Visit 8 of DC’s Best Dive Bars If You’re Feeling Nostalgic

"Dive" doesn't have to be a dirty word

April 21, 2023 7:00 am
Barstools lined up at a decorative bar.
If you're craving a dive bar scene, check out these neighborhood-friendly bars.

We’re using the term “dive” in a positive light. Most of these places would not qualify as a dive if you’re looking for a place with sticky floors and uncleaned taps and walls that reek of cigarette smoke. Most of those places disappeared when smoking in bars was made illegal, and the rest finally died a death during the pandemic. What remains are fantastic neighborhood bars that are referred to as dive bars by people who didn’t get to live through the last days of true dives. 

Below, the best of them. 

Dan’s Cafe, Adams Morgan

OK, I was wrong: This is a legit dive. The 18th Street bar in Adams Morgan looks permanently closed, and this seems intentional. You can get mixed drinks in a serve-it-yourself condiment bottle. You may be treated like shit by the bouncer. Your patronage is met with indifference. This place is great. 

Ivy & Coney, Shaw

There are three unique spaces in this Chicago and Detroit bar, and each is progressively less divey. The main room has all the charm of an old-man bar (compliment), the middle room is reminiscent of a college bar you partied in when you may have not been of legal age and the back patio is, somewhat newly, very nice and updated. Ivy & Coney is the best choose-your-own adventure dive in DC. It’s also the best place to watch baseball and enjoy Detroit-style pizza.

Lyman’s Tavern / Red Derby, Columbia Heights/Petworth

These two establishments are being lumped together because they’re equally comfortable and literally next door to each other. Whenever I have plans to meet up with someone at Derby and there are no open seats, we go to Lyman’s, and vice-versa. Red Derby has been around longer and is great for couples. Their rooftop is typically packed on weekends, and the main bar, on the first floor, gets crowded around 10 p.m. Lyman’s corner location makes it a more popular outdoor destination, with seating on both 14th and Quincy. It’s great for couples and larger groups, as well as pinball aficionados. For bar fans, there are no better neighbors in DC. If you’re a dive bar fan, you probably aren’t looking for a second destination. For Lyman’s and Red Derby, it’s rare to drink at one and not at least pop in to the other. 

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The Pug, H St

The H Street bar predates most of current H Street. It was there before the stupidly large apartment buildings, the stupidly expensive restaurants and the Amazon-owned Whole Foods. It does not fit in, in the best possible way. If the description of the bar on its site doesn’t do it for you — “No idiots. No bombs. No shooters. No specials. No politics. Relax. Drink. Be cool. Behave” — you probably don’t want a dive bar.

The Raven Grill , Mount Pleasant

The Mount Pleasant institution is still able to attract D.C. lifers, new-to-D.C. interns, neighbors and tourists without doing much of anything. In a town dominated by bar concepts and overpriced cocktails, The Raven’s concept (a bar) and offerings (shots and bottled beer) is oddly refreshing. There should be a Raven in every neighborhood. Due to the rent and transient nature of the city, The Raven is an outlier when it should be the norm. Also, they don’t have a grill.

The Tune Inn Restaurant & Bar, Capitol Hill

This place was more of a dive before its 2011 fire. It’s still charming, just cleaner. If you’re on Capitol Hill and do not want to feel like you’re on Capitol Hill, you go to Tune Inn. The family-run bar and restaurant is in its third generation (they opened in 1947) and deserves at least another three generations of patronage. Another reason it needs to stick around is it’s open at 8 a.m. A true dive serves drinkers most every hour it’s legal to sell alcohol. 

The Wonderland Ballroom, Columbia Heights 

The Columbia Heights bar is so much bigger since COVID. Literally bigger. The permanent outdoor seating has expanded the bar’s footprint so much it may no longer be thought of as the divey equivalent of a nightclub on Friday and Saturday nights. This isn’t a bad thing. If you’re looking for a sunny place to have a pint, a dark room to nurse a bottle of beer or a sweaty second floor where you can damage your hearing and spill a vodka soda, Wonderland has you covered. Related, if you like Wonderland, you’ll most likely enjoy their sister bar, The Dew Drop Inn, a few miles away in Brookland.

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