I quit drankin’ a handful of years ago. Depending on the night - or time of night - I was the best or worst drinker you knew. As I heard Ray Wylie Hubbard once say, “the good Lord gives each of us a certain number of drink tickets in this lifetime. I spent mine really fast.”
I still hold a deep love in my heart for dive bars. I still go with the right friends. I load up the juke, sip my club sodas, and relish in a slice of America that is dying way too fast. You see, I’m a goddamn millennial and my generation is blamed for all kinds of shit that really isn’t our fault. Boomers are the nightmare, but that’s a rant for another day. Where millennials deserve blame is this - we’re killing the dive bar.
My generation sips fussy craft concoctions from stemmed glasses. Beers made with fruits and oatmeal and chocolate. We take Instagrammable trips to Napa. We do kitschy boozy brunches. We’re patrons of “speakeasies” that are long on pomp and self-importance while not giving proper respect to what prohibition was and it’s wonderful unintended consequences. Hell, we made a Game of Thrones inspired bar. I can’t type that without getting nauseous. We are the core customer of bro’d out, steroided, STD’d, credit-slaughtering, vapid Vegas pool parties.
This flimsy, ironic, trendy, hollow drinking is putting a bullet in the dive bar. I had to let go of the bottle, but I’m not ready to let go of the dive bar.
I reckon that together we can put together a non-exhaustive list of the best dive bars in the state of Texas.
For the purposes of this exercise, I’ll give a thumbnail sketch of the ideal qualities of a proper dive bar. Most of these aren’t critical or deal breakers, but we need some direction lest we get off course - beware of the faux dive bar.
A good dive has:
- No windows
- No TVs. No, seriously. People talk to each other.
- A jukebox. NOT TouchTunes. A juke that has a hodgepodge of albums from Cash, the Stones, Willie, Townes, the bar owner’s nephew, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Seger.
- No craft beer. I know this is virtually impossible in 2017. A wistful request, if I may.
- No mixologists
- An olde cigarette machine. You know the ones.
- A collective incarceration tally of the patrons over 25 years.
- Trough pissers
- Ice in said trough pissers
- Smut centerfolds pinned up in the men’s bathroom
- Zero judgement over snafus like divorce, bankruptcy, time in the hole, lazy eyes, and sub-functional alcoholism.
- Not only does the bar not have shit like Veuve Clicquot and rosé, the staff has no damn idea what these are.
- A good dive has daytime hours. You need weathered old drunk regulars sipping on Bud longnecks at 10 AM doing the USA Today crossword.
- People drinking PBR and Lone Star unironically
- A good dive is absolutely disgusting. The whole place is kind of a bar mat. If you’re not a few drinks in, you might begin doing what white people do - reaching for Purell whilst talking about your “cleanse.”
- Service is either really really good. Or really really bad. Both are acceptable.
- Horrible decisions.
- Cocktails that have no more than three ingredients.
- You’re goddamn right ice is an ingredient.
- Arbitrary rules for its regulars to maintain some order. There is a dive in Chicago (my favorite drinking city) that has a NO SHOTS list. The thought is, people have misbehaved so badly that they shouldn’t be allowed to drink - period. But the dive, in all its magnanimous glory, allows them to drink their fill, with one lone caveat - NO SHOTS.
- An old woman who looks like she’s been awake since 1979 bartending.
- Regulars that don’t own smart phones.
- A smoke-stained portrait of an American president. I like bars with JFK, myself.
There’s a start from the top of my head. Let’s get cracking on our list of the Lone Star State’s finest dives:
Deep Eddy Cabaret.
From our good amigo, singer songwriter Chris King: “It's like 1977 walked through the front door and never left. $10 pitchers of ice cold Lone Star Beer can't be beat.” I went into the Cabaret one night five drinks over my limit and came out two years later in 2013.
Lala’s Little Nugget.
It’s Christmas year round.
Hole in the Wall.
Casino El Camino. Punk rock on the jukebox, motherscratchers.
Horseshoe Lounge. Is this still open? If so, just a wonderful relic of drankin past.
