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

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click to enlarge What a name. - PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
  • What a name.
One Nite Stand Dance Club
The One Nite Stand Dance Club (2800 Ohio Avenue, 314-776-0996) has the best name in the business. Located just off Gravois Avenue on the border of Benton Park West and Fox Park, it has attracted more than few first-timers out of sheer curiosity. The other main draw is karaoke on Friday and Saturday nights. Expect a patdown and a once-over with a metal detector wand on those nights. Once inside, the place is bigger than expected. The main barroom is a long rectangle, with a bar on the right and pool table in the back. A ramp leads up to a second area with another pool table and a stripper pole, just in case your rendition of "Sexual Healing" could use a little more juice. The crowd is diverse, although not always comfortably. A Confederate flag was removed from the entrance several years ago, but white and black patrons tend to self-segregate inside the hazy nightclub. You're in for a strange time here, but isn't that why you came?

The Melrose Club
The Melrose Club (5400 Southwest Avenue, 314-644-5288) is the everyman bar of the Hill. The unassuming corner tavern is just a comfortable place drink a Bud Light ($2.50) and listen in on the neighborhood gossip. Regulars include off-duty waiters and plenty of walk-ins, some carrying their own Melrose-branded koozies. Blues Brothers statues perch on top of the back bar and a constellation of action figures and mini spaceships hang overhead, gathering so much dust they've grown furry. We suggest timing your visit to the afternoon showing of Jeopardy! And don't worry if you're the only one in the bar who doesn't know the Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. They're pretty quick here.

Nick's Pub
Nick's Pub (6001 Manchester Avenue, 314-781-7806) breaks a lot of dive bar rules. The two-story Cheltenham tap house has a rotating beer list of at least 101 brews, the extensive menu includes a veggie wrap and they actually adhere to the new (and widely flouted) city ordinance against smoking in bars. But the prices are solidly in dive bar territory. Make it to this industrial stretch of Manchester during happy hour, and you can buy twelve pints of Stag or PBR for $12 (or one or two for $1 each, up to you). Variations of a $2 special on premium drafts are on offer four days a week, and there seems to be nearly constant shot specials. Nick's has a tendency to look closed from the outside, but low-dollar tabs and an upstairs game room and live music on the (smoking) patio draw a big college crowd who party hard as the night goes on.

click to enlarge Stan's Bar. - PHOTO BY JOSEPH HESS
  • Stan's Bar.
Stan's Bar
Don't go to Stan's Bar (5007 Macklind Avenue, 314-481-9990) on Saturday night hoping to have a deep philosophical discussion — the karaoke being bellowed by weekend warriors will drown out any attempt at conversation. During the day, though, Stan's can be a great place to hide from the sun or quietly brush up on billiards before the sharks come swimming in. This spot straddles the line between being too sporty for a dive and too divey for a sports bar, welcoming a cross-section of drinkers who love to watch the ballgame yet don't, like, totally bro-out, man. The double-sided bar also offers service in nearly 360 degrees, so whether you're glued to one of the many screens that adorn the brick walls or entranced by America's Most Talented on the karaoke side, don't worry about going thirsty; Stan's keeps the beer buckets full and the ice cold.

A Little Bar
While recent renovations have classed up the joint, Little Bar (6343 Alabama Avenue) remains straight and to the point. You're coming to drink, and this spot has booze aplenty. Really, there isn't room for much else, which is part of the charm here. Given the size — we'd compare Little Bar to a well-appointed utility closet — brushing shoulders with the locals is an inevitability on a busy weekend, so thankfully the painted flag across the ceiling makes for a decent ice breaker. Beer flows cheaply enough that rank amateurs might drink themselves silly and end up picking for pennies through the bartop's lacquer— to no avail, of course. If the cramped quarters seem a little too cozy, the backyard biergarten offers plenty of space to stretch the old legs or shoot the (literal) breeze. And feel free to get vertical in the very climbable tree, although just a word of advice: Don't bring your drink up there.

click to enlarge Red's Eighth Inning has attracted firefighters hats for half a century. - PHOTO JOSEPH HESS
  • Red's Eighth Inning has attracted firefighters hats for half a century.
Red's Eighth Inning
That's not a stripper's pole you see when walking into Red's Eighth Inning (6412 Michigan Avenue, 314-353-1084). It's a fireman's pole, which makes sense in light of all the firehouse ephemera scattered throughout the space. Sure, cheap drinks and the bar's patented "leprechaun juice" help loosen everyone up, but we'd bet that the red-headed owner's penchant for charity events is what really brings the crowd at Red's together. While a young crew passes through for ballgames and shot specials, retired firefighters have been (literally) hanging their helmets here for more than half a century. And that means quality people-watching in full effect from weeknights to holidays, when Red's becomes about as kid-friendly as a dive bar can be. The room next door offers opportunities for the kiddos to mingle, so whether it's your "extended" family or your actual family, everyone should feel right at home here.

