Dive bar. Pub. Neighborhood joint. Watering hole. Whatever you call them, we love their unapologetic lack of pretense, well-worn edges and universally welcoming spirit that invites the masses to have a good time. If you want to belly up in an establishment that doesn’t have a flashy marquee or snobby dress code, but generously pours cheap drinks, serves filling nosh and makes everyone feel like a regular, check out these popular Phoenix dive bars.
Don’t let the name fool you. Shady’s dark interior suggests something sinister, but the small and cozy ’60s-style watering hole is transparent in its eclectic dive bar endeavors. A large selection of beers, old-time craft cocktails, a fireplace, pool table, retro jukebox and TVs that silently loop classic and cult movies create a hipster vibe that makes Shady’s a must-stop neighborhood bar. While it doesn’t have a kitchen, Shady’s features all sorts of quirky dining opportunities like bring-your-own Taco Tuesday and partners with local food trucks such as Short Leash Hot Dogs to help wash down all the pub shenanigans.
This Arcadia joint is hard to find—though once you discover the entrance, you’ll keep coming back. Just follow the lit-up owl sign. Once inside, the log-cabin wallpaper, zigzag wood paneling and a glowing red bar read nocturnal, illegal speakeasy. The “underground” experience includes signature cocktails and an extensive whiskey collection with a superb happy hour. Darts, skee ball and foosball are part of the fun and games, as is the above-average dive lineup of appetizers, such as the house-baked pretzel knot served with house-made beer cheese and grain mustard, plus flatbreads and sandwiches.
Staffers don’t wear skimpy swimsuits at the Bikini Lounge, but the cash-only hotspot does strip it down with an authentic and kooky dive bar personality. The Phoenix institution, which sits at the crossroads of the Grand Avenue Arts & Culture District, opened in 1947 and takes it way back with a pool table at the entrance and vintage, half-moon lounge booths. A DJ spins groovy tunes spanning decades on multiple nights as a diverse mix of regulars converge to throw back traditional beverages, groove on the dance floor and grub on hearty eats like poutine with fries—all while keeping it real.
Most dive bars will never earn “best of” for cleanest women’s bathroom, but that’s what makes the Swizzle Inn, located in a strip mall in midtown, a drinking spot anomaly—that and the nonsensical atrium and Christmas lights that are perpetually illuminated. What does make sense is the friendly bar service and pleasant conversations occurring between the young and old alike, who frequent this off-beat, but charming lounge that pours a stiff cheap drink, has competitive trivia nights, and sometimes offers free buffet-style comfort food served in chafing dishes to satisfy your social hunger needs.
When a neighborhood joint’s operating hours are 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. you know it means business. A true dive bar, at the Wanderin you can shoot pool, sing karaoke and drink in familiar company nearly round the clock. And while the Wanderin, near Papago Park, is not going to win any interior design awards, it excels in delivering a neighborly beverage service that appeals to dive bar aficionados in search of a refreshing cold one. If you do wander in from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., expect happy hour pricing on already inexpensive drinks. And if you get the munchies, it’s a simple fare of corn dogs, chicken nuggets, sliders and pizza warmed in a microwave.
This is part of a series of guest posts from our friends at Bite Magazine that explore the food and drink scene of Greater Phoenix.