I lived in Dallas for four years in my peak drankin.’ Dallas has some very vivid, very deserved stereotypes. Everything annoying about bad bars, stupid drinking trends, imaged-obsessed patrons, needy fussy patrons, and vacuous false idols like bottle service runs rampant in Big D. But there is a Dallas that doesn’t get the headlines, and friends, it has some of the finest dives on earth.
Adair’s Saloon. Just a legendary haunt. Some of Texas’s finest troubadours cut their teeth in this Deep Ellum watering hole. The trends and the trendy have flowed in and out of Deep Ellum through the decades, but Adair’s has been a constant. Order a shot of Jack and a can of Lone Star. Load up the jukebox with some old Jack Ingram.
Lakewood Landing. It’s dark enough that a pasty Irish redhead like myself can look sultry. They serve corndogs. There is a real deal jukebox. Bonus: it’s not too dirty for a first date and a pretty good litmus test to see how high maintenance a filly might be.
The Loon (RIP).
Situated in the fussy, narcissist playground of uptown Dallas was a haunt at the end of a strip center that might be my all time favorite bar. The drinks were STRONG. And not in that ha-ha strong that every basic white chick says about a margarita. I’m talking STRONG like you’re about to time travel and maybe get in a fist fight with your dad along the way. Picture a rocks lowball glass. You order a Dewar’s and soda. A surly bitch bartender (in a sexy way) will fill that lowball right up to the brim with scotch and then give a thimble’s worth mist of soda on top of the gasoline for aesthetics. Next thing you know you’ve broken up and gotten back together with the same girl four times over the course of 30 minutes. Fun for all.
Jimmy’s Ice House. They serve Natty Light. Hell yes.
West Alabama Ice House.
Alice’s Tall Texan.
Lone Star Saloon. You won’t hear any whiny bellyaching about Karbach selling to Anheuser Busch.
Admittedly, I haven’t done much drinking in San Antone away from the River Walk and I concede this is tragic because I loathe chains. Especially chain bars. I welcome all recommendations of dives in the ‘mments.
Carney’s. You’re damn right I’m putting it in here. Yes, things have changed. I graduated in 2006 and this spot was one hell of a hang. The security typically consisted of two sorority girls running the entire bar while 200 underaged kids got lit. When a fight would breakout (often) it wouldn’t end until the combatants just got tired. Were the two kappas slinging beer going to break it up? Not likely.
Blarney Stone (RIP). Just a frogger jaunt across the street from Carney’s. Back in the day, Carney’s served the beer, Blarney served the liquor. I used to go to Blarney for “fajita night” which was just some free skirt steak on a hot plate in the corner of the bar. Not sanitary. Not undelicious.
Ptarmigan Club (RIP). I’m enraged at New Army for letting places like this die. They perfected the Flaming Dr. Pepper. It was an old brothel, for godsakes.
Duddley’s Draw. The bar for people that know the Dixie Chicken isn’t a dive.
Chris King: The Sugar Shack in
Rockport Fulton (Ed. note: the mayor of Fulton, Texas emailed us to correct that the Sugar Shack is technically in Fulton.) is one of my favorites. Full of locals, kind of greasy fishermen types, and tourists that act like it's the first time they've ever been in a bar. It used to be a restaurant, and before that I'm pretty sure it was a place called The Shack where Guy Clark would go pick while he was growing up in Rockport.
White Buffalo in Marathon.
Rush Roberts: Arkey Blues in Bandera
Rush: Salty Dog in Port Aransas
Cuppy Cup: Bennigan’s
This list is just a start. Again - NOT exhaustive. I’m just getting the ball rolling. I want to hear about your favorite haunts. Tell me about the surf hang in Corpus. Let us know about Lubbock because you’re damn right shit ass cities have some amazing dives. I wish I could recall the place I once found myself in El Paso. I think I was drugged. I remember being able to see Olde Mexico from my barstool and feeling a calmness wash over me that this might be it.
Go support your local dive bars. Tip generously. Always in cash.