Washington DC

The 11 Best Dive Bars in DC

Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Laura Hayes/Thrillist

Like many things in Washington DC, what is and isn’t a dive bar is a matter of great debate. The qualifications from some of the most orthodox dive bar enthusiasts are time, grime, and dime: how long it’s been there, how dirty it is, and how cheap. (But one bar owner, when asked how long his establishment had been open, told us, “The first 10 years were a blur, so I really have no idea.” Obviously, that place qualifies.) Others swear a dive has to have a jukebox — and not one of those pesky digital ones. Of course, the very word dive itself implies it’s subterranean.¬†
 
The one thing we can agree on is that there is a spectrum of “diviness.” And we’ve included 11 bars that fit somewhere on the scale. Not all of them are below ground, filthy, or dangerous. While those may well define the perfect dive, there are other qualities we admire, too, including a gruff personality, canned beer, and a host of regulars. Each one of these bars deserves a spot for being a dive, or pretty damn close.

Mike Edwards
Mike Edwards
Mike Edwards

The Raven Grill

Mt. Pleasant | Est. 1935 
The Raven Bar & Grill is undoubtedly a dive. Applauded for its bold face-lies, it neither serves food as the grill sign suggests nor fancy cocktails as the neon cocktail sign promises. A fixture in the district since the 1930s, the Raven doesn’t really do fancy. I once heard a bartender refuse to serve a hot toddy due to lack of spices, hot water, lemon, and proper glassware. But, he replied, we do have whiskey.

Dan’s Cafe

Adams Morgan | Est. 1965
There are many signs that Dan’s is a dive bar. First, the sign itself is handmade and the window is covered, both of which announce what kind of bar you’re entering. Then the d√©cor inside doesn’t get much more complicated. You can get a drink but your first order should be a squeeze bottle shot. Worn and irreverent, Dan’s makes the cut for genuine dive.

Showtime Lounge
Showtime Lounge
Showtime Lounge

Showtime Lounge

Bloomingdale | Est. 2007 
The controversy here is that Showtime is relatively new.¬†But if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck — well, you know. Showtime checks every necessary box in the definition of a dive bar aside from age, including a cash-only policy, a $5 beer-and-shot combo, and murals that already look well-worn. It also has Granny & the Boys playing Sunday, and the jukebox has CDs and is absolutely free.

Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Laura Hayes/Thrillist

Ivy and Coney

Shaw | Est. 2013 
There have been very few times that I’ve wanted a hot dog, a shot of Jeppson’s Mal√∂rt, and to talk Detroit or Chicago baseball. But, oh boy, when I did, Ivy and Coney was there in spades. Ivy and Coney is new, too, but its owners have established not only a great dive bar — they’re also first class trolls. On the bar’s door is printed “7th Street Small Plate Daiquiri Mojito Speakeasy Cupcake Shared Plate Organic Farm Table Snout to Tail Emporium Newest Spot on 14th St.” Now, that’s some DC attitude.

The Player’s Lounge

Congress Heights | Est. 1972 
A strip-club-turned-dive-bar-turned-catering-business, Player’s Lounge has had many identities since it opened in the ’70s, and we get the feeling it’s not done yet. Still, Tiffany lamps over booths, loyal regulars, and pool tables all add to the dive bar vibe. For now, a dive bar it is.

Courtesy of The Pug
Courtesy of The Pug
Courtesy of The Pug

The Pug

H Street Corridor | Est. 2005
There’s a rock-and-roll attitude that permeates The Pug, which is cluttered with soccer scarves, boxing gloves, and beer signs. The vibe is relaxed, but it’s clear from the get-go that they don’t entertain idiots, shots, specials, or politics (which it clearly spells out on its website, too). There is a slightly better beer and spirits selections than most dives and creative brunch cooked from behind the bar on Saturdays and Sundays. Otherwise, no frills all the way.

