Some people may not revel in the piss poor establishment of the “Dive Bar,” where you may regret not having packed your hand sanitizer or find lipstick stains on your pitcher of beer. But those who delight in dives as I do, have likely had their eyes opened to the special landmarks around Seattle, the beacons to the working class’s upturned beer mug.
Opened in Seattle in 1934, where Wallingford meets the University District, Blue Moon Tavern was the original college pub. If you don’t want to clink your glass with a homeless person, stay away. Everyone is welcomed through the doors. There are grimy posters hung on the dark wood walls, peanut shells on the floor, and an energetic music show for a $5 cover (free Sunday nights). Thursday to Sunday nights feature live music.
If you come on a Tuesday when no shows are scheduled, you may want to use the free WiFi or read one of the books in the “library” in a nook by yourself, imagining Kerouac here with you in a time when he would frequent this place. I could never be a regular, but it’s a great place to come a few times a year when I’ve got some rollicking adventure drinking in mind. I wouldn’t go anywhere after Blue Moon that wouldn’t accept creatures emerging out of a swamp.
712 NE 45th Street
College Inn Pub
The basement bar at College Inn is my favorite place to be on a cold evening. I have had many a great time here, either deep in conversation or at the dartboard. It has a charm you get from the nostalgia of watching a movie from the ’70s, and the comfort of a bachelor’s basement with a dark wood interior and fireplace.
Play some pool or darts, put some coins into the jukebox, and have a philosophical conversation amidst the pub’s intellectual regulars. A place where grad students chat about ideas, or watch sports on the television, there aren’t likely to be any frat boys here.
The bathrooms have graffiti, names are carved into the wooden tables, and the food is greasy. Pub nachos are popular at $7, or $3.50 all day Monday: a generous pile of chips melted with Colby-Jack cheese and speckled with black beans, olives, green chilis, tomatoes, and sour cream. I like to pair and share them with a $9 pitcher of PBR.
4000 University Way Northeast, The University District
Knarr Shipwreck Lounge
The Knarr is a University District classic that has remained practically the same since the ’90s grunge scene. Enter, say “Knarr!” with a pirate’s snarl, and you may find a few scallywags in flannel shirts look up from their pool game. Settle in for some $5 pitchers, play shuffleboard or a game of darts, and listen to the Seattle classic grunge tunes circulating on the vintage jukebox. You may find that you are amidst the original grungers from the ’90s. Come here if you want to feel like you’re in a scene from the movie “Singles”.
5633 University Way
Pony is a gay dive bar extraordinare. Although it is not a dirty, grimy, or grungy place, you might feel dirty from going here, in a way that might make you want to keep coming back for more. This transformed gas station from the 1930s has vintage gay porn playing on the television and gay pin-up posters on the walls. You may get to witness someone using the stripper pole on the bar counter.
Mostly, like I did, you will probably notice how friendly everyone is. I have clinked my glass with some fine chaps and lasses at Pony, gay and straight. Beers are cheap at 5 bucks a pitcher if you order before 8, or all night on Wednesdays, and Monday nights are hair band nights. There is a photo booth here to be taken advantage of, too.
1221 E. Madison Street, Capital Hill
5 Point Café
Open 24 hours, this old school working class diner/dive bar in Belltown has been “Cheating tourists and drunks since 1929”, as the sign says. The full menu, including breakfast, at 5 Point is served all day and night, and I like it as the place to come for a plate of greasy food and a strong Bloody Mary. I recommend the infamous Chicken Fried Steak at $11 for 11 ounces, or if you’re in for happy hour (4-6pm Monday to Friday), try a $2.50 cheeseburger, fries included.
Listen to the punk or metal, which is popular here, sit in one of the lumpy booth chairs, and be served by tattooed staff. (Guys get a view of the Space Needle through the periscope in the men’s bathroom.)
The decor is divey-delicious, with black and white checkered floors and the warm lighting of Christmas lights. A moose head draped with brassieres, which have been allegedly flung up by excited customers is the feature decoration.
And although I’ve never seen anyone fling a bra onto the moose, it’s been said that strippers get their first drink for 75 cents.
415 Cedar Street, Belltown
Make the trek up to the top of Queen Anne hill to get to Mecca, another dive bar/diner combination. It is a narrow restaurant with a long bar counter on one side, checkered floors, and leather booths, and, like the 5 Point, it has been in Seattle since 1929.
The servers are the type to call you sweetheart and not take any shit, but tell you a good story if there’s time, and give a refill for your coffee within moments of taking a drink. I enjoy coming here for breakfast with partners in dive-bar crime from the night before.
526 Queen Anne Avenue North, Queen Anne
There are more than bars in Seattle, here’s our Guide to the 5 Best Parks in Seattle. And if you’re running low on cash, here’s Seattle on the Cheap: 7 Tips to Save Cash in the Emerald City.