Ah, the sacred American dive bar. What is it about these dingy, sketchy venues that keeps bands and fans coming back time and time again for decades? Somewhere hidden beyond the wasted clientele, the PBR-drenched floor tiles, and the pernicious odor of vomit, urine, and cigarettes, lies an unmistakable authenticity and camaraderie we just can’t help but want to be surrounded by.
It also helps that dives are still reliable places to discover unknown musical talent. Despite the fact that everything else has changed in today’s live music landscape, within the walls of the dive bar, things remain simply and effortlessly the same. Here, you’ll find people being themselves, unabashedly and without compromise, regardless of what anyone else thinks they should be.
Here is our list of America’s 10 most locally and nationally beloved dive bar venues. And if you’re looking for more venue recommendations to help plan your next tour, look no further than our series, The COMPASS, in which musicians introduce us to their home cities.
Kirby’s Beer Store — Wichita, KS
Established in 1972, Kirby’s Beer Store looks, sounds, and feels like your grandma’s apartment living room — if your grandma drank excessively and hosted raucous house shows, that is. Featuring practically every type of music conceivable, Kirby’s sinister vibe is at odds with what most of us think about the Midwest.
The World Famous Milestone Club — Charlotte, NC
The World Famous Milestone might not actually be world famous, but it is one helluva venue. Since 1969, the Milestone has proudly hosted everyone from Dinosaur Jr. and Diarrhea Planet to Future Islands and R.E.M. The club nearly closed a few years ago, but bands and fans in Charlotte and around the world heroically stepped in to save it.
The Melody Inn — Indianapolis, IN
Indianapolis’ Melody Inn is known for its cheap drinks, solid live music and comedy offerings. First established in 1935, the Melody Inn is a great dive to catch everything from punk and rockabilly to indie pop and drum-and-bass music. They don’t care where you came from, who you are, or what you do. In here, you’re free to be who you want to be — thus, the Melody Inn has been called, “the Switzerland of bars.”
Lion’s Lair Lounge — Denver, CO
With $2 happy hour drafts, Colorado’s Lion’s Lair Lounge is a place you might find yourself getting messy beyond recognition over the course of a weekday evening show, but don’t worry: LLL won’t judge you for it. Over the years, the Lair has managed to remain a bastion of character and authenticity in a city of rapid development and bland-ification.
The Blue Moon Tavern — Seattle, WA
Dylan Thomas, Ken Kesey, Tom Robbins, Allen Ginsburg. All of these writers, along with painters, musicians, activists, and artists of all types, have famously patronized this 1934 establishment. In fact, rumor has it that in the 1960s, Tom Robbins used the Blue Moon Tavern’s payphone to call Pablo Picasso in Barcelona. He actually got through to Picasso, but the artist refused to pay the long-distance collect charges. Suffice to say, this bar’s got some cool history to it, and its local, blue-collar, no frills sensibilities are still intact today. They book live music from Thursday to Saturday every week.
Barley Street Tavern — Omaha, NE
If your band isn’t established enough to play a sleeker Omaha venue like the Slowdown, chances are the Barley Street Tavern would be happy to have you. And with Barley Street’s intimate stage setup, decent sound system, and notoriously warm crowd, you’ll be more than happy to play.
The Fire — Philadelphia, PA
If all of Philadelphia could be condensed into a tiny venue, it might look something like the Fire. Formally called the Philadelphia Bar & Grille, the Fire provides Northern Liberties and Kensington residents with inexpensive drinking opportunities, quality rock, folk, country, indie rock, punk, and hip-hop shows and tasty grilled-cheese sandwiches. Also, whether true or not, they brag to have hosted shows with artists such as, Tegan and Sara, My Chemical Romance, OK GO, Maroon 5, Jason Mraz, Iron and Wine, and John Legend, on their routes to stardom!
The Nick — Birmingham, AL
The Nick is one of those places with the rare ability to both fortify and eschew stereotypes simultaneously. Firmly planted in Birmingham, Alabama, the Nick resembles the gritty, Southern venues from movies we’ve all seen, but it also routinely hosts softie acoustic acts like Gregory Alan Isakov and other artists you wouldn’t expect to see in a dirty, lowdown, Deep South dive.
Rogue Bar — Scottsdale, AZ
Claiming to be haunted, Scottsdale’s Rogue Bar has been slinging booze and live shows to locals in one form or another since 1961. “People from out of town love us. People from here don’t,” their website proclaims in typical confrontational, dive bar fashion. They also have a “shitty ATM… that occasionally works.” But don’t mistake this sentiment for pretentiousness. The Rogue features all sorts of music, and none of the judgments.
Super Happy Fun Land — Houston, TX
Super Happy Fun Land isn’t so much a dive bar as it is an acid-laden, garbage-filled warehouse that regularly hosts shows. What it really is, however, is an unforgettable venue that defies convention, so that’s why it’s on this list. Because that’s one of the central qualities of a dive bar, and that’s good enough for me. Half music/performance art venue, half post-apocalyptic nightmare factory, Super Happy Fun Land has the power to reinforce (or obliterate) a person’s penchant for art, music, and leaving the comfort of home.
Don’t forget to check out Soundfly’s free Touring on a Shoestring course for tons of advice and resources for booking your next (or first!) nationwide tour on the cheap! Here are some quick tips on finding your ideal venues on the road.