Not every single bar in the Valley is a pristine, well-maintained watering hole. As a matter of fact, there are those that have seen better days and are, quite frankly, shabby as hell. The floors are usually sticky with beer and booze, the furnishings were worn out long ago, and there’s a certain aroma in the air of cleaning supplies or other potent scents.
Sounds like paradise to us.
Naturally, we’re referring to the Valley’s cache of dive bars, better known as the places where bar flies bend elbows, where day-drinkers go to avoid the sunlight and abuse their livers, and where everyone else (ourselves included) go when they want to slum for a bit. Cheap booze and cheap thrills are the norm, as is kitschy décor, lowbrow fun, condom dispensers, duct-tape on the bar stools, and, of course, a colorful bunch of regulars who are eager to make your acquaintance ... whether you like it or not.
As is the case with many genres of bars, some places are better than others. Here are 11 such dives around Metro Phoenix that more than qualify.
Ahoy, mateys. There be more than a few barflies that gather within the cramped confines of this pirate-themed dive located in North Phoenix. Maybe they come for the raucous karaoke sessions or weekly goldfish races. Then again, it might be for the inexpensive drinks (which are handily listed on the wall as “grogs”), the amiable vibe, and the ultra-friendly bartenders that will eagerly pour ‘em another round. Be warned scallywags, they won’t take any of your guff and will quickly deep six anyone who’s had a few too many or gets too rowdy. Just be grateful they won’t make you walk the plank.
Lots of bars try to pass themselves off as "friendly," but how many places are cool with customers' pooches scampering about? Saying Westwood Tap is a "welcoming" place is an understatement when you see a schnauzer cruising past the cocktail waitress slinging drinks. Doggies aren't the last of Westwood's charms: A vending machine glows in the corner, ready to dispense munchies or cigarettes, and the venue's long mirror, which runs the length of the bar, makes it possible to watch the developing action in the room as if it were a widescreen movie. Join the patrons as they shout at the basketball game on TV and sing along to the piano bit from "Layla," or plop down at the bar's retro-grooviest feature, a cocktail unit arcade equipped with Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga.
Once known as the notorious Liguori Lounge - a spillover joint for the defunct rock 'n' roll landmark The Mason Jar - this CenPho dive has maintained its neighborhood hidey-hole status by welcoming a diverse, and sometimes tough, crowd. Down the narrow hallway running the length of the bar (which is peppered with license plates, airbrushed pics of hotties, and feline photography) Kat's opens up into a rec room of sorts with pool, free Texas Hold'em tournaments, and a claw game filled with porn DVDs. The longtime locals are happy to chat it up while downing daily drink specials or happy hour brews, and they won't hesitate to dance whenever a Bette Midler song booms from the jukebox.
When you, ahem, wander in to this East Phoenix hole-in-the-wall, it's immediately obvious you're in for some real dive bar debauchery. Happy hour runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Wanderin, and drink prices are scribbled on liquor bottles with a Sharpie. The Wanderin opens at 6 a.m. to an old-school, hard-drinkin' neighborhood crowd who's anything but bashful when it comes to socializing. The back room is never used, and the no-frills interior has seen better days. Along with the booze, the joint boasts an array of cheap, microwaved munchies, and, of course, cigarettes. When you're not busy petting the Chihuahua relaxing on the stool next to you or doing shots whenever the regulars shout "Get 'er done!," feel free to talk with one of the down-to-earth barkeeps or play "Solitary Man" by Neil Diamond on the jukebox and watch the place break into song.
Closing Soon Saloon
Fish in gumball machines, potted plants on tables, and colorfully whimsical hand-drawn signs advertising drink specials are some of the eccentric visual elements on display at this decidedly eclectic Scottsdale gin joint. This neighborhood tavern has lasted more than 30 years, serving up spirits and suds from a storefront wedged between a laundromat and taco shop. The walking-distance locals are as diverse as the jukebox playlist, which ranges from Frank Sinatra and ABBA to a-ha and Zeppelin. Drinkers suck down bargain booze while the barkeeps line the empties on the bar, keeps watch over the quarter game (drop a coin into a jug of water — if it lands in the shot glass at the bottom, your next drink is discounted) and doles out raffle tickets for the "Cash for Customers" game, in which the winning number means more green and another night of strange times at the Closing Soon Saloon.
Palo Verde Lounge
There’s a few reasons why locals and regulars constantly refer to this Tempe institution as either the "Dirty Verde" or even the “Foul and Dirty,” and it ain’t just because those are cute and clever nicknames. Put simply, the Palo Verde is a lovably well-worn mess that boasts an array of band stickers covering the walls, myriad graffiti adorning every single inch of the men's room (even the old-school condom machine above the urinal), and more funk than the Motown catalog. And we love it just the same. A curious cross-section from all over Tempe (be they college kids, scenesters, or neighborhood folks) visit the Verde to start their drinking during the daytime or to grab one last round before last call (and it gets even weirder on the weekends). Cheap booze flows like water here, and a variety of local punk, hardcore, metal, and noise rock bands perform in one corner on the weekend. That's right: There's no stage here.
Jupe’s first opened way back in the early 1980s, and certainly looks every bit its age. That’s not a slight by any means, however. We wouldn’t change a thing about this out-of-the-way scruffy haunt cloistered at the edge of Mesa — from the crumbling stucco and mismatched office furniture in the smoking area outside to the patchwork wood paneling and period-specific beer signs inside — nor would its die-hard devotees and neighborhood regulars. They’re welcoming to a fault, much like the members of the same family that have slung suds in ice-cold mugs for three decades, to those who can find this word-of-mouth spot, though they’ll sass you for rooting against their beloved Minnesota Vikings or trying to pay for a one-buck Jell-O shot and Natty Light chaser with plastic, since Jupe’s has been cash only and big on Purple Pride since day one.
Do Drop Inn
Imagine your zany uncle wanting to convert the basement into a bar and your aunt letting him. The result would probably be a lot like the Do Drop Inn. With its wood paneling, drop ceiling, and low fluorescent lighting, this iconic Sunnyslope watering hole has been a neighborhood necessity for years. It's an odd place, featuring a curious collection of libations (everything from Oskar Blues Old Chub to Alaskan White Ale and single servings of Sutter Home), along with cheap-ass cigarettes and microwave snacks of the greasy and belly-busting variety. The Do Drop doesn't make apologies for that — or so suggests the "No Sniveling" sign above the bar. The locals may take a while to warm up to you, and the tough-but-tender barkeep's quick to give a newcomer some words for not closing the front door, but once you've paid your dues, do drop in again, won't you?
We're at least 300-odd miles from the shore in Phoenix, so the concept of some kitschy dockside bar native to port cities is a foreign notion to us landlubbers. Except when we drop anchor for an evening with the scurvy dogs at Swizzle Inn, that is. This notorious north central Phoenix landmark of a maritime bent is the kinda place where vintage diving helmets, surfboards, and depth gauges are objets d'art, and a large photograph of a great white hangs above the pool table. Its inky eyes seemingly follow us when we wade through a crowd three deep to sample the sea of spirits available behind the bar. Conversation tends to resemble a roar as patrons often shout to be heard over the blaring jukebox. You can even hear it from your car while parking, which indicates that another memorable night at the Swizzle is on your horizon.
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Despite its name, the Bikini Lounge is not the place to gawk at busty bartenders in swim wear. Instead, this Grand Avenue mainstay and dive bar favorite is blend of every personality on the downtown spectrum. Friendly, long-term bartenders serve drinks to the business crowd, hipster and artists from nearby neighborhoods, and, ahem, more regular joes who have been visiting the bar for years. The Bikini first opened its doors way back in 1946, making it the oldest watering hole in Phoenix. It maintains its '40s appeal, only making basic repairs throughout the years, while updating its overall vibe with professional DJs spinning several nights a week, including the popular 602'sdays starring Djentrification.
Though 16th Street is filled with its share of Mexican food joints, discotecas, and distractions, nothing stands out as brightly in the darkness of night as the vintage sign adorning the Royale Lounge. While dive-seekers and hipsters make evenings and weekends busy, the bar stays lively during the day with working stiffs squeezing a beer or two on lunch break and neighborhood regulars sipping spirits around the clock. If their conversations aren't enough to keep your attention, their pinball machine, pool table, jukebox, and an amber-colored jar of pickle eggs might do the trick. The bartenders are plenty amicable, but don't try to pay with anything other than simoleons, as The Royale is a cash-only joint.