskopf contributed to this story.

Upsidedown Plaza | Birmingham, Alabama
theupsidedownplaza/facebook

Upsidedown Plaza | Birmingham, Alabama

Walk into the Plaza, and you could hear country, rock, or rap blaring from the jukebox. You'll also commingle with a diverse clientele — from doctors to plumbers. But the real interesting draw is how this place got its name: Owners hung the neon sign upside down, and decided to keep it. Thus, Upsidedown Plaza was born.

Canyon Club | Williams, Arizona
Experiencewilliams.com

Canyon Club | Williams, Arizona

Though much of Route 66 no longer exists, some of the original road is still drivable, and travelers can see landmarks and national parks along the way. In the Copper State, check out the Canyon Club and visit with the friendly locals, have a drink, or play shuffleboard. You can't miss it — both entrances are on 66.

White Water Tavern | Little Rock, Arkansas
UptownScribe/Tripadvisor

White Water Tavern | Little Rock, Arkansas

Three huge fires — two set by an arsonist, the other by a motorcycle accident — have failed to douse the spirit of White Water Tavern. Bedecked with twinkling lights and colorful graffiti, the dive hooks crowds with food, cheap beer, and whiskey, while musical acts keep toes tapping.

King Eddy Saloon | Los Angeles
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King Eddy Saloon | Los Angeles

Known as the city's most legendary dive bar, King Eddy Saloon has been serving patrons on Skid Row for more than 100 years. It opened in the early 1900s as a joint to serve drinkers of the classy King Edward Hotel. It kept serving during Prohibition, operating in the basement as a speakeasy and publicly upstairs as a piano store. Through the decades, the bar has served poets including Charles Bukowski, and actor Kiefer Sutherland is said to have been seen there on occasion.

Related: 32 Secret Restaurants and Speakeasies Across America

White Horse Bar | Oakland, California
Paul M./Yelp

White Horse Bar | Oakland, California

At first glance, the White Horse, which opened in 1933 and claims to be the oldest LGBT bar in the country, would seem to be the classic gay dive bar, with pinball, pool tables, karaoke, and drag shows. But in its earlier days, its clientele was more closeted; there was a no-touching policy, and folks often worried about being arrested during raids. Much has since improved for the patrons and the celebrated bar — it has appeared on HBO's "Looking."

The Sink | Boulder, Colorado
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The Sink | Boulder, Colorado

The "Sinkstine Chapel" on the ceiling of the entryway to this beloved dive is not only a sight to see but a tease to its classic burger, the Sinkburger. The artwork, though, is not limited to the entryway; the, um, craftsmanship is sprawled all over the walls and ceiling. But the place is cool enough to get visits from the late chef Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama.

Comegys' Pub | Wilmington, Delaware
Comegys Pub/Facebook

Comegys' Pub | Wilmington, Delaware

Walking into this watering hole is like strolling through an art museum: Photos of superstars Johnny Cash, Allen Iverson, and other historic images adorn the walls. Co-owner Fred Comegys, who retired as a photojournalist after 53 years, has plastered his work for patrons to see and talk about as they sip their sauce.

 The Last Resort | Port Orange, Florida
RunAway B./Yelp

The Last Resort | Port Orange, Florida

The Last Resort's claim to fame: "The home of ice cold beer and killer women." The tiny biker bar just outside Daytona Beach was reportedly the last stop serial killer Aileen Wuornos (played by Charlize Theron in the movie "Monster") drank before she was arrested ... for killing people, not drinking. Oh, get this: There's a gaudy mural of Wuornos next to the car seat she used to sleep on. You know you want to see that.

Captain Tony's | Key West, Florida
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Captain Tony's | Key West, Florida

If you go, and you should, don't let the bras hanging from the ceiling dissuade you — they're simply a throwback to a wild heyday. Captain Tony's (the original Sloppy Joe's) is really steeped in history thanks to visits from Ernest Hemingway (who met his third wife here), Truman Capote, and Jimmy Buffet.

The Rail Pub | Savannah, Georgia
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The Rail Pub | Savannah, Georgia

Housed in what used to be a brothel, The Rail Pub not only embraces its past but remains loyal as a "house of pleasure," which today comes in the form of cheap beer, raucous celebrations, and even fundraisers. The pub is considered one of the city's top dive bars and is a mainstay in the bar scene downtown.

