What makes a dive bar?
Is it the way they seem to purposefully not clean the bathrooms? Is it the stark combination of shady customers and awesome regulars, both of which are equipped with the weirdest and saddest stories? Or is it the unreasonably strong, almost legally reprehensible, cheap drinks?
Honestly, it’s a combination of all of them but I’d gladly circle my wagons around that last one, for sure.
Whatever it is that makes them what they are, we love our dive bars. They’re our dojos, our senate, our Pawnee town hall. We couldn’t imagine life without our old haunts and so for that, I’ve put together a love letter to Columbus’s dive bars.
-XOXO, The Best Dives in the city
The Ruckmoor is perhaps the most infamous on the list for many reasons, least of which is that they’ve been known to sell actual cans of actual Natural Light from behind the actual bar. I can NOT emphasize that enough. And don’t even bother bringing your card because they straight up only take cash. I gotta tell you right now, yeah, this place can be a ton of fun, but often times it’s just going to be you getting into a whole lot of trouble you could have easily avoided by not going. Or, you know, live your life, because no one tells you what to do.
This old jazz bar in the Old North actually showcases some pretty great bands. It’s just dimly lit enough to warn you away from eating anything and just bright enough to make out the types of whiskeys they have. With a pool table in the back, a smoking patio (sidewalk, let’s be honest), and some pretty chill regulars, you can almost guarantee yourself a pretty dope place to start or end the night.
Cushions has always represented a special kind of sadness to me. There are three specific phases of emotional grief you experience immediately after crossing the threshold. The first is when you notice the 13-year-old mopping up dudes in a game of pool. This is the denial phase. You can’t believe you let them talk you into coming back to this place. The next is shock.
As in, “Oh my god, did that guy just punch that other guy for not liking Seal?!” Yes. Yes, he did. The third and final phase comes shortly before last call when you realize you actually had a good time. Also your keys and pants are missing and both are completely unrelated.
Dubbing itself “The Cultural Hub of the Midwest” Bob’s Bar has been getting folk uncannily drunk for years. They have an almost uncalled for amount of beers to choose from, more than 200 in total. It’s a good thing they don’t take themselves too seriously though, what with a mascot that looks like that guy from that early 2000’s male enhancement commercial (Hah! Smilin’ Bob! I just got that!).
Bob’s Bar is the perfect place to go and forget your troubles, or your family, or girlfriend, or pretty much everything to be completely honest with you. I mean, healthy coping methods are fine and all, but then there’s Bob’s Bar, and one is definitely more fun than the other.
Okay look, I’m gonna level with you guys. I was really hard-pressed to even add this one. The whole place is tragically clean. The bathrooms never once made me feel uncomfortable, and to make it all worse, people I didn’t even know kept smiling at me. I’ve never seen a more huggable crowd in my life. Yuck. So why would I include them on a top dive bar list?
Two words guys; Crab Racing. No wait, four; Mother friggin’ crab racing. It’s all the fun grunginess of betting on animals at a bar but with none of the gross Michael Vick moral dilemmas. They may not even do it anymore, but they get points for ever having crab racing. But seriously you guys, stop cleaning those toilets, for the love of the dive.
This place is just great. Not only is this place LGBTQ, All-inclusive friendly, it also looks like you’re drinking in someone else’s house. Equipped with a pool table and a garage for smoking, you’re made to feel at ease. Just long enough, anyway, for someone to sneak your name on the karaoke list for a duet of ‘What’s Up’ by 4 Non Blondes.
Oh, and you’ll do it. Of course, you will, you’re four shots deep. And yes, there will be a video and this will be on Facebook almost immediately. Might as well stick it out for that Radiohead encore buddy, cuz “You do it to yourself, you do!” (Hah.)
High Beck is basically a really awesome hallway that happens to give you free pizza and chili dogs and as everyone knows, if you feed Columbus and give us booze after midnight, we will love you for always. We’ll also more than likely turn into green-scaled gremlins at some point, ready to cause you bodily harm or commit acts of general mischief, but that’s your fault High Beck.
A 100-year-old local dive favorite, this old girl has been by our city through thick and thin. Through rich and through poor. High Beck, cheers to you, the debauchery you inspire, but mostly to your free food. Slainte.
