The web site The Best Colleges ran a list of the best dive bars in the country. You will be pleased to know Texas was represented twice, once in Austin for Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, and the second is Dixie Chicken in College Station. By the way, Ginny’s wins our award for the worst web site design ever.
I haven’t been to either bar mentioned, but spent most of my time checking out the list of criteria to be on the list of the best dive bars. As one who takes great pride in hoisting a marginal beer in shady bars I took particular interest in what this web site felt made up a dive. I extracted some of the criteria from their list. Let’s hear what you think.
First the website lists a set of Ten Commandments which includes such demands as the bar must “have bar seating” and the bar must have “at least one television – not necessarily operational”. These commandments could apply to many spots in and around the Dallas area. I needed better clarification on how they chose these spots, and they happily complied.
Locally, we called on the co-owner of two great dives, the Windmill and The Ivy Tavern for her explanation of a dive. Lisa Georgalis submits that, “a good dive has stiff drinks and always makes you feel welcome. Somewhere to hang your hat and chill for a while”.
That sounds about as unpretentious of an explanation as might be given to a dive. They do not necessarily need to be seedy, but seediness adds to the charm of a dive in its golden years.
The following hot points for dives are not required, but give the bars selected extra points. These are just a sampling:
The bar has video games located somewhere in or on the bar. I love these devices. I spend hours sometimes enthralled with Word Dojo or Photo Match. I suck at the latter, but you can get aggressive if you have several playing at once.
The bar serves some form of pickled food displayed in a large glass jar on or around the bar. I have actually owned a bar and yet to see anyone buy, or much less consume a pickled pig’s foot or a pickled red hot. These are probably more decorative, but I do know you can buy these massive jars of floating pickled meats at Sam’s rather inexpensively.
The majority of employees have at least one tattoo. This cannot possibly be criteria in this decade where most people I know have a tat, or ten. One of my favorite dive’s in Dallas is called Step Up Lounge and it opens its doors at 7am. The only time I was actually at the bar at 7am was to pick my car up the next morning after a particularly rough evening of shots and bad beer. I was surprised to see my attorney there along with a group of extreme senior citizens.
The bar has a sign welcoming bikers. This is ridiculous. No self-respecting biker would dare enter a bar that had a sign that actually welcomed them.
The bar has a trough for a men’s urinal – extra bonus if it has ice in it and it is an old bathtub. This is now reserved for the kitschy new restaurants looking for atmosphere. I couldn’t say for sure, but chances are Cracker Barrel has this arrangement.
The bar serves some form of fried foods. Most self-respecting Dive Bars do not have a kitchen. A few hall passes distributed to Lakewood Landing (damn you midnight corn dog) and Lee Harvey’s for the incredible burger. The new menu at the Windmills is a gas, too.
“That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.”
What Are The Best Dives In Dallas?
Here are our top dozen dives in Dallas with some explanation and in no particular order. We could have easily listed a dozen more.
The Ivy Tavern: Although the Ivy is poetry in motion and has been spiffed up considerably since its opening three years ago, it still maintains its dive status. The crowd is an extreme mix of people and personalities, the fried food is consistently the best, you will see nights where bikers line up their hardware in the parking lot – which is free. Tattoos are golden among the staff, and it is about as comfortable a place as can be imagined.
Adairs: It is a pit made from love. Everyone who has ever visited penned something somewhere with a Sharpie, including Willie. The burgers are honest, massive and best served with a side of PBR or Lonestar. Few foods work with Lonestar Beer as does the half pound standard burger at Adairs. Live country music is enjoyed nightly.
Lakewood Landing: Dive greatness for over 50 years this east side Dallas bar features bad televisions, above average burgers and a corn dog handmade each night at midnight. The saloon is dark with a few pool tables for recreation. Do not attempt to order a crafty cocktail or you may be given the Clarence (angel second class) ala Martini’s Bar treatment.
The Goat: Sketchy bar in East Dallas with no kitchen but live music nightly except the few nights where you play the crooner with karaoke. Look for blues to be the maintstay at the Goat. Extreme smoking is available on its posterior patio where contact highs may or may not be possible.
Ship’s Lounge: Although the bar traded hands recently and given a spiff up, it looks, smells and feels exactly the same. The shotgun design has a classic dive bar arrangement. Lots of characters, plenty of marginal beer (although they do carry some good locals now which is perfectly acceptable).
Single Wide: With its increasingly declining population of old school dives on Greenville the Single Wide has maintained its status through many construction projects (seemingly a city move to run off business) and even survived the gentrification of the neighborhood. Tang and Yoohoo are popular mixers at this dive.
Cosmo’s Bar: A bit of a quagmire of a dive, the bar creates some surprisingly amazing food including pizza and oddly enough Vietnamese food when the kitchen feels up to the task. Around the corner from Lakewood Landing, this is dive bar paradise.
Lee Harvey’s: A massive compound of a dive serving greatness of burgers and the best onion rings and is a setting for the Mexican cartel on television’s Queen of the South. As far as we know no real cartels meet at Lee Harvey’s. The compound for the fifty year old bar is setting to a quantity of picnic tables surrounded by barbed wire fencing for good measure. The neighborhood is a bit sketchy but the area is completely safe. Probably due to the barbed wire.
Tradewinds Social Club: Oak Cliff’s answer to the dive question, “where can I go to enjoy a Pabst and chill”? Find cheap drinks, bad furnishings of mismatched furniture and cool clientele who enjoy their space.
Eight Bells Alehouse: Exposition has lost a few good spots to drink and nosh, but Eight Bells, sister bar to Oak Cliff’s Ten Bells meets every requirement for a good dive. Free parking out back is a bonus, and the beautiful yard/patio in the back is double bonus. Food is not an after thought, but the kitchen is probably smaller than your first apartment’s rendition.
The Grapevine Bar: Plotted on the edge of the gayborhood The Grapevine serves strong drinks, has a delightfully diverse crowd, a killer juke, Everclear belinnis, basketball and food from the attached cheesecakery Val’s which will make you a snadwich if in need. The Grapvine is an institution which will issue legendary harsh bans, some temporary some longer term, for misbehavior. Definitely a dive to see and be seen on a good Saturday night. This is also former home to the original Herrera’s.
The Windmill: Although it has been given a complete makeover, the Windmill still contains its divey charm with the exception that the restrooms are now in working order and there is some modicum of air conditioning. A new kitchen has been added with some cool new menu items besides chili and sandwiches under prior ownership. Never mind that this particular dive makes some of the best drinks in the city.
Bryan Street Tavern: An oasis of loving charm and complete diviness. There is a piano which most likely has never been tuned much less played, a labyrinth of rooms each with their unique personality, a wall of delightful brews and a kitchen that rocks a mean pizza that always makes our top list.