Smith's Union Bar | Honolulu
Bobby L./Yelp

Smith's Union Bar | Honolulu

The oldest bar in the state is not too different from your classic dive bar, with its cheap drinks, lively conversation, and unpolished karaoke crooners. But this watering hole has a history unlike many others: It was the favorite of the crew of the battleship USS Arizona, which was attacked at Pearl Harbor.

Pengilly's Saloon | Boise, Idaho
Victoria S./Yelp

Pengilly's Saloon | Boise, Idaho

At first blush, Pengilly's might seem like it's simply a sleepy, old-school watering hole. It's decked out with vintage wallpaper, a red-velvet pool table, mounted animal heads, and a turn-of-the century cash register, but Yelp reviewers also appreciate its charm, as well as the stiff drinks, good music, and rollicking atmosphere.

Liar's Club | Chicago
Abram H./Yelp

Liar's Club | Chicago

There's quite a lively crowd wearing leather and black T-shirts, but apparently a couple of un-live ones frequent the Liar's Club, too — the dive is said to be haunted by a man who was killed in 1962 after being hit multiple times with a glass bottle, and a woman slain in 1986 with an ax.

Rainbo Club | Chicago
Anthony R./Yelp

Rainbo Club | Chicago

For decades, the gritty Rainbo Club has drawn many late-night bar hoppers looking for cheap drinks and a comfy place to hang out and do some people watching. It's known as a stomping ground for local artists and musicians, at one time even Liz Phair.

Checkered Flag Tavern | Indianapolis
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Checkered Flag Tavern | Indianapolis

Established in 1947, the landmark pub and traditional American spot has memorabilia on its walls fresh from pit row, thanks to enthusiastic racing team members from nearby Speedway. Reviewers like the food, the live music, and playing darts, giving the bar an average of 4 stars on Yelp.

Related: From Bootleggers to Checkered Flags: The History of NASCAR

Air Devils Inn | Louisville, Kentucky
airevilsinn/Facebook

Air Devils Inn | Louisville, Kentucky

ADI, as regulars call it, is known by its iconic neon sign with the devil on top. Known as the city's most storied and historic dive bar, it's still haunted by one particular incident — the 1995 shooting death of its Vietnam veteran owner by an EMS worker, who later killed himself.

Café Lafitte in Exile | New Orleans
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Café Lafitte in Exile | New Orleans

Steeped in New Orleans history, Café Lafitte also bills itself as the oldest continuously operating LGBT bar in the country (it opened in 1933, the same year as Oakland's White Horse). The legendary watering hole at one time served Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. The bar is popular as a Bourbon Street hangout on any day, and The Balcony is the place to be during Mardi Gras and other street celebrations.

Hec's Bar
 | Detroit
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Hec's Bar | Detroit

There's a buzzer at the door of Hec's Bar, and the very gruff but lovable owner, Bob, is selective about who he allows in: No troublemakers, drug dealers, or streetwalkers. His family has a long history in the bar business, and the prices seem to hark back to an earlier decade: A draft beer reportedly costs $1 and a mixed drink between $3 and $4.

The Haunt | St. Louis
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The Haunt | St. Louis

The house shot, if you're inclined to try it, is a strong, heavily poured mixture of amaretto, Southern Comfort, and sweet-and-sour mix with an equally vivid name — an acronym of the three ingredients. You'll probably need it as you venture through The Haunt. At this gothic dive, you'll see a mannequin in a straitjacket, animal skulls (real ones) here and there, and other macabre items.

Sip 'n Dip Lounge in Great Falls, Montana
Sip 'n Dip Lounge/TripAdvisor

Sip 'n Dip Lounge | Great Falls, Montana

Sometimes, the ostentatious and/or tacky decor of your local watering hole is all you need to soften the blows of life or simply escape reality. The Polynesian tiki theme at Sip 'n Dip Lounge isn't some ironic in-joke — no, this motor inn bar opened in 1962, when bamboo ceilings and scantily clad "mermaids" swimming in aquariums were still cutting-edge. The place feels slightly frozen in time, with extravagant cocktails like the Fishbowl and jazzy live music provided by "Piano Pat" Spoonheim, who's been at it more than 50 years.