We honestly couldn’t ask for a more divier bar to start off this list. It’s a quaint little Shangri-la for misfits and heathens (i.e. my people). I’m talking cheap beers and forties of malt liquor, all while serving up actual Wild Irish Rose. YOU HEARD THAT RIGHT.
We’re talking 18% of fortified juicy wine goodness (I use the terms both “wine” and “goodness” verrry loosely here). Also worth checking out is their “Black Tie Affair”– An all-American starter kit consisting of a Black Label plus a shot of Jagermeister. Cheers and hail to the chief.
Referred affectionately and simply as “The Hey Hey”, this neighborhood dive has a strong reputation for a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Which is odd, because that type of thing is generally uncharacteristic of dive bars as a genus.
Still, though, The Hey Hey does much to deserve its seat at the table, namely by providing a selection of cheap drinks and semi-shady bar chow. Their sauerkraut balls are supposed to be pretty killer according to Midwest Living Magazine (which is hilariously an actual thing that exists and that people read). It’s a speakeasy turned Irish pub that somehow serves German food. It’s literally a dive bar, playing a dive bar, disguised as another dive bar.
Johnnie’s Glenn Avenue Grill
I love this place simply because it feels like you’re getting hammered in a complete stranger’s living room, something I’m sure we’ve all been familiar with… No? Just me? Cool. Cool cool cool. It’s called Johnnie’s Glenn Avenue “Grill” but I’ve never seen them do any grilling and I doubt they ever have. Still, though, this little oasis in the middle of a residential area gives off a unique sort of comfort.
A sort of after work getaway for blue-collar and service industry workers. Johnnie’s is cash only, not family-friendly, and utterly nostalgia-inducing. Perfect for getting blitz canned on a Tuesday for absolutely no reason other than that the cocktails are two dollars (in and of itself is completely reason enough).
Never in my life have I seen such super janky-looking food also look so incredibly friggin’ delicious. We’re talking sandwiches, chili dogs, and flop-sloppy nachos piled with melted cheese and peppers. You know, the drunk eats you crave the most when you’re buzzed beyond rational understanding. India Oak carries with it a major dad vibe, which is completely understandable seeing as I’ve known several people who have definitely gotten pretty drunk here with their actual dads.
Though it’s a pretty diverse cast of characters you’ll see roll in throughout the night, the overall vibe is if WNCI and The Blitz got into a fight at a Crew game and then decided to do shots and high-five about it later. I don’t know about you, but I could def get drunk and watch the hell out of that.
Not only is O’Reilly’s a great little cozy dive but also a pretty stellar greasy spoon while we’re at it. Their Pepper Burger is famous throughout the city but you also have to respect anyone that serves a pretty mean fried bologna sandwich (never underestimate the simple foods in life).
The sunken bar thing is pretty cool but the real move is sliding into a booth seat and pounding down about a baker’s dozen of brews with three of your less wholesome chums before marching out to paint the town red or green or whichever color is more debaucherous and en vogue at the time (this, of course, isn’t really advice that anyone should follow *hard wink*)
Cafe Bourbon St. is the original home of Pierogi Mountain, a small Polish dumpling spot that’s had the honor of serving none other than Flavor Town’s own mayor and magistrate, Guy Fieri. Eccentric live acts define this charming little hole in the wall as much as the paint peeled walls and the street art stickers.
Irony and whisky hold reign here, black lights and psychedelia are the norm. Remember that kid you used to hang out with whose parents let him live in the attic and who had really good taste in music but would always put on those weird conspiracy theory Youtube videos to play in the background when you hung out? Well, turns out they opened a bar and it’s actually kinda dope.
I don’t know how many times I’ve had to explain that this isn’t actually the commercial chain restaurant that millennials are trying oh so desperately to kill (good riddance, death to mediocrity *cough, cough*). Ruby Tuesdays is a dive bar/venue that’s been embedded in the city since the late 70s, providing a place for tons of young talent to try their hand and cut their teeth on. It definitely struts a sort of vintage, antique look.
Perfect performance atmosphere for the burgeoning Bandcamp rapper or the or anyone who knows they have a little T. Swift trapped in their little culdesac-cowboy heart (NO ONE SAY ANYTHING, I WANT TO SEE IF THEY’LL ACTUALLY DO IT). The bathrooms look like the national deficit, but it’s a dive bar, thems’ the breaks kid.