Far from the trendy, Edison bulb-bedecked spaces taking over cities across the country, America’s dive bars are tiny microcosms of a city’s cultural landscape…and Baltimore certainly has its fair share. The city boasts many a dimly lit establishment, dripping with the weird, dated, unpretentious majesty that makes Charm City one of America’s most unique cities. These dives aren’t speakeasies or sports bars. They don’t have a brand or social media presence. They’re family owned and modestly staffed, and they’re not high-class joints—they’re places for everyone, from everywhere.
Ready to belly up to the bar? Check out my five favorite dives.
916 W. 36th St.
While it’s not an old, established joint, Asian Taste still gets right to the heart of Baltimore’s quirkiness. What can one expect out of a night at the Chinese take-out restaurant and bar, famous for its a $5 Natty Boh-and-a-shot deal and friendly bartender named Quest? An experience as funny and bizarre as the spot’s de rigeur combination of cheap late-night Chinese food, blotto locals and live, hard-and-loud metal music.
3 Miles House
2701 Miles Ave.
This tiny Remington bar has been in operation for more than 50 years—and in fact, it’s less a bar and more of a living room for the folks that live on the 2600 and 2700 blocks of Miles Ave. Capacity is capped at 20, and the bar itself only sits about six or seven people…but it’s got a great jukebox filled with rock, pop and country classics, and the Keno and slot machines are rarely unattended. Even quirkier? A restricted liquor license means the highest-proof alcohol served is 20% Japanese rice wine, offered by the shot.
398 W. 29th St.
Just a couple blocks from 3 Miles House is the larger and more eclectic Long John’s. The bartenders are funny and friendly, joking with and ragging on the locals that fill the space on weeknights and weekends—you won’t find many folks journeying from outside of Remington to check out Long John’s. Despite the digital jukebox (you win some, you lose some), it’s a great place to take whiskey shots, wash them down with a Boh and throw darts in the corner.
1724 N. Charles St.
Club Charles is the perfect amalgamation of everything that I love about Baltimore. At the eccentric spot, everyone feels welcome and no one ever wants to leave, and there are endless reasons why: the carefully curated jukebox, the red-and-white David Lynch motif, the many local celebrity sightings, the strong and cheap drinks (the Manhattan is a favorite of mine) and more. Club Charles (or Club Chuck, as locals call it) feels instantly classic—it’s unpretentious but also totally indulgent, and only in Baltimore could those two sentiments coexist so majestically.
339 S. Conkling St.
Tucked into the basement of an old house in Highlandtown is Venice Tavern, where draft beers are always $3 and an Old Fashioned will never set you back more than $4.50. The tiny, nearly windowless bar features a pool table, a jukebox (are you sensing a theme?) and vintage décor heavily influenced by Baltimore’s boxing history. The eclectic setup is actually—accidentally—a little hip: You’d be likely to find it mimicked in a “speakeasy” selling $16 cocktails in Brooklyn. But thank God this is Baltimore, and Venice is the real deal.
1919 E. Fleet St.
This might be the best bar in Baltimore (or anywhere, really). Open for over 30 years, 1919 has live music two nights a week and features an open mic night on Wednesday nights that often sees local blue collar folks and Fells Point yuppies clashing in a friendly game of “Stop playing that shitty indie song!” It’s decorated with a mix of rustic shabby-chic décor, full of old chandeliers and tchotchkes of all shapes and sizes. Fun fact: When I ordered a beer and a shot and offered up my credit car to open a tab, the bartender smiled and said, “That’s okay, I don’t need your card. I have two bull terriers I’ll send after ya if you try to skip on the bill.”