This article was written by City Cast content director Wil Fulton.
In a category where imperfections aren’t just celebrated, but required, sussing out the “best” dive bars in Philly is less about following a defined rubric, and more about leaning into the grime-caked je ne sais quoi we’ve all come to associate with superior dives. So pull up a stool: it’s Election Day, and every voter deserves a cheap, cold drink in a dark and dingy hangout after hitting the ballot box… because, well, why not? Cheers!
The name 12 Steps Down is both a tongue-in-cheek nod to Alcoholics Anonymous and an apt description for this subterranean and windowless dive. 12 Steps Down has an above-par roster of pub food like chicken fingers and tater tots, and routinely holds events like bingo, karaoke nights, and trivia.
831 Christian Street
Open since 1969, this South Street dive hosts free live music regularly, and claims to have the city’s longest running drag show every Thursday. Bob and Barbara’s is also the boozy innovator behind the citywide special, which they call “the Special” — a PBR paired with a shot of Jim Beam for a cool $5 — that’s become closely associated with Philly dives in general.
1509 South Street
In terms of distinct dive bar experiences, the Little Poland vibes of Donna’s — complete with everything from Polish beers and spirits to a bounty of comfort food like galumpkis and pierogies — is hard to match. Even harder to match? The high-energy karaoke nights every Friday (don’t worry, you don’t have to sing in Polish.)
2732 East Allegheny Avenue
Located on E. Passyunk Street, just a few stumbles away from Pat’s and Geno’s, this long-standing dive truly lives up to its name by offering customers free shots on their birthday. Also, as they’re open at 7 a.m. six days a week (and 9 a.m. on Sundays), this is the ideal spot for those looking to chase their morning lattes with a few fingers of bourbon.
1200 East Passyunk Avenue
McGlinchey's can count itself among Philly’s premier dive bars for many reasons (unassuming decor, a reliable cast of regulars, a hot dog that pairs perfectly with a cold lager, etc.) but most notably it’s also one of the last remaining Philly bars that still allows smoking indoors, a one-time dive staple which is slowly but surely dying out.
259 South 15th Street
This cash-only, classic Fishtown dive — named after the elevated Market-Frankford trains you’ll certainly feel rumbling above your beer-shot-combo — has an outdoor (but still divey!) patio for warmer months, weekly live jazz nights, and events like open-mic standup that prove that even old dives can learn new tricks.
1356 North Front Street