Washington, D.C.'s Coolest Dive Bars

Velvet Lounge | © IntangibleArts/Flickr
Velvet Lounge | © IntangibleArts/Flickr
Photo of Kate McMahon
9 February 2017

Ah, dive bars: the mecca of grease, grunge, and cheap drinks. If you wish to avoid all the upscale, pretentious bars that charge $10 for a beer, frequent the District’s coolest and most eclectic dive bars instead.

The Velvet Lounge

Bar, Pub Grub, $$$
Map View
The Velvet Lounge is so underground, it’s rarely listed under best dive bar listicles. The grungy digs and graffitied back patio are a refreshing break from U Street’s bougie bars. A mural of Vincent Van Gogh reads ‘Van Gogh Fuck Yourself’ on the porch. The inside is narrow and can become easily cramped on weekends with no room to dance – dive bars aren’t that fun when the grease just becomes strangers’ sweat. But, if you go on a weekday night, there will be a DJ and plenty of chill vibes to embrace.

Red Derby

Bar, Pub Grub, $$$
Map View
This cash only bar is famed for its dirt cheap brunch. In a city of brunch enthusiasts, where the meal often costs a minimum $40, you’ll leave Red Derby five mimosas deep and with a satisfied stomach for under $20. Mimosas are 99 cents, and Bloody Marys $2 each. The food is solid, with nothing too fancy, but perfect for a traditional, satisfying breakfast. At night, locals head to the vibrant rooftop to party. There’s a variety of board games to indulge in, including the amazing Rock’ em Sock ’em Robots.

Dan's Cafe

Bar, Cafe, Pub Grub, $$$
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Oh, Dan’s. The epitome of a dive bar, but you won’t remember anything here, anyway; the bar sells ketchup squirt bottles filled with your choice of liquor for $15. Squirt it all in your mouth, share with a friend, or just run to a stranger and squeeze. The possibilities for shenanigans are endless. The stripped down interior offers little more than dirty white walls and wooden tables, fully embracing the dive aesthetic.

The Bottom Line

Bar, American, Pub Grub, Mexican, $$$
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This quaint dive bar is a rarity of its kind in the corporate district downtown; it’s so underground that it’s literally in a basement. No Hill staffers or pretentious Georgetown students are to be found here. The Bottom Line is just the right amount of grease, offering above-par bar food and cheap drinks.

The Pinch

The Pinch often hosts underground music shows and has a stake in DC’s budding DIY scene – a collective form of music that occurs in primarily house venues. The idea is to throw the shows yourself, in their most authentic form, and to leave the money out of it – do it all for the music, man. Despite being a venue, The Pinch’s grungy basement resembles any household basement. In the spirit of being cool and progressive, all the bathrooms are gender neutral.

3548 14th St NW, Washington, DC, USA, +1 (202) 722-4440

Handsome Cock

It’s a little more populated and cleaner than your average dive bar, but the name alone places Handsome Cock within its own category of cool. The music is always prime, featuring endless throwbacks – go for a 1990’s themed boogie here and then compete in a game of beer pong; there’s a table always set up to play for free. Or play a round of Mario Kart while sipping on a wide range of draft beers.

1334 U St NW, Washington, DC, USA, +1 (202) 265-0708

We invited Barack, still waiting on his RSVP.

A photo posted by @marydaly on

The Pug

Bar, Pub Grub, $$$
Map View
The Pug manages to exude a basement ambiance even though it’s above ground. The cash only, dimly lit digs give the bar an oddly decrepit charm. In the back corner, a vending machine offers fresh food from local establishments, ranging from traditional snacks to chickpea burritos. The decor is a chaotic mess that can’t stick to one theme, but that’s the beauty in it. The recycled beer can decorations are pretty cool, too, and the liberal rail drinks cost $5.


Bar, Pub Grub, $$$
Map View
Schoooool’s out, forever. Trusty’s takes you back to elementary school, but a hazier version of it, by placing their upstairs bar within the classic yellow school bus. The friendly service, mason jar beers, and neighborhood feel make Trusty’s an always reliable spot for a chilled evening.

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