Boston’s Best Dive Bars

It wasn’t so long ago that finding a dive bar in greater Boston was as simple as walking down the street. For decades, dive bars provided the backbone of the city’s drinking culture, and served as an easy shorthand for Boston’s image in the country at large (for better or worse). However, things have changed over the past decade, as many classic dives have vanished. For example, Charlestown, at one point home to dozens of blue collar watering holes, now boasts a grand total of two. And good luck trying to find more than a handful of dives in Boston proper, as it’s just too expensive to operate a no frills joint with real estate prices being what they are now. Still, while the dive bar may be an endangered species, all hope isn’t lost.

Boston’s Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in Beantown uncovers ninety of the best, still-standing dive temples in the city, with opinionated reviews that verge between the hilarious and the downright heartbreaking. From Ace’s High in South Boston, to Whitney’s Cafe in Harvard Square, with stops in Somerville, Roslindale, Eastie and everywhere in between, this book is the Boston drinker’s guide to the worst bar in your neighborhood, which also happens to be the best bar in your neighborhood. For anyone who’s ever sipped cheap whiskey out of a plastic cup under a mounted elk head while scratching lottery tickets, or tossed darts and snacked on stale popcorn with a pack of slumming hipsters, this is the book for you.

Luke O’Neil has been covering arts and nightlife in Boston for ten years. For years he wrote a popular column called Barcode in the Boston Globe, where he still writes about cocktails and the restaurant and bar scene. He also pens a bar column called Thursty in the Boston Metro, and the Liquid column in Stuff magazine and has written about bars for Boston Magazine and Black Book.


In the time since Boston’s Best Dive Bars was published there have been, naturally, a lot of changes in the city’s dive landscape. Here are a few updates to keep in mind if you’re on a dive bar hunt in the city.

One of the tougher spots in the book, Upstairs Downstairs in Neponset Circle, found itself in trouble once again when six people were stabbed in a brawl outside the bar in February 2012. The Boston Licensing Board is reviewing the case to decide what action, if any, should be taken concerning the bar.

Then in March, tragedy struck TC’s Lounge when a fire caused extensive damage to the beloved, iconic dive bar. There were no injuries, fortunately, except to all the porn on the ceiling, but the bar sustained about $250,000 worth of damage. Whether they will be able to reopen remains to be seen.

In other dive bar news, not everyone shares our love for dive bars, it turns out. Understandable, perhaps, considering that one man’s treasure is another man‘s decades-lung labor of love. With that in mind, the owners of the Four Winds Bar and Grill, themselves very unhappy with being  included in Boston’s Best Dive Bars, met with me recently to give the bar another look. I’m somewhat disappointed to say that the property is not in a state of disarray as l remember it.  Perhaps they’ve done some spiffing up in the two years since I was researching the book, or  perhaps my judgment was a bit off based on all the cheap beers I threw back there at the time.  They did such a good job convincing me that they might not be a dive bar after all, including a  tour of the actually nice-looking upstairs function room, that I can’t in good faith bestow upon  them the blessing of one of Boston’s Best Dive Bars anymore. No worries, there are still plenty of  dumps for us to drink in. For now anyway.

Packy Connors, the “troubled” bar on Blue Hill Ave., and a long time institution of the neighborhood, have closed, after selling their liquor license.  It’s a loss for the neighborhood, but probably a welcome respite for police, who were called here one too many times over the years.

Shangri-La has also closed. The Beacon Hill Chinese restaurant and out of this world bar has been replaced.  Now in it’s spot is the Tip Tap Room, a much more upscale craft beer focused restaurant. Wonder if the ever found out what was going on in all those spooky rooms downstairs during the renovations?