Where have all the dive bars gone?
To some, upscale bistros with craft cocktail menus and in-house mixologists embody the ideal classy adult night out. If you’re 30-something, have a couple kids, and live out in TGI Fridays suburbia, I totally get that when you come into the city for a little “girls' night out,” you want an $11 craft cocktail full of ingredients like “spiced beet syrup” and “orange blossom water” to be served to you by a bearded mixologist in thick-rimmed glasses. It’s fun, quirky, yada yada yada.
And perhaps I’m jaded. I’ve lived downtown for a while, and I’ve been to all the hipster joints. On occasion, perhaps while showing out-of-towners how much class and culture Richmond has, these places are fine. But what about those times when you’re actually trying to save your pennies while still being out amongst the living, instead of home huddling under your duvét, trying not to get too many Ritz cracker crumbs in your bed?
The answer? Dive bars. And though they’re becoming few and far between due to the onslaught of craft cocktail enthusiasts, they’re still here -- and they deserve to be celebrated. So I present to you, Richmond’s five best remaining dive bars.
[caption id="attachment_6492" align="aligncenter" width="650"]
Photo courtesy of http://www.gayrva.com/[/caption]
Arguably the only dive bar left in Carytown, Babe’s is a longstanding favorite. While Saturday nights are notoriously crazy (with a DJ, a $5 cover charge, and a dance floor you can barely get through), Tuesday through Friday, this place is fantastic. Their happy hour deals are insane ($1 PBRs!), the bartenders are super chill, and the atmosphere is strangely charming. It’s kind of dark and dingy, and you can tell that not much has changed in the past 20 years, but that’s what’s so great about it.
[caption id="attachment_6472" align="aligncenter" width="650"]
Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Roark[/caption]
The first time I went to Bubba’s, I just about lost it. First of all, it allows smoking inside, so as soon as you enter, it’s like the ghost of Bubba himself greets you with a nicotine-flavored kiss. The walls are covered in old cardboard beer ads, and there are pool tables, a stage, a mural depicting a neon orange and green Western scene, and a perfect array of regular customers at the bar. It wasn’t hard to integrate into their pack, and once inside, you'll hear stories about the legendary bar that span back 50 years.
[caption id="attachment_6487" align="aligncenter" width="650"]
Photo courtesy of https://www.mapquest.com/us/virginia/[/caption]
This place has gotten a bad rap and has even been called “the worst bar in Richmond” -- but I beg to differ. Go on a Wednesday night for karaoke, sing some Melissa Etheridge, drink a dirt-cheap rail, and just get into it. They have a very eclectic clientele — older folks who've been coming for years, as well as younger people who share my appreciation for smoky dives.
[caption id="attachment_6494" align="aligncenter" width="650"]
Photo courtesy of http://www.visithenrico.com[/caption]
Lakeside in general is just under-the-radar cool, so it’s no surprise that Lakeside Tavern has the same kind of vibe. They also have karaoke (because most good dive bars do, obviously), but they do it here five nights a week. So if you’re into listening to a 65-year-old man in cowboy boots sing Glenn Campbell songs all night, definitely pop in. They also have a “Korean” section on their menu ... So along with the typical greasy burger and onion rings that dives usually have, you can get some version of Korean food there. I personally haven't tried it, but if you do, let me know how it is!
[caption id="attachment_6488" align="aligncenter" width="650"]
Photo courtesy of http://bevyrichmond.blogspot.com[/caption]
This is a “Fan Favorite”… literally. Located in the heart of the Fan, Chiocca’s has been around since 1952, making it one of the oldest bars in the area. And the great thing is, it feels
old -- not in a gross way, but in a fun, wood-paneled-walls-low-ceiling-neon-sign kind of way. Plus, it always smells like toasted bread because they make quality sandwiches that consistently score excellent Yelp reviews (seriously, go check).
So stop being pretentious and flocking to places that offer dandelion syrup egg white martinis, and go get yourself a $2 Natty Bo and watch some Nascar at a local dive bar.
Where are some other hidden gem dive bars in Richmond? Tell us in the comments below!