Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Real Drinker's Guide to St. Louis' Best Dive Bars

Posted By on Thu, Aug 4, 2016 at 8:35 AM

click to enlarge Hey you! Every tried Weber's Bar? "A pure and unadulterated drinker's oasis," it'll cure what ails. - PHOTO BY JOSEPH HESS
  • PHOTO BY JOSEPH HESS
  • Hey you! Every tried Weber's Bar? "A pure and unadulterated drinker's oasis," it'll cure what ails.

Let other cities have their flashy clubs and mixology meccas. Here in St. Louis, we're happy with a bar stool, good company and a stiff drink. In short: Give us a dive bar and we're as happy as a pig in a bathtub of gin.

Now, in lesser cities, the "dive" label might connote something dirty or depressing. Not so St. Louis. In this hard-drinking metropolis, a dive bar is simply a place where the booze comes first. The patrons may be professionals or derelicts, but they're there to drink — no gimmicks, no games.

We had a great time exploring the myriad bars across the metro area that fit this description, from Carondelet to St. Charles, from the north Riverfront to Lemay Ferry. Use our comprehensive guide to plan your next day of drinking — or just get a good reminder to visit an old favorite.

South City Dive Bars (South of 40)

click to enlarge Silverleaf Lounge: a hidden treasure in North Hampton. - PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
  • PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
  • Silverleaf Lounge: a hidden treasure in North Hampton.
Silverleaf Lounge
You should probably just make the Silverleaf Lounge (3442 Hereford Street, 314-481-4080) your regular bar. The company is good, the confines cozy and the beer cheap and cold. Nearly hidden mid-block on a one-way street in the North Hampton neighborhood, the Silverleaf has been a destination for generations of St. Louis drinkers. The bar outmaneuvered the tyranny of Prohibition with a brief run as an ice cream parlor in the 1930s — the wooden coolers remain — but its true nature as a great neighborhood tavern is unmistakable. No less than Esquire wrote it up in 2015. Even with the national media attention, though, the location out of sight of Kingshighway commuters has kept the clientele to neighbors within walking distance and first responders, who are welcomed by owner Ron Damery, himself a retired firefighter. The entire place is the size of a living room with nine bar stools and four pub tables. Allegiances include America, the St. Louis Cardinals and Elvis Presley. Fortify yourself with a Ziploc bag of mild or spicy beef jerky for $2. Wash it down with a $1.50 Natural Light draft.


Barney's Sports Pub
Say what you will about strip mall bars, but they can be damned convenient. Sandwiched between a vape shop and a bank across the street from Target, Barney's Sport Pub (6027 Chippewa Street, 314-457-0240) is a rest stop halfway between being a responsible adult and saying "Screw it. Let's get plastered at lunch." You'll meet people of both persuasions in the sprawling Clifton Heights bar and grill. On a recent afternoon, patrons debated whether it was possible to drink yourself sober. (General consensus is yes, on day two.) Low, dark-wood ceilings run the long expanse of the bar and give it a heavy feeling, like a converted horse stable. You'll find pool tables, skeeball, video games and a half-dozen cork dart boards along a back wall. Plenty of televisions and literally dozens of drink specials support its sports bar claim. The food is passable pub fare, and there's a patio. Basically, it's got everything you need to disappear for an hour or twelve. Bonus: This one doesn't close until 3 a.m.

click to enlarge The Cat's Meow has a cat theme, but also a Mardi Gras one. - PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • The Cat's Meow has a cat theme, but also a Mardi Gras one.

The Cat's Meow
It may have a cutesy name, but the Cat's Meow (2600 S. 11th Street, 314-776-8617) is a place for some serious drinking. Tucked at the far end of Soulard, far from the frat-tastic action and party buses full of county revelers, it's a surprisingly big space with plenty of friendly regulars and a few cheap eats to soak up the booze (a package of crackers is a quarter; pistachios will set you back $1.25). There's a vague cat theme going on here — you can learn about "A Cat's Wisdom" from one piece of wall art — and an even more pronounced Mardi Gras one. Six-foot boas are on sale for $10, while five-foot ones are $5. That extra foot of feathers would easily buy you a strong drink here, with enough left over for a tip; spend wisely.

click to enlarge Colorado Bob's Ship of Fools: You'll know it by the ship wrecked in the front yard. - PHOTO BY KELLY GLUECK
  • PHOTO BY KELLY GLUECK
  • Colorado Bob's Ship of Fools: You'll know it by the ship wrecked in the front yard.