Courtesy of The Bottom Line
Courtesy of The Bottom Line
Courtesy of The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line

Dupont Circle | Est. 1979 
The Bottom Line is downstairs, the only one on this list. But that’s not all that gives this space character: It celebrates Cincinnati teams (Reds and Bengals), starts serving at 11:30am (except Sunday when it starts at noon), and has an eclectic following. Don’t let the tablecloths fool you — this 40-year-old spot is a dive at heart.

Tune Inn Restaurant and Bar

Capitol Hill | Est. 1947 
The Tune Inn is still touted as a dive bar long after it outgrew its strictest dive bar bonafides when it was refurbished following a fire in 2011. The question arises: Once a dive, always a dive? When you enter, long time regulars often turn their heads and that is the clearest example of its status. It’s a dive that got cleaned up and will manifest as a full dive bar again in 2030. In the meantime, order a burger and a beer and enjoy this Capitol Hill staple.

Courtesy of Red Derby
Courtesy of Red Derby
Courtesy of Red Derby

Red Derby

Petworth | Est. 2007 
Canned beer is king at Red Derby and that, in itself, adds an air of diviness. Though it ended its cash only police and has a rooftop, there are ashtrays lining the bar, which brings it up a few notches on the dive bar scale. Red Derby is a great bar but, as far as a dive bar, let’s say it’s a mixed bag.

Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Laura Hayes/Thrillist

Lyman’s Tavern

Petworth | Est. 2014
Lyman’s is stacked with trinkets behind the bar and along the ceiling, cameras and old cocktail kits. What may demote them is the trinkets appear to have been dusted some time in the last year. Plus, they have a plethora of pinball machines and actually make some pretty great food. Lyman’s is equal parts neighborhood bar and dive bar in the making.

Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Laura Hayes/Thrillist
Laura Hayes/Thrillist

Trusty’s Full Serve

Capitol Hill East | Est. 2006
In many ways, Trusty’s is more neighborhood bar than dive. But the loyal and constant regulars push it over to the divey edge. Plus, it has a school bus bar, complete with lunch box lights and thermos chandeliers. Normally, we’d count food against a place like this, but Trusty’s nachos, burgers, and sandwiches provide us ample sustenance to keep on drinking. And we can’t be mad at that.Sign up here for our daily DC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Derek Brown has seen his fair share of dives, escaping the seriousness of being a writer, author, and spirits and cocktails expert. For his best dive stories, you’ll have to ask. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ideasimprove.

Washington DC

15 Totally Free Things to Do in DC

A full itinerary, completely free of charge.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Washington DC is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, and for those of us who call the District home, it’s easy to see why. With dozens of world-class museums, murals that transform streets into galleries, and sites brimming with history, DC offers a full agenda-completely free of charge. Whether you want to try a new farmer’s market, explore a new hike, or polish off your roller skating or canoeing skills, here are some of our favourite free things to do in the District.

Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco

Hike, bike, or stroll along the C&O Canal

The historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is one of the most accessible nature escapes from the District. Thanks to a multi-year restoration project, the first mile of the canal is an idyllic walk that’s easy to access in Georgetown. Stick to a short stroll there, or grab a bike or lace up your hiking shoes for a longer adventure along the 184.5-mile canal.

Jump on the pickleball craze

Pickleball is working its way up the ladder past kickball and softball as one of America’s favourite games. Jump on the craze and practice your paddling at one of the District’s pickleball courts in Takoma Park, the Palisades, and more. Plus, Washington DC Pickleball invites guests to drop in to beginner sessions to try their hand at the sport before signing up for a $30 annual membership.

Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion

Bike the Mount Vernon Trail

DC is incredibly bike-friendly, and luckily that applies to the land immediately outside of the city as well. Start in the city and bike along the Mount Vernon Trail, a scenic route that hugs the water and cuts through the woods. It’s about a 10-mile trip from DC to Mount Vernon, but you can cut the trip slightly short and end at the Old Town Alexandria waterfront-just make sure to factor in time for ice cream before pedalling home.

Explore a sculpture park

While not located in the District proper, Glenstone, an expansive sculpture park in Maryland, is worth the 45-minute drive. Tickets to the park are free (just be sure to reserve several weeks in advance), and the 300-acre space offers stunning art, architecture, and open land. In addition to its indoor gallery spaces, you can spend hours walking on paths that wind through sculptures, meadows, and forests.

Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston

See the monuments at night

When the sun goes down-and the summer humidity somewhat dissipates-head to the National Mall for the rare chance to see the monuments without busloads of tourists. Moonlight will give you a different perspective as you traverse the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial or gaze up at the Washington Monument set aglow with lights.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Museum hop the day away

One of DC’s greatest strengths is its world-class Smithsonian museums that are open to the public free of charge. There is no shortage of options, from the intimate Renwick Gallery, to the sprawling National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonians offer something for everyone. Pro tip: Some of the museums are open late in the evenings, making for an ideal date night.

muralsdc
muralsdc
muralsdc

Explore the city’s murals

Washington is home to hundreds of murals that are becoming as much a part of the city’s landscape as the monuments on the National Mall. Take a self-guided tour of these colourful creations no matter which neighbourhood you happen to be in. MuralsDC, the organization behind 150 of the District’s public artworks, is a great resource for mapping out a route to explore the city’s street art.

Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington

Take in a birds-eye view of the city

Washington looks pretty stunning from up high, and there are few spots within the city that make for phenomenal vantage points. Rooftop bars and restaurants offer epic views for the price of a drink or two, but there’s no more iconic sight than seeing the city from the top of the Washington Monument, which is completely free. Book a ticket ahead of time and ride an elevator all the way to the top of the monument and step out on the 500-foot observation deck.

Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond

Wander through a garden

DC is home to some of the most beautiful urban gardens in the country, and many of them are open to the public for free. There is nothing like an afternoon spent strolling through, or picnicking, at the expansive 446-acre United States Arboretum or wandering through the Botanic Garden on the edge of the Mall. For something a bit smaller, explore the grounds at Tudor Place or Dumbarton Oaks (free in the winter), both of which are in Georgetown.

Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien

Hike the Billy Goat Trail

You can catch one of the District’s most popular hiking trails, the Billy Goat Trail, from the C&O canal. The full trail is 4.7 miles and ranges from easy to strenuous, so hike a section in and back or make the full loop for the variety.

Pay your respect at Arlington National Cemetery

Just across the Potomac from DC, Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 veterans. The cemetery is an expanse of 639 hallowed acres and the ANC Explorer allows visitors to locate graves, notable sites, and take self-guided walking tours to spots including the tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy.

Lace up your roller skates

When was the last time you went roller skating? Chances are it’s been too long. So get back into this nostalgic activity at the Anacostia Park roller skating pavilion. You can rent skates for free, just show proof of a government-issued ID, and the skating pavilion is open from 9 to 5 every day.

Help clean up the Anacostia River

We all know there’s a lot of work to be done to keep our waterways clean. Do your part, and have some fun, by participating in the city’s Green Boat initiative. On select weekends, DCers can join a two-hour guided paddle along the Anacostia River to collect trash and monitor the river’s progress.

Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Eastern Market

Stroll your local farmer’s market

DC’s close proximity to the farms of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and beyond mean that the city’s farmers’ markets always have something to offer. Check out the year-round markets like Eastern Market in Capitol Hill and the Sunday market in Dupont Circle or head to seasonal markets like the pop-up in front of the White House that draws vendors like Cucina al Volo and Call Your Mother Deli.

The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress

Play tourist all around the city

It’s easy to forget that all those traditionally touristy activities can be fun for locals too. If you haven’t been on a tour of the White House, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, or the Capitol, this is your sign. All are free with advanced reservations. Plus, tucked in the northern quadrant of NW, the Washington National Cathedral is free and open to all. Tour the cathedral’s impressive architecture, 215 stained glass windows, 112 Gothically-inspired gargoyles, and enormous pipe organ. See if you can spot the sculpture of Darth Vader.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Madeline Weinfield is a Thrillist contributor.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.