Not every single bar in the Valley is a pristine, well-maintained watering hole. As a matter of fact, there are those that have seen better days and are, quite frankly, shabby as hell. The floors are usually sticky with beer and booze, the furnishings were worn out long ago, and there’s a certain aroma in the air of cleaning supplies or other potent scents.
Naturally, we’re referring to the Valley’s cache of dive bars, better known as the places where bar flies bend elbows, where day-drinkers go to avoid the sunlight and abuse their livers, and where everyone else (ourselves included) go when they want to slum for a bit. Cheap booze and cheap thrills are the norm, as is kitschy decor, lowbrow fun, condom dispensers, duct tape on the bar stools, and, of course, a colorful bunch of regulars who are eager to make your acquaintance ... whether you like it or not.
As is the case with many genres of bars, some places are better than others. Here are a dozen such dives around metro Phoenix that more than qualify.
Despite its name, the Bikini Lounge is not the place to gawk at busty bartenders in swimwear. Instead, this Grand Avenue mainstay and dive bar favorite is a blend of every personality on the downtown spectrum. Friendly, long-term bartenders serve drinks to the business crowd, hipsters, and artists from nearby neighborhoods, and, ahem, more regular joes who have been visiting the bar for years. The Bikini first opened its doors way back in 1946, making it the oldest watering hole in Phoenix. It maintains its '40s appeal, only making basic repairs throughout the years, while updating its overall vibe with professional DJs spinning several nights a week.
Formerly the First Quarter and Johnny’s East Side, this east Phoenix standalone bar is easily spotted, but we’re sure, often avoided. More fun for us at Breakroom Bar & Grill, then. The bar staff is accommodating, and the patrons are usually just trying to play pool. As the name would suggest, there are numerous pool tables and dart machines, bar-wide parties for heavy drinking days like St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve, pub food with billiard-related nicknames, dangerously inexpensive drink specials, and plenty of bar game tournaments and karaoke nights to feed your competitive side.
Imagine your zany uncle wanting to convert the basement into a bar and your aunt letting him. The result would probably be a lot like the Do Drop In. With its wood paneling, drop ceiling, and low fluorescent lighting, this iconic Sunnyslope watering hole has been a neighborhood mainstay for years. It's an odd place, featuring a curious collection of libations (everything from Oskar Blues Old Chub to Alaskan White Ale, and single servings of Sutter Home), along with cheap-ass cigarettes and microwave snacks of the greasy and belly-busting variety. The Do Drop doesn't make apologies for that — or so suggests the "No Sniveling" sign above the bar. The locals may take a while to warm up to you, and the tough-but-tender barkeep is quick to give a newcomer some heat for not closing the front door, but once you've paid your dues, do drop in again, won't you?
Jupe’s first opened way back in the early 1980s, and certainly looks every bit its age. That’s not a slight by any means, however. We wouldn’t change a thing about this out-of-the-way scruffy Mesa haunt — from the crumbling stucco and mismatched office furniture in the smoking area outside, to the patchwork wood paneling and period-specific beer signs inside — nor would its die-hard devotees and neighborhood regulars. They’re welcoming to a fault, much like the members of the same family that have slung suds in ice-cold mugs for three decades, to those who can find this word-of-mouth spot, though they’ll sass you for rooting against their beloved Minnesota Vikings or trying to pay for a $1 Jell-O shot and Natty Light chaser with plastic, since Jupe’s has been cash only, and big on Purple Pride, since Day One.
Once known as the notorious Liguori Lounge — a spillover joint for the defunct rock 'n' roll landmark the Mason Jar — this CenPho dive has maintained its neighborhood hidey-hole status by welcoming a diverse, and sometimes tough, crowd. Down the narrow hallway running the length of the bar (which is peppered with license plates, airbrushed pics of hotties, and feline photography) Kat's opens up into a rec room of sorts with pool, free Texas hold'em tournaments, and a claw game filled with porn DVDs. The longtime locals are happy to chat it up while downing daily drink specials or happy hour brews, and they won't hesitate to dance whenever a Bette Midler song booms from the jukebox.