Colorado Bob's Ship of Fools

Ahoy, matey! When you're crawling your way down Morgan Ford Road's row of low-key neighborhood bars, don't forget to dive into Colorado Bob's Ship of Fools (3457 Morgan Ford Road, 314-772-7564). You probably know this nautical-themed bar by that ship jettisoned out front. But what you may not know is that there actually is a Bob, a remarkable captain with wonderful stories and a kind heart. Bob's bar is full of familiar faces — and a crew that's among the best in town. Friendly banter and cheap drink specials ($10 buckets, $2.50 wells and $2.75 shot specials) both go well with the local food favorites on offer here, which include Imo's, TJ's, homemade jerky and, on a good night, some smoked chicken with Bob's award-winning BBQ rub.


Muser's Pub
Some days, you just need a bar. No crazy themes. No curated "identity." Just a place to sit on a stool and drink a cold beer. That's Muser's Pub (6594 Scanlan Avenue, 314-647-0804). The barroom is a big rectangle with a handful of tables scattered across thin blue carpet. Watch a game on TV, or don't. Throw some darts or play shuffleboard if you're feeling motivated. There are no taps. Regulars pour Stag and Natty Light into glasses, delivered without irony by perfectly pleasant bartenders. A frozen pizza is $8. Southern Comfort shots are $2. If you're looking for a bar in Lindenwood Park, Muser's will do the job.

click to enlarge CBGB's: Have you tried the gin buckets? - PHOTO BY KELLY GLUECK
  • PHOTO BY KELLY GLUECK
  • CBGB's: Have you tried the gin buckets?
CBGB
Looking to get some teenage kicks? CBGB (3163 S. Grand Boulevard, no phone number) will take punk rockers back to the time when all they cared about was how dirty their Chucks looked and where to find the cheapest beer — and give younger drinkers a taste of the down and dirty fun they missed. Known for its loud and grungy local shows and cheap booze ($1.50 stags and massive $9 "gin buckets"), CBGBs gets patrons ready to jam and slam. It's dark as hell, though the shadows are concealing a decent game area (darts, shuffleboard, arcade games, pinball) to keep you occupied on the slower nights. Heads up to female patrons: the ladies bathroom has no dividers. But what could be more punk than pissing in front of a stranger?


Black Thorn Pub
Dark and nearly entirely covered by graffiti, Black Thorn Pub and Pizza (3735 Wyoming Street, 314-776-0534) is a true hidden gem. Tucked away on a quiet residential street in the heart of Tower Grove South, Black Thorn boasts drink prices on the steep side of dive scene, ranging from $1.75 PBR bottles to $4.75 tallboys. But it's not really about the booze. The alcohol is just here to keep patrons happy while they play games during the long wait for the best pizza in St. Louis. Black Thorn's Chicago-style pies may take up to an hour to procure, but they'll ruin Chicago for you. This deep-dish pizza has a savory, spicy sauce and a full inch of cheesy deliciousness. It's totally, and always, worth the wait.


Stella Blues
If you love the idea of Fast Eddie's, but hate the crowds and that drive east, Stella Blues (3269 Morgan Ford Road, 314-762-0144) is a rockin' alternative. Adorned with neon signs and eclectic memorabilia, Stella's also features a fun patio and a gritty pool room in the back. The cash-only bar is stocked with an array of bottled beers, and while there aren't any fancy cocktails, the bartenders can accommodate staple orders such as gin and tonics and whiskey sours. But though the drinks are less than $5, the real draw here is the kitchen, which is unusually good for such a low-key spot. The Korean pork kabobs ($1 each or four for $3) and beef kabobs ($4) can't be beat.


Super's Bungalow
Look, we know change can be scary, and the south city staple Super's Bungalow (5623 Leona Street) has gone through more than just a few nips and tucks this summer. The recent acquisition by former Adam's Smokehouse pitmaster Alex Cupp brings BBQ to the space via a new food component called the Stellar Hog. But rest assured, the new menu is meant to add to the dive bar ambiance, not take away from its down-low, neighborly feel. The fenced-in corner at Leona and Bates hides the no-frills biergarten, which remains clean and well-kept, while the renovations so far feature a full restoration of the bar to its 1940s glory and brand new hardwood floors. Beer and shots, however, still flow for a low, low rate. Some things never change, even after nearly 90 years.

