One can reasonably argue that it has, now more than ever, become a marketing tool to describe one’s bar as a dive. In common parlance, dive means cool. It means provocative.
It also means nothing, not anymore, because once the very word — dive — is in the title of a TV show hosted by a particular spiky and platinum-haired brand of talking head that your parents watch, it ceases to stand as anything other than as a sobering reminder: that anything, everything, can be and probably will be packaged and sold and commoditized.
This is not a list of those things. This is a list of places that are weird, and places that are at times ugly and unbecoming and falling apart. This is a list of actual dive bars, and because it is such a thing, it is also a list of places that kick ass. Don’t ruin these places, okay? Because, again: they kick ass. Also: this guide is brought to you by the ghost of Ships Lounge. Dallas misses you, Ships. Get well soon.
Dirty, dingy, dark, dank, ugly, creepy, cavernous, ramshackle — and endlessly, perfectly charming and great. That’s Rubber Gloves in Denton. It’s hands down the diviest place to drink copious large beers while bumping into other extremely bleary-eyed youths who are ostensibly watching — but in all likelihood just attempting to remain standing — a so-called punk band play loudly and messily. It is glorious and completely lacking in pretense. It is Denton, distilled, the way Denton should always be remembered and cherished. Rubber Gloves is frankly a lean-to with a liquor license squatting on a heap of gravel on an alleyway masquerading as a street; it is awful, and borderline unlawful, in the way all punk rock is fundamentally unlawful, and thus it is great.
411 E. Sycamore St., Denton
Someone could easily do a crawl of Fort Worth’s greatest dives; Fort Worth itself practically is a dive. Did you know you can still smoke inside bars in Fort Worth? It’s true! If Dallas is a nightclub playing only last year’s hit songs and Houston is a cocktail lounge located in a swamp and Austin is a speakeasy where mustache wax is the only valid currency, Fort Worth is a juke joint. Fort Worth is a honky-tonk time capsule. And Finn MacCool’s is exhibit A. It’s a tried-and-true Irish pub that earns its authenticity without trying at all. Drinks are cheap, regulars are salty, and seemingly everyone drinking there has been there, and been drunk there, for longer than you’ve been alive. When your parents are worried that you’re drinking too much, Finn’s is the place they picture you staggering into.
1700 8th Ave., Fort Worth
THE CHAT ROOM
The first thing you notice about the Chat is that it barely looks open; it looks precisely like a building on the verge of being condemned. This is a good thing, though, because that thing — being barely inhabitable — is a dive bar requirement. Billing itself as "easily the eighth-best bar in Fort Worth," the Chat Room is a place where barely anything works and barely anyone employed there even notices you at all; the Chat Room doesn’t care about you. It doesn’t care whether you enjoy yourself. The Chat Room exists unto itself, and its refusal to adapt and its steadfast, borderline self-destructive dedication to preserving its own imperfections is what makes it one hell of a place in which to tie one on. The Chat Room is a dive with some real attitude, and it was opening its rickety doors to hipsters before hipster was even a word; this ain’t a hipster bar, it’s a misfit Fort Worth institution.
1263 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth
Everybody loves the Landing, and rightfully so. A great, greasy patty melt at a reasonable price, those infamous and fabulous late-night corn dogs, a super-friendly staff, a rowdy and hard-drinking crowd, and a vibe completely devoid of pretense are all welcome and precious things in short supply in Dallas’ bar scene. Plus those booths are just the right amount of comfy and gross; they’re like the hand-me-down futon belonging to your drunkest friend in college — the amount of times you’ve passed out on it, and the appreciation you have for that much-needed respite, far outweigh whatever horrors and stains and various bloodborne diseases are lurking within those crustily cozy cushions. The Landing is the Cheers bar if Cheers came on after midnight on Showtime and starred Mickey Rourke in Barfly instead of Ted Danson.