Genoa Bar and Saloon in Genoa, Nevada
Melissa A./Yelp

Genoa Bar and Saloon | Genoa, Nevada

Built in 1853 and serving drinks since 1884, the Genoa Bar calls itself Nevada's oldest "thirst parlor." It's been visited by U.S. presidents and Hollywood celebrities alike throughout its long history. In winter, it's a cozy place to unwind by the wood stove, and come summertime, impromptu "porch parties" are known to break out.

Related: 18 Towns Where You Can Still Experience the Wild West

Double Down Saloon | Las Vegas
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Double Down Saloon | Las Vegas

You know you're in a dive when there's $20 puke insurance. It's likely needed because the drink specials involve Twinkies and Slim Jims. The bar that Anthony Bourdain said is among the top five in the world includes shrunken heads, metallic insects, and a Playboy pinball machine. It's best to just follow its motto: "Shut up and drink."

Silva's Saloon | Bernalillo, New Mexico
CavemanHHH/Tripadvisor

Silva's Saloon | Bernalillo, New Mexico

From bootlegger and moonshiner in the '30s to beloved neighborhood bar since the end of Prohibition, Silva's along Route 66 has always been a sacred place. Sweat-stained cowboy hats from long-ago customers hang from the ceiling, and bottles that have been around since its bootlegging days line the shelf of the bar. They have been dipped in wax for preservation.

Julius' | New York
Alp O./Yelp

Julius' | New York

The oldest gay bar in New York City has been around since 1826 and began attracting a gay clientele by the 1960s. Julius', only minutes by foot from the historic Stonewall Inn, was the site of the "Sip in" protest in 1966 (the historic Stonewall protest occurred in 1969) against the State Liquor Authority's policy of revoking the licenses of bars that served known or suspected gays and lesbians.

Harbor Inn
 | Cleveland
Jim F./Yelp

Harbor Inn | Cleveland

Harbor Inn has been lifting spirits since 1895, serving mostly a blue-collar crowd. Last year, during the government shutdown, political broadcaster/radio host Geraldo Rivera helped brighten the day for many by buying drinks at the tavern for furloughed government employees.

Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon | Austin, Texas
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Little Longhorn Saloon | Austin, Texas

The country music emporium known as Ginny's has been operating more than four decades as one of Austin's premiere spots for live country and honky-tonk, but there's so much more to see and do at this Lone Star State roadhouse. One of the attractions that brings in the crowds is "Chicken S**t Bingo." Prizes are awarded to players depending on where the chick decides to drop a number two.

La Carafe, Houston
Sydney H./yelp

La Carafe | Houston

Housed in one of Houston's oldest buildings, La Carafe is a bar whose most reliable fixtures are its jazzy jukebox playlists and rotating selection of domestic and imported wines. Converted to serve drinks in the 1950s, the wooden bar still looks lovably timeworn and has its fair share of ghost stories to boot, contributing to the seances occasionally held on its second floor.

Blue Moon Tavern in Seattle
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Blue Moon Tavern | Seattle

The Blue Moon Tavern opened its doors on the west edge of Seattle's University District in 1934, shortly after Prohibition, and quickly became a low-key hotspot for college students and eventually for counterculture icons like Allen Ginsberg and Richard Hugo. Today, it's still a popular spot for cheap draughts, sports games, and local cover acts, its walls stacked with musty old tomes patrons are free to crack open and start reading.

Holler House in Milwaukee
Amie Z/TripAdvisor

Holler House | Milwaukee

Family-owned and -operated since 1908, Holler House is, like many bars in Milwaukee's historically Polish South Side, an unadorned neighborhood institution for good conversation and reasonably priced bottled and canned beer — albeit one with dozens of bras dangling from the ceiling rafters. Its other claim to fame is having the nation's oldest bowling alley in the basement. You can still play — just be prepared to tip the pinboys and keep score by hand.

Joe's Liquor & Bar | Rock Springs, Wyoming
Joe's Liquor & Bar

Joe's Liquor & Bar | Rock Springs, Wyoming

In a hurry? One of the friendliest hole-in-the-wall bars in Wyoming has a liquor store with a drive-up window. But you might want to go inside, because a friend may have left you something. The tiny 14-seat tavern, which opened in 1961, has a "friend board" that allows customers to buy drinks for friends who stop by at another time.