New York's Best Dive Bars

In his new book, New York City's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the Big Apple, Ben Westhoff riffs on the five boroughs' finest dumps. Here are his 10 favorites.

He goes to meet up with friends at Otto's Shrunken Head, and later comes back to Blarney Cove and sits down at the bar. Margie doesn't notice him at first, too busy drinking, head-banging to the Beastie Boys, and offering up her own altered lyrics: You've gotta fight/For your right/For beer!

Blarney Cove is the real deal, a long sliver with one wood-paneled wall and one faux-brick wall. It's the kind of place where a guy wearing a straw fedora will smoke a cigarette while playing video poker, and then mash the butt on the floor with his shoe once he's done; the type of spot with a pay phone where people regularly receive calls, and a gumball machine that dispenses pistachios.

Finally, Margie notices the writer. She grabs his hand and pulls him over to where a man in a thin mustache and a beefy guy called "Popeye" are sitting.

Nobody's in charge.
Sarah Sellars
Nobody's in charge.
A bar held together by duct tape.
Sarah Sellars
A bar held together by duct tape.

Location Info

Map

Nancy Whiskey Pub

1 Lispenard St.
New York, NY 10013

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Tribeca

Billymark's West

332 9th Ave.
New York, NY 10001

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Chelsea

Blarney's Cove

510 E. 14th St.
New York, NY 10009

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: East Village

Holland Bar

532 9th Ave.
New York, NY 10019

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: West 50s

O'Connor's Bar

39 5th Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Brooklyn

Tobacco Road

355 W. 41st St.
New York, NY 10036

Category: Attractions and Amusement Parks

Region: West 40s

"Next time, you must ask Popeye before you take pictures. He's in charge," she says.

But isn't it your bar?

"Popeye's in charge."

In truth, nobody's in charge at Blarney Cove. It has its own forward momentum, slowly spiraling out of control.

Holland Bar
Hell's Kitchen
532 Ninth Avenue (between 39th Street and 40th Street), Manhattan, 212-502-4609

Some folks complain that Manhattan has become Disneyland, but pockets of Hell's Kitchen feel, appropriately, more like Hades.

On a steamy night at Holland Bar, a general contractor named Albert talks about all the shit he's gone through in his life. Much of it is because he grew up in bad Brooklyn neighborhoods, he says, and because he takes pride in his race. His backward baseball cap features glittering dollar signs, and he also sports sunglasses and Timberlands. His tattoos include a pair of tear drops near his left eye, a spiderweb over his elbow, and other Aryan-themed ink beneath his clothes.

He nonetheless gets along swimmingly with Jeff, the black bartender, who doesn't remove him even after he knocks over somebody's beer with an unsteady paw. This is only his fourth drink, Albert pleads. Here, that is. Truth be told, he's been drinking since noon, 12 solid hours. It would have been more, but at 10 a.m., a deli employee said he couldn't buy booze yet because it was Sunday. "I'll die if I have to wait," he joked (but not really). Fortunately, he now has a bottle stashed in his bag to help him wind down later.

The recently reopened Holland Bar looks like the kind of place that is held together with duct tape—and the bathroom door literally is. The giant, magnificently scripted "Holland" sign behind the bar dates from the 1930s, a holdover from the joint's former incarnation as Holland Welfare Hotel's saloon, over on 42nd Street. The hotel didn't survive, but the dive and the sign were transplanted here.

Before long, another regular comes in, a guy whose right side of the face has bubbled up and nearly melted off. Despite being hard to look at, he is greeted warmly.

Holland Bar is rough around the edges, but it's not so bad. The air circulation is decent, the people—if sometimes harboring unfortunate ideas about race—are friendly. And the help is non-judgmental.

Mr. McGoo's Pub
Riverdale
5602 Broadway (between West 231st Street and West 232nd Street), the Bronx, 718-548-9810

Lots of wise guys hang out at Mr. McGoo's—meaning, they're funny guys. That said, almost all of them are overweight, have mustaches, or talk like Joe Pesci. A night there might go something like this:

Fat Guy No. 1: You like my sauce?

Bald Guy: I told you I like your sauce.

Fat Guy No. 1: No, you said you had a toothache that night.

Fat Guy No. 2: [Talking on cell phone] I love you, and I don't even know your name. What's your name?

Bartender: [To Ben and his friend, Rose] "500 Pounds of Fun."

Fat Guy No. 2: Delilah? [Pauses] I'm not big on names. [Pauses] I'm telling you, don't let him use your hairspray. [Hangs up phone, addresses bald guy] You guys gotta come skiing with us. Hunter Mountain. Last year, I was drunk 71 out of 72 hours and the other hour I was passed out, so I may have been drunk then, too, I just don't remember. They treat me like a king up there. And the food! We get up, wave hello at the slopes, and then go get drunk. Although I went tubing last time.

Bald Guy: How many times?

Fat Guy No. 2: Four times.

Bald Guy: Four times?

Fat Guy No. 2: They didn't tell me that the fatter you are, the faster you go. It was terrifying. Me and this other guy tied our tubes together and went down the hill at 850 miles an hour.

Bald Guy: [To Ben and Rose] That's 850 miles an hour, remember—not 856.

Bartender: [To Ben and Rose] You guys should come.

Fat Guy No. 1: Anybody who spends time in my summer house ain't comin' back.

Ben and Rose: See you guys later.

O'Connor's Bar
Park Slope
39 Fifth Avenue (between Bergen Street and Dean Street), Brooklyn, 718-783-9721

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