The Best Dive Bars Across America’s College Towns

Any municipality may boast a Baker Street Pub or a Bennigan’s, but playing home to a bar that’s a true original with real grit and character is something fewer can claim. While Playboy has done their list of the best dive bars in America, and we even have a list of the most beautiful campuses here, we decided to make our own picks for the best dive bars in college towns. (Bonus: you won’t be embarrassed to be caught viewing our site.) We went by AmericanDiveBar.com’s 10 commandments for qualifying as a dive bar and restricted the locales to places known for being college towns. In other words, no New York or L.A. And the winners are …

  1. The Nick, Birmingham, Ala.:

    Its residence inside an old gas station gives The Nick that self-described “intimidating, rugged shack-like appearance.” The aesthetics don’t get much better inside, what with the tiny, gross bathrooms, low ceiling, and dungeonesque lighting. But the live music that’s been blasting there almost every night of the week for decades from the likes of Dave Grohl and Bono is what keeps ‘em coming back, year after year.

  2. Le Tigre Lounge, Madison, Wis.:

    The porcelain tigers behind the bar, the leopard print on the walls, and the orange lighting barely illuminating the darkness leave no doubt that management is sticking with the “tigre” theme. Le Tigre’s also a certified dive, with its strip mall location, Sinatra on the old jukebox, no credit cards, no food to be had, and no swearing. A truly unique bar.

  3. Zeno’s Pub, State College, Pa.:

    Enjoy the live music and try to get your picture on the wall by drinking your way through 80 of this place’s hundreds of beers. The College Avenue bar gets its divey flavor courtesy of its location in a dimly lit basement, its townie clientele, and of course, the entertaining graffiti on the bathroom walls.

  4. Coupe Deville’s, Charlottesville, Va.:

    University of Virginia first-years and local regulars have been coming to Coupe’s for years for cheap beer, loud live music, and a cozy atmosphere. Many reviewers consider the food surprisingly good for a dive bar, but most are there to knock a few back and sing “Wagon Wheel” at the top of their lungs.

  5. Bill & Dee’s, Norman, Okla.:

    Stories that emerge from this drinkery in Sooner country involve things like being hit on by drunk senior citizens and being handed a “beer bucket” upon walking through the door. On any given night there probably isn’t a hipster within 100 miles of Bill & Dee’s.

  6. Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, Austin, Texas:

    We’re pushing the limits of “college town” with a city as big as Austin, but the home of the Longhorns just has too many amazing dive bars to pass it up entirely. Ginny’s is Austin in a nutshell: weird, laid-back, and southern. Where else could you play something called “chicken sh– bingo” while eating free hot dogs in a packed bar in the middle of a Sunday afternoon?

  7. 8 Ball Saloon, Ann Arbor, Mich.:

    The 8 Ball scores in multiple dive-bar categories. There’s the $1 PBR three days a week, a jukebox, darts and pool tables, stale air, and that crucial basement real estate beneath a restaurant known as The Pig. For Michigan Wolverines looking for a place to drink in style filth, there’s nowhere else.

  8. Dixie Chicken, College Station, Texas:

    “The Chicken” is an Aggie institution that claims to sell the most beer per square foot in the U.S. The food is average, the beers are uninspiring, but it’s the character and history that keeps it packed every game day and every weekend night.

  9. Slim’s Downtown Distillery, Raleigh, N.C.:

    The PBR flows like water here at this rock-and-roll bar on South Wilmington. The crowd is a mixed bunch of hipsters and live music lovers, the latter who apparently enjoy being so close to the tiny stage in this cramped bar they’re nearly backstage.

  10. Booches Billiard Hall, Columbia, Mo.:

    Being a cash only pool hall belies the fact that this little bar has customers who cite it as making the best sliders they’ve ever had. In true divey fashion, there aren’t any plates; the $2.75 burgers are served on wax paper. Stop by for a beer and a game any day but Sunday, else you’ll run into the “Closed — See you in church” sign.

  11. Georgia Bar, Athens, Ga.:

    One of Athens’ oldest spots, Georgia Bar doesn’t bother with a spruced-up decor or serving food. The neon Pabst and Budweiser signs in the window let you know from the outset that this is a place for no-frills drinking, jukebox listening, and relaxing no matter what you’re studying – accounting, psychology, or health.