Weber's Bar
Overheard outside Weber's Bar (6632 Macklind Avenue, 314-352-4001): "Women slip their wedding bands off when they walk through that door!" An older man is quick to retort, "Oh no they don't. Don't say that." The Princeton Heights bar hardly resembles a cougar den. Behind the blank awning, with no signage besides the typical Budweiser lights, Weber's feels like a pure and unadulterated oasis of cheap rails and domestics. The regulars are friendly; you're more likely to be taught how to greet someone in 30 different languages than to encounter an adulterous proposition. Just remember that Weber's doesn't allow for bar tabs at all — cash is king.

click to enlarge Lindner's Pub is a south city charmer. - PHOTO BY JOSEPH HESS
  • Lindner's Pub is a south city charmer.
Lindner's Pub
When the owner of Lindner's Pub (2925 Mount Pleasant Street, 314-351-0425) belts out "You know why we're the best bar on this street? Because we're the only bar on this street!" with a hearty laugh, he undersells this special haunt, even in jest. For a building that has decades of history as a dive, most recently under the moniker Ferguson's, Lindner's has grown to be subtly upscale with "gastropub" offerings. Christopher "Tyger" Roth of the shuttered Bad Dog Bar & Grill helped to flesh out the menu in early 2015, elevating the bar's soulful fare — the fried chicken has become legendary. But the inclusion of good food has done nothing to change the homey, communal vibe here, which also features the occasional live band. And of course, they still serve the coldest beer on Mt. Pleasant (if only because, yeah, it's the ONLY beer on Mt. Pleasant).

Behrmann's Tavern
Behrmann's Tavern (3155 Meramec Street, 314-353-9626) proudly claims its status as "possibly the second oldest dive bar" in St. Louis, mostly due to the fact that no one wants to be challenged on calling themselves the first. Over time, this Dutchtown haunt has become an after-work destination for ice cold bottles and a quick burger. The back room is just spacious enough for karaoke and other special events, but don't expect a fancy light show, disco ball or even a modern setup. Low prices keep the place frills-free and fairly liquored up, which is priority No. 1 at Behrmann's. Just don't drink yourself into such a stupor that you lock eyes with the damn near life-sized Undertaker (yes, the wrestler) hanging on the fridge. And if anyone finds themselves desperate for a topic of conversation, might we advocate for a civil discussion about the Confederate flag hanging on the back wall?

River City Pub
River City Pub (7906 Gravois Road, 314-353-9921) sits perched on the city/county line, a smoky gateway to south city via Affton. This lounge-like space is deceptively big, with room enough for your bar-hopping entourage, complete with a backyard to welcome any spillover. Given the not-so-subtle pro team decor throughout, you could mistake this for a down-low sports bar, yet River City Pub feels more like a drunken blank slate, ready to cater to whatever clientele comes stumbling through on any given night. The place even gained a hipster following during its period of karaoke nights hosted by Ali Baba, though the local legend has since given up emcee duties. While you can still sing here, it's the cold beer and cheap shots that keep River City Pub happily afloat.

click to enlarge Halfway Haus is not a rehab facility. Quite the contrary. - PHOTO BY JOSEPH HESS
  • Halfway Haus is not a rehab facility. Quite the contrary.
Halfway Haus
When the weather cooperates, the biker-friendly, roller-girl-supported Halfway Haus (7900 Michigan Avenue, 314-256-0101) opens its garage door, and the patio and atrium become one airy, laid-back barroom. Don't think of its name as a reference to rehab; instead, this spot nestled in Carondelet actually resembles half of a house. It's hosted many a bar for its eight decades. The Haus opened in 2011 to bring a "musical intervention" to the historic haunt, so don't be surprised when bands, duos and solo acts drown out the sound of the ballgame — something that would have never happened in the sports bar that occupied the space previously. You can't buy a bucket of beer here without a bevy of shots to go with, and we suggest taking full advantage of the drink offers that differ depending on the night (and the game on the TV). Just don't take the bartender's heavy hand for granted; make your pleasure known with a generous tip.

Club Paladora
If the staff doesn't like the cut of your jib, most dives will show your rude ass to the door, but at Club Paladora (5620 S. Grand Boulevard, 314-353-7790), they're much more likely to stuff that attitude with jello shots to your face. Alcohol is the medicine to heal all ailments, and bartenders here are happy to administer cocktails that taste like candy or hard liquor, straight and to-the-point. Grease those squeaky wheels before a night of karaoke on Friday or just loosen up before Texas Hold'em on Saturday. Not need for a poker face here — the seasoned vets here see right through your greedy veneer. Club Paladora caters to ages 21 through 91, and the older, wiser set seems more than willing to pass their knowledge on before leaving, which seems a bit poignant when you watch them walk to the funeral home across the street — the bar's unofficial parking lot.

click to enlarge JJ's Clubhosue is just south of 40. - PHOTO BY JOSEPH HESS
  • JJ's Clubhosue is just south of 40.
JJ's Clubhouse
Open most days from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. for patrons of any orientation, JJ's Clubhouse (3858 Market Street, 314-535-4100) stands as St. Louis' longest running "bear leather" bar, playing host to competitions such as Mr. Heartland Bear and, of course, the International Puppy Contest, where aspiring young pups can strut their stuff. Yet through the week this gay dive offers more laidback fare with cheap cans and cocktails — a shot of "Kactus Juice" makes JJ's feel like the oasis that it truly is, tucked under highway 40 and hidden away from the muss and fuss of the Grove nearby. Within these walls all should feel welcome, regardless of race or gender (it's part of the ethos here). And if you're feeling self-conscious for your own lack of leather, there's a pop-up shop to help with that.

