Bitters and swizzle sticks are infiltrating our drinking scene as craft cocktails are all the rage as of late. And that’s all well and good, but for our money there’s still nothing that can beat a great dive bar.
A dive bar that gets you a Stroh’s, a shot of whiskey and good conversation that costs you $20 for the round with a few friends instead of $20 for one drink – and the stories that come from these places are priceless.
Many of these dive bars have stood the test of time and have more stories than a library has books. Some of them have been labeled “bad decision bars” by others, but we think that just makes them all the more appealing. So put on your drinking coats and let’s head out the door. Each and every one of these establishments has been visited by our merry band – often multiple times – so you know what you’re getting into.
1. 2-Way Inn
Because of course the 2 (or Two) Way Inn. The place holds the title as the oldest drinking establishment in the city, and it’s where farmers used to stop and spend the night after hitching up their horses on the way to Eastern Market way back in the day before selling their produce. It’s named as such as there are two ways in and out of every room in the building. Say hi to Dan or Katie P.
17897 Mt. Elliott Street in Detroit
2. Tom’s Tavern
Sure, the floor is slanted. And the exterior is made of some sort of particle board. But if you get Ron going on crazy stories of Detroit’s past, or you bring a group of folks with you, it’s gold. It also has a great old-school jukebox and is a great place for a weekend night stop-through. This place has a long history and don’t miss the Babe Ruth party every year.
10093 West Seven Mile Road in Detroit
3. Nancy Whiskey
This North Corktown dive bar is part of the pantheon of Detroit drinking establishments. It’s seen a resurgence as nearby Corktown has roared back and still has a loyal following from when the Tigers played at the corner of Trumbull and Michigan. Their friendly service and phoenix-like story of rising from the ashes after a fire a few years ago give it amazing character. We’ve had our writer meetings here often at this establishment that harkens back to 1902.
2644 Harrison Street in Detroit
4. Cas Bar
When you’re on the west side of the city, you’re going to want to check out the Cas Bar. So named as it was originally on Cass in midtown (this was the 1950s, according to the bartender), it lost an “s” and is now at Casper and Michigan Avenue. Lots of great stories in this neighborhood watering hole.
7800 Michigan Avenue in Detroit
Gem of a place in Southwest with more stories than a library. If you happen to luck out when they’re cooking, you’re in for an awesome treat.
3500 Gilbert Street in Detroit
6. Old Miami
As midtown rises around it, it’s almost like the magical backyard is a protected haven from the forces of foie gras infused whiskey or whatever the hell is the new thing happening right now. It has a long history as a Veteran’s bar before the hip happenings started popping up around it. It’s on the edge, though. Frankly, it could un-dive at any time so enjoy it now.
3930 Cass Avenue in Detroit
7. Freer Bar
In the same neighborhood as the Cas is the Freer. On a recent birthday trip, one of our contributors suggested it and we were not disappointed. It is perfectly divey, affordable, friendly and a diverse crowd of all walks of life.
7355 Michigan Avenue, Detroit
8. My Dad’s Bar
On the city limits it’s mere feet from the suburban border, the true last stop in Detroit before you hit Grosse Pointe. The place has a level of retro kitsch including a leg lamp that’s comfortable, and has the unmistakable “Smile your Dad’s from.. Detroit” mural on the side.
14911 Kercheval Avenue in Detroit
9. Marshall’s Bar
Near My Dad’s on Jefferson on the far east side, in a building that harkens back to the Detroit of yesteryear is Marshall’s. The place is a fun dive bar diversion complete with a pool table and old cigarette signs, but the secret is the back yard is right next to the east side canals.
14716 E Jefferson Avenue in Detroit
On the edges of midtown development, this place continues to hold out the flag for affordable drinks and awesomely weird times. Look for the pirate that sometimes dresses as a rockette.
3736 3rd Avenue in Detroit
11. LJ’s Lounge
On the same block of Corktown there’s Slow’s. Then there’s Sugar House. And to the other side is Gold Cash Gold. In the middle of this fracas of finery is LJ’s. Cash only, fish tanks behind the bar and every crazy Budweiser sign from bygone eras plastered everywhere.
2114 Michigan Avenue in Detroit
12. Giovanna’s Lounge
With an interesting hard-corner shaped interior bar and one of the most eclectic patios in the city, this friendly joint is the perfect watering hole after Xochi’s, Los Galanes or any of the restaurants in that area. There’s often a very good taco truck parked next door.
3537 Vernor Highway in Detroit
13. Whiskey In The Jar
This Hamtramck establishment (we’re including Hamtown in this list because it’s an enclave of the city) is epic and has also been listed as “Best Bad Decision” bar. Personally, a lot of good decisions (as far as fun goes) have been made here – and the beers served are great. There’s a neat little patio out back, don’t miss it before it gets too cold.
2741 Yemans Street, Hamtramck
14. Painted Lady Lounge
For our Hamtramck dive bar swing, we’re including this one with occasional live music, old-school video games and epic Pabst Blue Ribbon lamps.
2930 Jacob Street in Hamtramck
15. Suzy’s Bar
Talk about stepping back in time. This place is dive bar meets 1950s kitsch and is a memorable stop. Look for the peace sign and remember to use the buzzer.
2942 Evaline Street, Hamtramck
16. Baker Streetcar Bar
It’s long. It’s narrow. It’s named after what used to be the Baker Streetcar that ran down what’s now known as Joseph Campau (fun fact, that stretch of Hamtramck was at one time one of the busiest shopping destinations in Michigan). The walls are lined with historic photos. Great mid-destination stop when drinking around Hamtramck.
9817 Joseph Campau Avenue in Hamtramck
17. Stone House Bar
After a short hiatus, this outpost (and we name it such as it was created as one back in the day) of dive bar drinking and tomfoolery is back and open. It’s one of the older bars in the city, and is just a block away from where the old Theatre Bizarre was by the State Fairgrounds. The recent renovation thankfully didn’t get rid of the old, but it did clean it up a bit. You just don’t find porches and buildings like these operating in Detroit too often anymore.
19803 Ralston Street, Detroit
18. Charlie’s Bar
This dive bar deep cut is on the west side of town and is a quintessential neighborhood bar – cash only, eight decades of history, epic sign, and a hidden little outdoor space.
1503 Springwells Street in Detroit
19. Temple Bar
Last but nowhere near least on our list, pay tribute the drinking gods at the almightiest of dive bar temples, aptly named the Temple Bar. George is the high priest of this temple, and he may make a quick joke and all will be right in the world behind the glass block and art-deco facade of this holdout that’s steps away from the new Red Wings arena. We’re happy to see they’re not selling out with the arrival of the new arena, so if you want a taste of Detroit (and whiskey), this is the place to go.
2906 Cass Avenue in Detroit