  12. Balls, Gainesville, Fla.:

    A name like Balls is going to weed out a lot of finicky bar patrons right off the bat. Getting inside and finding it’s perhaps “the nastiest bar you will ever walk into” (as one reviewer put it) will turn off still more people. But those that remain stay for the all-you-can-drink Thursdays and the walking distance from campus.

  13. Zog’s Pool, Chapel Hill, N.C.:

    Zog’s is not the weekend place to see and be seen. It’s where Tar Heels come to bring their dogs, shoot pool, throw darts, and play trivia. It finds the happy medium between your feet sticking to the floor and trying to look cool all night. As the letters over the bar read, “F— Yeah.”

  14. Greenwood Lounge, Des Moines, Iowa:

    Drake and Grand View University students have access to one of America’s best bars (according to Esquire). The staples of cheap beer, pool, and darts are supplemented by pinball and arcade games of yesteryear and folksy murals of dogs playing poker on the walls.

  15. Walrus Saloon, Boulder, Colo.:

    It’s dark, it’s dirty, it’s cramped, and everybody knows it. But sometimes in college you just need a bar that’s barely more than a basement with a dance floor to sell you some cheap beer so you can party like it’s 1999. That’s where the Walrus comes in.

  16. George’s Buffet, Iowa City, Iowa:

    Hawkeyes pretty much steer clear of this dive, as there are no shots or Top 40 music. The old-fashioned jukebox plays local music while customers scarf down the toaster-oven made, $3.75 hamburgers and cold drafts. George’s has been there over 80 years and is still kicking.

  17. Charlie B’s, Missoula, Mont.:

    “Missoula’s most revered bar” is not listed in the phone book and doesn’t even have a street sign. But its loyal regulars and everyone else in Missoula loves it for its cheap beer, old-timey photos on the wall, and friendly bartenders.

  18. Poor Paul’s Pourhouse, Tallahassee, Fla.:

    Poor Paul’s has been a local favorite since opening its doors in 1977. Students come to give the “Wheel of Fortune” a spin for a one-in-six chance of a free draft, play some air hockey or billiards, and try to avoid becoming a banned customer like Richard Nixon and Pee Wee Herman.

  19. Town Pump, Fort Collins, Colo.:

    Incredibly, 2009 marked this tiny bar’s 100th anniversary of serving dirt-cheap beer to the dozen or so customers it can squeeze in at once. Needless to say the Town Pump is an iconic favorite for locals and a must-visit place the next time you’re in Fort Collins.

  20. The Green Room, Durham, N.C.:

    The unsavory bathrooms, the jukebox with its eclectic mix, and the cash only requirement land this establishment firmly in the dive group of bars. Yet The Green Room remains a smoke-filled institution where Blue Devils play shuffleboard and pretend they don’t go to one of the most expensive schools in the nation.

  21. Three Needs Brewery & Taproom, Burlington, Vt.:

    A recent move and a bit of redecorating haven’t taken the dive-ness or the charm out of this spot just blocks from the University of Vermont. The beer selection is solid and the prices low, which explains the line out there door come Friday and Saturday nights.

  22. Hound Dogs, Baton Rouge, La.:

    There’s no better place to mix with Louisiana locals (both gay and straight) and sink quarters into a jukebox than Hound Dogs. The bartenders are universally praised for their good natures and the cigarette machine with condoms on top is a nice, divey touch.

  23. Riviera Cafe Restaurant & Lounge, East Lansing, Mich.:

    Michigan State alums look back fondly on their time spent at The Riv, with its disgusting toilets, long lines, and sticky floor. But none of that matters when you’re in college and looking for cheap booze to swig in between ramming away at a foosball table and singing along to “Sweet Caroline.”

  24. Harrison Bar & Grill, Corvallis, Ore.:

    This greasy spoon breakfast spot turns into a great dive bar come night time, although it might be more properly considered a neo-dive bar with its Xbox and TVs everywhere. But the graffitied bathroom walls, the excellent prices on alcohol, and the characters that frequent Harrison make it an assuming place to get your drink on.

  25. St. James Tavern, Columbus, Ohio:

    St. James has no TVs so you can’t watch these college movies, but it does push the boundaries of a dive with its touchscreen jukebox. Don’t be scared off by the downright creepy exterior and the sketchy neighborhood. The strong selection of microbrews is just $3.50 a pint, there are $1 “mystery beers” on Mondays, and there’s a friendly atmosphere that will make you feel right at home.

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