click to enlarge Frank's 1st Alarm has a firefighter theme. - PHOTO BY JOSEPH HESS
  • PHOTO BY JOSEPH HESS
  • Frank's 1st Alarm has a firefighter theme.
Frank's 1st Alarm
The huge banner for Fireball Cinnamon Whisky is on the nose at a fireman's bar like Frank's 1st Alarm (7800 Virginia Avenue, 314-282-0193). After all, without fires (and fireballs) to fight, we wouldn't need firefighters. There are no man buns or skinny jeans to be seen here, although the hipster set would be as welcome as any other sort of drinker — just expect a sideways look if you order outside the divey standards. This snob-free fireman's haunt is especially old-school, offering karaoke, pool and a well-lit backroom for darts and video-gaming. The wheels may sound a little squeaky and the paint may have started to fade, but Frank's serves its function as a vehicle for cold beer, booze and good company

click to enlarge The Haunt is a horror-themed dive. - PHOTO BY JOSEPH HESS
  • PHOTO BY JOSEPH HESS
  • The Haunt is a horror-themed dive.
The Haunt
Most dives aim to be anti-kitsch, which would be the polar opposite of the Haunt (5000 Alaska Avenue, 314-481-5003), a horror-themed bar where punk rock is king and gory B-movies fill the screen. The bartender is happy to accommodate those who want to see the game, but how could anyone trade buckets of fake blood for bats and balls? Despite its tiny footprint, the Haunt packs in ear-busting rock bands, with a modest stage in the back of the room. The Busch beer special provides the best bang for a day-drinker's buck: Starting at 11 a.m., buckets begin at $5 and go up one dollar per hour, topping off at $11. Pre-gaming here likely means you'll be too drunk to leave around dinner time, but luckily the Haunt's frozen pizzas from Gallagher Bros are a cut above the rest. And while most patios are rendered pointless once the temp drops, the fire pit in back here provides a spot to have your fresh air and breathe it too.


Jimmy Mack's
In a neighborhood full of bars, Jimmy Mack's (5838 Southwest Avenue, 314-645-5777) is a solid choice for a beer and a ballgame. The wedge-shaped tavern in Southwest Garden is manned by friendly bartenders who pour stiff cocktails and serve frosted mugs alongside canned beers. (Cans are $1.50 on Thursdays.) You'll be immediately recognized as a newcomer, but mind your manners and they'll welcome you back. Help yourself to a mint or step out onto the patio where you'll be surprised to find a functioning fish pond behind a handful of tables. This bar is a bit off the beaten path, but it's easy to spot — a brightly colored mural on an exterior wall depicts a quintet of Missouri athletes raising their glasses. Pour one out for the Rams player on the end.


Pop's Blue Moon
Pop's Blue Moon (5249 Pattison Avenue, 314-776-4200) is about as hard to describe as it is to find. Open since 1908 and largely unchanged since the 1940s, the family-owned gin mill sits in a forgotten north sliver of the Hill, severed from the rest of the neighborhood by Highway 44. That hasn't stopped an endless parade of musicians from finding their way to its doorstep. Inside, the main barroom is lit by pink neons and a collection of lava lamps. It feels a little like a New Orleans blues bar and a little like the inside of curio cabinet, with knick knacks in every corner. A Christmas tree and glowing snowman centaur light up one end of the bar, and you'll pass a quarter-ton bombshell on the way to the bathroom. Pop's is all wonderfully weird and well-worth the effort to find it. Pro tip: Use Pop's location to your advantage during the next big Forest Park event. Leave your car here and walk about fifteen minutes each way. You'll make it back in time to sip a beer while everyone else is stuck in traffic hell.

click to enlarge Tin Cup: the quintessential south city dive bar. - PHOTO BY JOSEPH HESS
  • PHOTO BY JOSEPH HESS
  • Tin Cup: the quintessential south city dive bar.

Tin Cup
In many ways, Tin Cup (518 Bates Street) is the quintessential south city dive, neither markedly grimy nor remotely fancy — and also completely unaffected by current trends or fads. The bar itself remains relatively unchanged, looking very much as it did the day the Anheuser-Busch Company built it. But while many St. Louis haunts look similar on the outside, few are this well-kept. There's a golf theme going on here, but it's very loose; expect anything from the ballgame to UFC on the big screens. There's more variety than the typical pizza fare here too, which works well to absorb all those cheap and boozy drinks.


Hummel's Pub
For old-school bar fare without club-bumpin' bangers or the glitz and glamour of modern drag, Hummel's Pub (7101 S. Broadway, 314-353-5080) stands as a homey gay dive where cold beer is king (and queen). Straight patrons won't get the side-eye even when walking through the backyard, which serves as a well-kept and roomy haunt for the regulars to do what they will. With windows mostly covered, the inside feels safe-guarded from the hum of South Broadway's industrial court. While old-school drag night might be its biggest monthly attraction, Hummel's keeps things affordable with a double dose of karaoke every week, $2 Miller Lites and, on occasion, free food in the form of BBQ and burgers in that spacious, gated backyard.

Turn the page for more south city dives, or skip ahead to your stomping grounds:
City Dive Bars North of 40
North County Dive Bars
South County Dive Bars
West County Dive Bars
St. Charles Dive Bars

S
ee also: 25 St. Louis Bars to Suit Every Mood

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