5818 Live Oak St.
Cosmo’s and the Landing, due to their proximity, go hand in hand: the Landing is the downer, and Cosmo’s, the upper. You need both dives in your life to sustain an intoxicated equilibrium. Walking in at any time of night you are damn near blinded by the drenching neon lights and blaringly loud pop music. But everyone there is so full-bore into the whole bizarre ordeal that you just say what the hell and go with it and ultimately it all works out, because it’s Cosmo’s and only great things happen here. Cosmo’s is without question the bar in which you are most likely to do some kind of absurd cinnamon toast crunch shot with a horde of ironically dressed strangers and then with them attempt a poorly synchronized group dance to Thriller with a slice of bad pizza in one hand and a pint full of regret in the other. Needless to say, it is amazing.
1212 Skillman St.
Dude, the Goat opens at 7 a.m. Six days a week. Imagine the kind of bar that’s open at 7 a.m. six days a week! The bar you’re imagining, I guarantee you, is exactly the bar that the Goat primally is, down to the very last stitch (and stench). On the Goat’s marquee are the words "your neighborhood blues bar," which is fantastic, and gleefully anarchic, because the Goat is also the kind of bar that no reputable neighborhood would ever claim as their own. Karaoke central in DFW, the Goat touts its Wednesday and Sunday amateur-singing sessions as can’t-miss, and they really are the stuff of Metroplex lore: bawdy, ballistic, batshit, et cetera. Strange, surreal, impossible-to-replicate-anywhere-else things go on at the Goat, incessantly, and that’s enough to qualify it for any dive-bar listicle worth its salted rim.
7248 Gaston Ave.
POP'S SAFARI ROOM
Pop’s is exactly the kind of place that you, logically, don’t believe exists anymore: a bar built on, and for, smoking cigars inside it. And yet, Pop’s endures. It also shares something with many of the other dives, which is that it sits in its practically original state on a street that has otherwise transformed. Near Pop’s are many a trendy high rise, and several cutesy popsicle shops and gastropubs, and yet Pop’s pays these places no mind; Pop’s just does Pop’s, which means stogies, and taxidermied animal heads with antlers adorning the walls, and zebra-print tablecloths, and a bunch of salty old timers sitting around puffing and sipping and waxing nostalgic about the horrors of the world that has changed around them. Pop’s is Hemingway by way of Kinky Friedman. It hides in plain sight. It is magnificent.
2929 Morton St., Fort Worth
Braving the narrow flight of stairs that leads to downtown’s OE Penguin is harrowing enough when you’re sober and damn near suicidal when you’re properly sauced. It is definitely the dive bar in Dallas in which you are most likely to take an actual dive, down the stairs, and then to another popular late-night haunt that begins with two letters: the ER. Having said that, OE (that stands for one-eyed) is 100 percent worth the risk. Often populated by people who work in the service industry — so you know the drinks are strong — the Penguin caters to a particular group: people who are looking to party. And they certainly deliver on that. The people here are loud and social, the bartenders are snarky, the shots are flowing and frequent, and the ambiance is just the right balance of dark yet inviting. OE Penguin is a charmingly seedy establishment.
1404 Main St.
THE OLD CROW
The Old Crow is open early (10 a.m.) and, being in the thick of the bustling Lower Greenville booze bonanza, it’s apropos that this old place takes all comers: college partiers, seasoned drunks, hustlers, highwaymen, the high-heeled, the well-heeled, ne’er-do-wells and nobodies. Whether you’re gussied up, dressed down, or down on your luck, the Crow has a barstool, a beer, a shot, and a pool cue for you. "Old" is a fitting adjective for the Crow because imbibing here feels like hanging out at your old dusty apartment, or your oldest friend’s pad; the lighting is dim, and it doesn’t look like much, but it’s a place where you feel like you belong: no judgment, no frills, nothing put on, played out, or phony. In a sea of valets parking and expensive artisan cocktails, The Old Crow sticks out for being a place people go not to be seen but to simply just drink.
1911 Greenville Ave.
THE ELBOW ROOM
Your first look at The Elbow Room is its everyman brick exterior, the definition of nondescript; you wonder whether it’s even a place of business, whether its doors are open to the public. Well, it is, and they are, and it’s spectacular. The drinks here are poured with a strong hand, and that’s a very necessary thing, because how good the pizza is here is directly proportional to how many of those strong-as-hell drinks you’ve slammed down. The Elbow also boasts a fantastic location: It is just secluded enough to raise an eyebrow, just far enough from Deep Ellum to make one wonder, and yet close enough to draw you in. Bonuses: the jukebox here is rollicking, and on the wall there is a lewd rendering of a buxom Mona Lisa that will make you blush and haunt your dreams.
3010 Gaston Ave.
TRADEWINDS SOCIAL CLUB
A slurring and emphatic retort to the continuing gentrification of North Oak Cliff, far West Davis’s Tradewinds stands — or maybe, more appropriately, wobbles — as a bastion to boilermakers, tall boys, and basic booze. At Tradewinds they’re slinging with zeal the cheapest drinks around in a practically pitch-black lair with a leaky roof and a busted juke and a beat-up couch in the back of the bar where sometimes overserved regulars can be observed napping. Tradewinds’ patio is also the diviest that Dallas has to offer: It’s serpentine, and off to the side, out of sight, almost clandestine, which is a microcosm of Tradewinds as a whole. It’s the kind of place you know you shouldn’t be, and yet, there you are again, ordering another.
2843 W. Davis St.
As you walk into Adair’s you can’t help but notice the smell: It’s a menagerie of body odors, burger grease, cigarette butts, and badass outlaw swagger, and all of it has coalesced into a constant barroom cologne during Adair’s approximate 50-year reign as the king of all dives along Deep Ellum's Commerce Street. Also unique is Adair’s food, specifically their burgers, in that they are way better than they have any right to be. And because they have live music damn near every night of the week, and it is almost always a band with heavy guitar licks and a howling rebel yell, Adair’s is the quintessential dive spot for burgers, beers, and bad decisions.
2624 Commerce St.
Less of a bar in the traditional sense and more a giant outdoor den of iniquity with a few bottles of liquor — and some delightfully greasy finger foods — housed inside a tiny room that you probably will never enter, Lee Harvey’s calls home easily the best patio of all of Dallas’ dives. The bar essentially is the patio; it’s what you walk into, it’s where the majority of patrons sit, and its many outside standup heaters and eclectic and enduring live music lineups make it more or less a requirement to be out there, with your dog, your significant other, or both, getting drunk on a long wooden table alongside other enthusiastic imbibers, to the jams of an Elvis Costello cover band or the Hard Line’s own Petty Theft. Also, its name: Lee Harvey’s. Its name is LEE HARVEY’S. Has there ever been a better dive bar name than Lee Harvey’s? The question is rhetorical.
1807 Gould St.
DOUBLE WIDE AND SINGLE WIDE
These sister bars combine to form the mecca of all Dallas dives. At the Double Wide and Single Wide, every dive requirement is checked off: snarling, destitute, lifelong drunks with whom you may drink and/or argue unwisely; crazy punk rock lunatic bands, to whom you may listen gleefully or plead with to stop; walls of wild, inexplicable, and explicit artwork and knick-knacks; scores of cheap shots and light beers; terrible and skunky bathrooms; bartenders as wonderful and personable as they are standoffish and surly; and overall a marvelously strange-smelling, poorly lit, incredibly bleak, and yet irrefutably hospitable atmosphere. The Single Wide has a small patio that offers tremendous Lower Greenville people watching, and the Double Wide offers a slice of Deep Ellum’s strangest side, along with their notorious Yoohoo shots. Go to both, and go often.
Double Wide: 3510 Commerce St.; Single Wide: 2110 Greenville Ave.