There are a few reasons why people sometimes refer to this Tempe institution as the "Dirty Verde" — and it ain’t just because that’s a cute and clever nickname. Put simply, the cash-only Palo Verde is a lovably well-worn mess that boasts an array of band stickers covering the walls, myriad graffiti adorning every single inch of both restrooms (even the old-school condom machine above the urinal), and more funk than the Motown catalog. And we love it just the same. A curious cross-section from all over Tempe (be they college kids, neighborhood folks, or people just hanging out in the back) visit the Verde to start their drinking during the daytime or to grab one last round before last call (and it gets even weirder on the weekends). Cheap booze flows like water here, and a variety of local punk, hardcore, metal, and noise rock bands perform in the middle of the room when there's a show.
Set among all the new restaurants and coffee shops along Seventh Street in Uptown, find Pomeroy’s tucked away in the Cinema Park Village Shopping Center. This place has been family-owned and titled Pomeroy’s since it opened in 1983, and it is certainly a neighborhood hang. Unless the door is cracked open, there’s no way you can tell the time of day. Instead, try a game of pool, explore the small arcade area, order some wings, gaze at all the weird shit decorating the bar area, or try to explain to your neighboring stool-warmer how Venmo works (actually, don’t). This wood-paneled haven is the perfect daytime drinking escape, or even just good place to kill a lunch hour.
Though 16th Street is filled with its share of Mexican food joints, discotecas, and distractions, nothing stands out as brightly in the darkness of night as the vintage sign adorning the Royale Lounge. While dive-seekers and hipsters make evenings and weekends busy, the bar stays lively during the day with working stiffs squeezing a beer or two in on a lunch break, and neighborhood regulars sipping spirits around the clock. If their conversations aren't enough to keep your attention, their pinball machine, pool table, jukebox, and an amber-colored jar of pickled eggs might do the trick. The bartenders are plenty amicable, but don't try to pay with anything other than simoleons, as The Royale is a cash-only joint.
When you, ahem, wander in to this east Phoenix barroom, it's immediately obvious you're in for some real dive bar debauchery. Happy hour runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Wanderin, and drink prices are scribbled on liquor bottles with a Sharpie. Wanderin opens at 6 a.m. to an old-school, hard-drinkin' neighborhood crowd that's anything but bashful when it comes to socializing. The back room is never used, and the no-frills interior has seen better days. Along with the booze, the joint boasts an array of cheap, microwaved munchies, and, of course, cigarettes. When you're not busy petting the Chihuahua relaxing on the stool next to you, or doing shots whenever the regulars shout "Get 'er done!" feel free to talk with one of the down-to-earth barkeeps or play "Solitary Man" by Neil Diamond on the jukebox, and watch the place break into song.
Lots of bars try to pass themselves off as "friendly," but how many places are cool with customers' pooches scampering about? Saying Westwood Tap is a "welcoming" place is an understatement when you see a schnauzer cruising past the cocktail waitress slinging drinks. Doggies aren't the last of Westwood's charms: A vending machine glows in the corner, ready to dispense munchies or cigarettes, and the venue's long mirror, which runs the length of the bar, makes it possible to watch the developing action in the room as if it were a widescreen movie. Join the patrons as they shout at the basketball game on TV, and sing along to the piano bit from "Layla," or plop down at the bar's retro-grooviest feature, a cocktail unit arcade equipped with Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga.
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Go to Time Out Lounge when you don’t want to be on Mill Avenue anywhere north of University Drive. Time Out has been owned by Laura Kelly-Phillips and Ed (a.k.a. the Tall Man) since 1988, and you'll often find them behind the bar. Marked by the “Sorry We’re Open” door in the back corner of the Huntington Square Shopping Center, Time Out is known for its pool tables, live music, drink specials, and its regulars. Hungry patrons can also order pizza from Zesty Zzeeks, as the place is BYOF. Best thing about this place? Look for the forgotten keys and credit cards in the ceiling tiles.
Ahoy, mateys. There be more than a few barflies that gather within the cramped confines of this pirate-themed dive located in north Phoenix’s Sunnyslope. Maybe they come for the weekly Wii bowling or shuffleboard tournaments. Then again, it might be for the inexpensive drinks (which are handily listed on the wall as “grogs”), the amiable vibe, and the ultra-friendly bartenders that will eagerly pour ‘em another round here at Rum Runners. Be warned scallywags, they won’t take any of your guff and will quickly deep-six anyone who’s had a few too many or gets too rowdy. Just be grateful they won’t make you walk the plank.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on August 15, 2016. It was updated on December 24, 2019.
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