Sequins and suits are fun, but some of the best nights happen in those dive bars found in back alleys and on nondescript streets. No pressure and no pretentious clientele, just smudged beer glasses and salty peanuts. San Diego has these types of dive bars in spades. Expect cheap drinks, questionable bathrooms, and zero people who care if your shoes are designer. Here are some of the best dive bars in America’s Finest City:
A Literal Hole in the Wall
The phrase “hole in the wall” refers to all kinds of run-down and unassuming joints, but there are few dive bars where you actually order your food through a small hole in the wall between the bar and the kitchen. At Nunu’s, the vinyl booths are a little tattered and you don’t want to imagine what drinks have spilled on the threadbare carpet, but the vibe is unmistakably cool. The bar is rarely empty, even during the day, thanks to regulars who don’t have the burden of normal working hours. To fit in, order a greasy burger and a cheap beer. Prepare to be judged if you start asking about wine lists or cocktail menus.
Tall Towers and Low Standards
Let’s face it: nobody comes to Tower Bar to make good decisions. It’s the kind of place where the clientele are all about forgetting their problems in cheap mixed drinks and blaring tunes. Located in the City Heights district of San Diego, Tower Bar is found in a tall skinny building that definitely doesn’t look like much. Expect loud music, low prices, and even lower standards among the customers who just want to get a nice happy buzz.
Cheap Beer For What “Ales” You
Going through a divorce or a bad breakup? Lost your job or getting dangerously close to the bottom of your savings account? Whatever it is that’s getting you down, Lancer’s Cocktail Lounge in University Heights is the place to be. Unlike some iconic dive bars in San Diego, this place is decidedly free of hipsters, so don’t expect any ironic trucker hats here. Lancer’s offers plenty of incredibly cheap draft beer, stiff mixed drinks, bartenders who have seen it all, and a jukebox that plays just loud enough to drown out any troubles that sneak inside. Sure, it’s a place to hide out, but sometimes that’s exactly what a great dive bar is supposed to be.
What’s in a Name
If you want one of the best burgers in town and some history to boot, head to The Waterfront. Located in San Diego’s Little Italy, this dive boasts what is widely considered to be the oldest liquor license in the city. Just a couple of blocks from the harbor (no, it’s not actually on the waterfront), this was once the place where fishermen would relax after a day of catching tuna. Today, The Waterfront still attracts blue-collar workers as well as chill 30-somethings who just want a few drinks without any unnecessary ambiance. If you happen to be in the mood for a little day drinking, The Waterfront has you covered–the nectar of the gods is served as early as 6am every day.
Brown Bag It
Drinking American beers out of cans for a buck is about as red, white, and blue as you can get in San Diego. At the Tin Can Ale House in Banker’s Hill, things like chilled beer steins and tall glasses are deemed unimportant. Instead, grab a Pabst Blue Ribbon or a Mickey’s in a tall boy can, beautifully presented in the finest of brown paper bags. During the day, Tin Can Ale House is as dive-y as they come. On Friday and Saturday nights, however, be prepared to see a hip crowd swing by for the great live music. The local bands are probably the only non-dive thing about Tin Can Ale House, but be prepared for audible groans if you take out your iPhone to record the set.
As Ron Burgundy would say, “You stay classy, San Diego.” If you are willing to go against the advice of the Anchorman himself, leave your elegance at the door and check out one of these great dive bars in San Diego.
What do you look for in a great dive bar?