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Best Dive Bars in Washington, DC

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You know the drill: cheap booze, loose women and the fear of imminent violence are the three things that can transform an otherwise unremarkable hole in the wall into a great a dive bar. Politics being what they are these days, the Washington, DC area has more than enough of all three to go around. Here’s our rundown of the DC dive bars worth your time (and wadded up singles):

Dan's Cafe: Pure DC
Dan's Cafe: Pure DC

5. Union Jack’s
Located, appropriately enough, next a restaurant called Rock Bottom, this Bethesda tabernacle (with another location in Ballston) has all the ambiance of a college kegger – in a faux British pub atmosphere. If that juxtaposition doesn’t tempt the palate, the bar’s status as a Saturday night meat market for college students and twenty-somethings “in between things right now” should paint a picture of its typical clientele. A boatload of pool tables and dart boards (and the occasional mechanical bull) make this a good choice for communal gatherings, but their in-house DJ’s thrice nightly spins of “Livin’ on a Prayer” might test the patience of even the most experienced dive bar enthusiasts.

Bethesda: 4915 Saint Elmo Ave., Bethesda, MD 20814
Ballston Common Mall: 671 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington, VA 22203

4. McFadden’s
Conveniently situated within staggering distance of George Washington University, this two-level sports bar/sweatbox has rightfully earned its reputation as Georgetown/Foggy Bottom‘s most debauched weekday, weekend, whenever spot for “getting blackout.” This is a place where the bartenders are always musclebound dudes with no necks, the temperature is always 92 degrees and climbing, the Redskins are always the best team on the planet and, on Tuesday nights, beers are always a buck. This is what Cheers would be like…if everyone in the cast had three DUIs.

2401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20037

3. Stetson’s

The U Street corridor might be more resurgent than ever these days, but Stetson’s has been the strip’s go-to gin joint – literally – for nearly a century. As an authentic Prohibition-era speakeasy, this bar knows drinking and the customers who love to do it. Everything is on the cheap – so cheap, in fact that they don’t take credit cards – and their daily specials follow suit (twenty-five cent wings, anyone?) And though tobacco is now non grata in DC bars, one can still approximate that 1920s, smoke-filled bootlegger hangout feel on their smoker-friendly back patio. Just watch out for the rats.

1610 U St. NW, Washington, DC 20009

2. The Raven Grill
While most dives are content to be located in the thick of it all, the Raven’s Mount Pleasant location is essentially counterprogramming to the hubbub walking distance away in Adams Morgan. The inside looks like truckstop diner left unattended for a decade for two with worn vinyl booths, (now) empty vintage jukebox consoles at every table and beer that still comes in cans. Best summed in two words: laid back. We’re still not sure about that “grill” in the name, however, as Nixon was probably president the last time food was served in here.

3125 Mt Pleasant Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20010

1. Dan’s Café
Welcome to the bar that launched a million hangovers. Sitting dead center on Adams Morgan’s 18th Street strip, Dan’s has been keeping it real for the better part of 60 years and it shows. Well, not through the windows anyway (because there are none), but this family-owned, should-be landmark pretty much embodies the word timeless. The jukebox hasn’t been updated since 1993, the pool table has wobbled since the mid-80s and it’s probably best not to think about the last time the bathroom got cleaned. Even the bar itself is devoid of frills, as you can’t order mixed drinks; you order a fifth of Jack, a Coke and a bucket of ice. If gentrification is the Big Bad Wolf in DC these days, Dan’s is a double barrel shotgun and an itchy trigger finger.

2315 18th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009