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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 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, 8 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.
Chances of getting arrested: 5/5
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.
Chances of someone asking you for a cigarette: 3/5
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.
Chances of getting kicked out: 4/5
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.
Chances of alcohol poisoning: 4/5
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 10 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 dilemma. 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.
Chances of judging someone’s Weezer t-shirt cuz its the cover of Maladroit and not Pinkerton: 2/5
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 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.)
Chances of getting me to do karaoke: 3.5/5
Alumni Club VIP is a nice little hole in the wall bar and dance club in Gahanna with a pretty diverse group of regulars. They’ve got a regular cycle of DJs and live bands throwing down everything from funk, to dad-rock, to current top 40s. It’s the only place where I could be jamming to some Prince, run into my parents, and still have a good time. Probably. Maybe… Naw. Nope, taking that back.
Chances of someone playing “Play That Funky Music Whiteboy”: 3/5
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.
Chances of ending the night, dead asleep and with a smile on your face: 5/5
Originally published 3/22/17. Updated 12/11/19.
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