Silver Ballroom
The Silver Ballroom (4701 Morgan Ford Road, 314-832-9223) could easily be a locale in the '90s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, in which an aging member of the Foot Clan leaves his life of crime behind to be a barkeep and surrounds himself with the beer, punk and pinball of his sordid youth. Despite the divey veneer, the Pabst-laden bar (ahem, Retox Center) conceals some marvelous secrets: Australian meat pies, craft drinks and a few worldly bartenders who are well-versed in specialty cocktails. If the jukebox doesn't earn enough punk points for its selection of punk rock standards, take a closer look at the bar itself — the Ballroom's DIY ethos shines from top to bottom with a history lesson through the 400+ show flyers from St. Louis' punk past plastered throughout. And make no mistake, the game room is run as a high-grade pinball arcade, with nearly twenty pristine machines kept on constant rotation, ranging from old Williams and Bally mainstays to newer, licensed fare — just keep that Stag tallboy on a side table.

click to enlarge Shot Heaven is a low-key dive. - PHOTO BY JOSEPH HESS
  • Shot Heaven is a low-key dive.

Shot Heaven
With dim lights, low ceilings and a bevy of bad or good choices behind the bar, depending on your perspective, Shot Heaven (5233 Gravois Avenue, 314-351-9606) hits every item on the dive checklist, if there was such a thing. Besides billiards and the deceptively difficult claw machine that advertises "ADULT TOYS" with a cheeky sign, the bartenders like to play another kind of game: They will challenge you to pick blindly, eyes closed, from their packed book of shot combinations. While not for the faint of heart (or those with a weak stomach), the game isn't mandatory — but it will earn you a badge of honor and a good buzz to boot. The shot selection is what you might expect of a haunt called Shot Heaven, which also boasts some of the cheapest booze in Bevo Mill. Self-conscious singers will be happy to know that the tiny stage, complete with a shining disco ball, is tucked behind a wall, there for those who hope to hone their karaoke craft without a skeptical audience.

click to enlarge The Heavy Anchor's Joshua Timbrook and Jodie Whitworth. - PHOTO BY JOSEPH HESS
  • The Heavy Anchor's Joshua Timbrook and Jodie Whitworth.
Heavy Anchor
Run by '80s babies, yet equally appealing to those born before the Reagan era, the Heavy Anchor (5226 Gravois Avenue, 314-352-5226) barely qualifies as a dive because of its size and relative, well, cleanliness. But the hallmarks of any good watering hole worth its weight in booze are here: Trivia, movie night and karaoke fill every night that isn't booked with a solid selection of indie, punk and rock bands along with the many in-betweeners in the local music scene. Those with a distaste for live and loud sounds should take heart: the bar and stage are divided by a garage door, which only opens on rare occasions. The bar itself is balanced with an ample supply of domestics and the tools for a good, simple cocktail — ask about their take on an Old-Fashioned. Tread lightly around the shuffleboard, it's one of only a few in town that is regulation-size, so expect stiff competition. We're only half-joking.

Sophie's Place
If you're a raging alcoholic or just a third-shifter looking for an after-work beer, Sophie's Place (2815 Watson Rd., 314-645-4033) is the place for you. The two-sided Clifton Heights bar opens at 7 a.m. for sun-up drinking. Prices are reasonable for a dive bar, verging on ridiculous if you stick to the long list of daily specials. Tuesdays, for example, offer $2 rails. Pretty good, right? And the drink comes in a goddamn pint glass! So gather your dollar bills, order an irresponsible amount of liquor at the long bar and wander over to the other half of Sophie's to play some early morning pool. You'll pass a baffling amount of pirate-themed decorations and plenty of televisions, which will be useful if you make it to first pitch. There's also one of those coin-operated claw games where you can win a stuffed bear, because why the hell not? Stay until 1:30 a.m., sleep a few hours and do it all over again.

click to enlarge The Iowa Buffet is not a buffet. - PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
  • The Iowa Buffet is not a buffet.
Iowa Buffet
Three blocks south of the ever-evolving Cherokee Street district is the blessedly never-changing Iowa Buffet (2727 Winnebago Street, 314-776-8000). Glass block windows, old-school Budweiser lights — most of which worked on our recent visit — and some scruffy wainscoting give the Gravois Park establishment a 1970s feeling. There is no buffet, but a pretty solid cheeseburger cooked on a small broiler at the end of the long bar costs just $3. Come back on Saturday when they barbecue out back. (You like pork steak, right? Of course you do.) The customers include a mix of hipsters who've wandered south and old man regulars from the neighborhood. They'll make you feel comfortable, especially if you don't ask them to change the channel when auto racing is on. Drink for cheap with $1.75 bottles of Stag or a $2 Busch. If you want to take the party home, feel free to buy a half pint of Rich & Rare whisky for $3.75 or drop $6.50 on Seagrams.

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