Night scene of a busy street corner with people dining at outdoor cafe booths, under a neon "Cafe" s...

NYLON Nights

The Best Dive Bars In New York

They’re low-key, affordable, and always have a seat for you.

by Tim Latterner

Trends come and go, but dive bars are forever. While we’re all for the next sleek new spot, sometimes, we just want a cheap beer-and-shot special and a reliably chill, unpretentious vibe.

If we’re being honest, there’s no “best” dive bar — in your heart of hearts, you know that the “best” dive bar is the one closest to your apartment. But barring proximity, there are a few ideal characteristics that emerge, which is why, when we compiled our list, we considered the crowd; the drink prices; amenities like a pinball machine, pool table, or live shows; and the ineffable balance between dim lighting and eclectic interior design that somehow makes the whole effect charming.

Ahead, see the best dive bars in New York City, according to NYLON.

Fanelli Cafe, at the corner of Mercer and Prince Street, has been around since 1847, so no one can blame them for having a certain… patina. The bathroom walls are drawn on, the drinks are unfussy, and the burger and fries are great. It’s also one of the toughest walk-in spots in the area — in all the years I lived downtown, I’ve never once passed by and not seen a crowd of people sitting at the outdoor tables or waiting for an open seat on the concrete barricades. The bar is frequented by a cross section of fashion kids (you’ll more likely than not run into someone) and old-timers that have been going since Soho’s bohemian era in the ‘70s.

Any conversation of what makes “Dimes Square” cool has to include mention of Clandestino. A lot of bars have popped up charging $17 for cocktails served in coupes, but not this place. Clandestino is true to its customers, with cheap-enough beers and a crowd of creatives. The best way to make use of Clando is to put your name down for dinner at Kiki’s, then spend the next 45 minutes having a couple of beers before your table is ready.

KGB opened in 1993, but the building has a storied past as a casino run by mobster Lucky Luciano, and as a meeting place for communist party members in the ‘50s. Today, it’s best known for the top floor’s Red Room, where guests can listen to poets and writers reading their work throughout the week. (The bar has also started bringing in jazz bands on the weekends.) It’s a laid-back place that’s mostly filled with avant-gardists who work for major galleries and publishers during the day, and their own stuff here at night.

Located under the BQE in Williamsburg, the bar is unassuming on the outside. Inside, it’s full of all the fun trappings a hometown dive bar needs: pinball machines, a bison head on the wall, cold drinks (we’re partial to the frozen coffee guy), and a pool table. “For me, a good dive bar is one where the floors are unapologetically sticky from beer spills and their tap beer glasses are chilled,” says NYLON Style Editor Kevin LeBlanc. “Rocka Rolla has both of these, plus a jukebox (mandatory) and an outdoor patio ideal for smoke breaks.”

From the moment you walk into Sophie’s, it feels like everybody is from the neighborhood. (It’s also NYLON Editor-in-Chief Lauren McCarthy’s favorite dive in the city.) The jukebox has everything from Sam Cooke to The Strokes, the pool table has enough room to actually play without bumping someone, and the cheapest beer on tap is just $4.

Horseshoe Bar — which is NYLON Senior Social Media Strategist Kelly Reed’s pick — is like if Cheers was set in a slightly more grungy part of the East Village. When people complain about how “New York has changed, man,” this is its former self they’re referring to — for better or for worse. You’ll still find a great jukebox selection, games, and televisions to watch a game.

Daniel F. Rico

The back patio of this East Village favorite makes it the best option to have all the fun of a dive bar while making the most of the summer weather. (Even the pool table is outside.) Note that the crowd tends to skew younger, aka NYU students and bar-hoppers making their way around the area before ending up at Joyface.

This Bushwick staple used to be NYLON Managing Editor Chelsea Peng’s local for its versatility for first dates, nightcaps, and major holidays as a surprisingly wholesome option when most other spots are closed. “The staff are the absolute best,” Peng says. “I’ve made so many core memories here.”

If you’re one of the Brooklyn girlies wearing cowboy boots all summer, you’ll fit right in. Or, if you’re looking to see new country bands play without having to leave the five boroughs, head to Skinny Dennis for some Southern honky-tonk style. The beers are $6, the cocktails are all served in big pint glasses with salted rims, and there’s live music every single night.

Julius is a piece of NYC nightlife history. The bar first opened in 1864, making it one of the oldest bars in the city, but it’s best known as the oldest continuously operating gay bar in New York. Today, Julius is still thriving — Sam Smith and Alicia Keys played there for Pride — and while some may come for the culture, the bar food is also really good (just ask Joel Kim Booster).