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.

If your task was to create the first bartender, how would you design him? (Keep in mind that the first female bartender would be created later, from his rib.)

Surely his appearance would be vaguely rockabilly, to indicate his class, admiration for the old ways of doing things, and lurking wildness. He would have slicked-back hair and wear workman jeans with a giant set of keys dangling from the belt loop. His pristine-white cowboy snap shirt would have the sleeves rolled up, to display his bicep tattoos.

He would make vodka Collinses and whiskey sours in pint glasses, squeezing fresh lemons over a strainer and using real sugar. He would work at O'Connor's Bar, and when you arrived, he would salute you with his hand.

C'mon. It's called Mr. McGoo's.
Ashlei Quinones
C'mon. It's called Mr. McGoo's.
"Who you calling a dive?"
Ashlei Quinones
"Who you calling a dive?"

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

Opened in 1933, O'Connor's is an airy, roomy spot where you'll be able to find a seat. The music isn't too loud, and an American flag drapes the wall above naugahyde booths. Founder Patrick O'Connor died in 2006. He hated it when people called his joint a dive.

So we won't do that. We'll call it the garden of Eden of intoxication. And, speaking of which, this writer never caught the bartender's name. Frankly, he was worried that if he asked, the bartender might think he had a little crush on him, or something. And that would have been preposterous.

Reynolds Cafe
Washington Heights
4241 Broadway (at 180th Street), Manhattan, 212-923-8927

'Whatever you do, don't become a bartender," Jim says, shortly after a hysterical patron goes on a tirade about her baby daddy, who abandoned her immediately after conception. Reynolds Cafe's longtime barkeep repeats this maxim a couple more times and then pours himself a Smirnoff and water, no ice. There is Latin music and a rambunctious crowd, including two guys who go into the tiny bathroom together, lock the door, and emerge 10 minutes later.

Reynolds is probably best known for its iconic neon-pink sign on the 180th Street side, but if anything belongs on the National Register of Historic Places, it's Jim himself. Short, rail-thin, almost toothless, and possessing sailor-style tattoos and a near-photographic memory for faces, he's been here since long before the neighborhood transitioned from white to brown. (How long exactly? "Mucho, mucho," he says.) The owner has been absent for decades, but he still calls in almost every day to ask Jim if there are any customers in the place. "How many?" he inquires. "Count them!"

Jim is stressed out, but he's a great guide. He explains that the animal head near the back of the bar once belonged to a bobcat, and that the mounted critter near the front is a weasel-like species hailing from South America. He then returns to bemoaning his fate, wondering aloud how he allowed himself to be lured back here out of retirement. He wanders outside for a smoke break every five minutes, each time muttering before he leaves, "Whatever you do, don't become a bartender."

Port 41
Hell's Kitchen
355 West 41st Street (between Eighth Avenueand Ninth Avenue), Manhattan, 212-947-1188

The brunette bartender, about the size and shape of Mila Kunis, says she is often asked, "Why are you wearing a bikini?" Because Port 41 is a bikini bar, she replies. She also keeps a heater running behind the bar—even in the summer—because it gets chilly there.

You may not know much about bikini bars, but they're all over the city, filling the gaps in a metro area lacking its share of strip clubs. Port 41 is more "sketchy dive bar" than "spectacle of flesh," however, and, unlike strip clubs, its drinks are affordable.

The clientele includes the cordial, like a Bensonhurst guy in a Hawaiian shirt who calls himself "Mr. Dive Bar" and was 86'd from Grassroots Tavern after being caught smoking pot in a closet (he thought it was a bathroom). It also includes the unfriendly, like an old guy with a cane sitting in the back room. He watches basketball by himself, a few feet away from an out-of-place wooden desk. Earlier in the night, this writer had seen a young dude drop something into one of the desk drawers, and now—curious journalist that he is—he walks over and opens the drawer.

"What are you doing?" the old guy demands.

"Nothing. A guy put something here, and I wanted to see what it was."

"Don't worry about that!"

Later, a muscular guy comes in carrying a large plastic bag, stuffed to the gills with items that are hard to make out. He meets up with the old guy in the back room, and leaves empty-handed.

Meanwhile, the bartender assures a pair of patrons that "The top stays on."

Tip-Top Bar & Grill
Bedford-Stuyvesant
432 Franklin Avenue (between Madison Street and Putnam Street), Brooklyn, 718-857-9744

Tip-Top Bar & Grill is not easy on the eyes. The doors and windows are covered with iron bars, the interior is drenched in Christmas lights, and there's tinsel. Lots of tinsel. The crew, however, is first-rate. They include:

Corrine, who is in charge of dispensing the food, which is free. Wearing a newsboy cap and glasses that are missing a stem, she serves up wieners, chili, Swedish meatballs, cucumber slices, and fish cakes on Styrofoam plates. It is borderline indigestible, but bless her for going to the trouble.

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