Booze Clues: “You Know You’re in a Dive Bar When…

 a. Pall Mall and Newports are your options for smokes.
b. Behind the bar, there’s vodka in a machine gun-shaped bottle.
c. Your food options are jerky sausages and bags of Zapp’s shoestring potatoes.
d. Scratch-offs are sold behind the bar.

e. The name of the person behind the bar matches the name of the bar.
f. Behind the bar you’ll find Jeppson’s Malört.
g. Dollar shots is not a one-night-a-week gimmick to bring in the young crowd-it’s an all-day, everyday way of life.
h. Old dudes, chillin’.

i. Promotional beer crap hangs from the glamorous drop ceiling.
j. There’s an ATM- because the bar takes cash only.
k. There’s a sign for the Polish beer Zywiec  somewhere inside, and a “Zimne Piwo” (cold beer) sign over the door.
l. You can grab a sixer to go, to continue the party after-hours.


Other subtle signs of a real dive bar (in case you’re not sure)…

There’s a cigarette machine that also dispenses candy bars.
(Ollie’s, 1064 W Berwyn Ave, 773-784-5712)

There’s no 411 listing, no phone-and no intention of getting either.
(Tina’s Place, 5708 S Western Ave)

The bar opens at 6am so the graveyard shift can booze up before hitting the sack.
(Sky-Ride Cocktail Lounge, 105 W Van Buren St, 312-939-3340)

The mop closet is more spacious than the men’s bathroom.
(Lilly’s, 2513 N Lincoln Ave, 773-525-2422)

None of the pool cues have tips.
(My Place on Milwaukee, 3394 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-286-4482)

You’ll see photos of the owner’s fishing trip-from 1982.
(J&M Tap, 957 N Leavitt St, no phone)

7 There are no cocktails, because there is no ice.
(Ed and Jean’s, 2032 W Armitage Ave, no phone)

There’s a condom dispenser in the bathroom.
(June’s Inn, 4333 N Western Ave, 773-463-3122)

The entrance is locked until the ‘tender feels like getting out of bed.
(Johnny’s, 3425 N Lincoln Ave, 773-248-3000)

You’re not drinking from the same type or size cup as your friend, even though you ordered the same cocktail. (Rose’s, 2656 N Lincoln Ave, 773-327-4000)

Holiday lights are up, but Christmas was months ago.
(Celina’s Place, 900 N Western Ave, 773-486-8737)

There are no windows, making it possible to drink from day into night with little concern for time’s passing. (Sheridan “L” Lounge and Delicatessen, 3944 N Sheridan Rd, no phone)

Thanks to for this great article. 

Boy, does this take me back.  I need to go play in a dive bar again, just for old time sake!

Laura Hansen
Best of the Best Dining Chicago


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *