Dive Inns

The Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco, California.

Complicated times call for simple drinks. They need not be bad, just simple. Exotic ingredients, lengthy infusions and little blenders all contribute to the pleasure of drinking, but do they add to the fun? Can these elements give us all we need in these crazy days? We are a complicated people, so of course they cannot. That’s where your local comes in. Call these little gems whatever you please: Dive bar, the neighborhood joint, or simply, one’s favorite “cut.” These are the establishments that keep the times good even when they’re not. Here’s a list of locals from Tallin, Estonia, to Venice, California.


Hinano Café / Located on Washington Boulevard in Venice, a couple hundred yards from the pier, Hinano is the ultimate beach dive. Sawdust and peanut shells cover the ground, and the smell of really greasy (and actually really good) hamburgers fills the air. The cast of characters at this hole on any given night ranges from the local hip and arty crowd to Jimbo in the tank who’s been there since noon and been comin’ since ‘Nam. One time, I saw a 40-year-old woman peeing in the sink. It’s that sort of place.
15 Washington Blvd., Venice, CA

The Otheroom / Oh, The Otheroom… you sweet, surly broad, how I both love you so much, and, at the same time, sometimes sort of want to bomb you. Your smell, your dirty dish rag and dank beer musk, can simultaneously make my heart smile, make me so happy to call Venice home, and, at times, make me want to throw up in my mouth, choke on it, and die.

Clearly, I come to this bar a lot. Or, at least, I used to. I love the bouncers, I love the bartenders, and now here’s a fun fact: the dad of one of bartenders used to be my gynecologist in Connecticut. (How we arrived at that discovery was a conversational left turn like no other.)

Located on the increasingly popular and increasingly gentrified Abbott Kinney Boulevard, The Otheroom is a local staple. It has gotten so popular the bouncers now require a Venice I.D. for admittance on the weekends. They play really good music (indie, electro, blah, blah, blah) though they play it too loud. The high ceilings, exposed brick walls, and huge, open-up-to-the-outside glass windows make you feel like you’re in New York. They allow dogs, which is sort of neat and neighborhood-y. They only serve beer and wine, but the beer list is massive, international and obscure, and while the wines by the glass are not nearly as good, that hasn’t stopped me from happily lapping up a glass, or six, on many a night.
1201 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA

C&O Trattoria / With its “That’s Amore” singing servers, massive (literally one plate is fit for four) portions of pasta and garlic knots so good they actually warn you not to eat too many (but you always do), C&O isn’t so much a dive bar as a dive-y Italian restaurant with—get this—an “honor bar.”
I will repeat the bar is an honor bar. In this honor system the waiter draws a smiley face on your white paper placemat and every time you refill your wine glass from the jugs of Chianti lining the wall, you have to draw a hair on the smiley face. Don’t think you’re fooling your waiter when your teeth look like you just won a blackberry pie eating contest, your eyes are crossed and you’re walking to and from said jug like a shark swims.
1201 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA
Text by Lilibet Snellings

C&O Tattoria in Venice, California.


Bacchus Kirk / Situated somewhere between Tender and Nob, Bacchus Kirk is everything a dive-bar should be. Not a pick-up scene or a hipster hang out or a stiff-shirt see-me, the Kirk has been doing its thing quietly to the delight of neighborhooders and travelers for years. With beautiful Sharon as its Scottish owner, and with Brazilian (Pam!), South African (George!), and artist (Mikey!) bartenders, it feels more like a ski-lodge in Switzerland than a trendy SF bar. It even looks like a ski-lodge with its angular wood ceiling, fresh hardwood floor and bar and fireplace. What dive bar is complete without the most competitive non-pool-hall pool table in the city (write your name on the board or face the wrath of locals), and a smoking room, and a warm, orange glow, Bacchus is a haven for people who aren’t trying to game you or be gamed.
925 Bush St, San Francisco, CA

John Colins / Start with the “J.C.”, a fixture on little Natoma Street. Walk through those curtains at 5:00 and leave your day behind. Half booming bass, half sweet soul, this bar caters to the good times. Street style and high style meet over tropical cocktails and classic hip hop. With these bartenders the young crowd couldn’t be in better hands. Any one of them can rock the party!
90 Natoma St., San Francisco, CA

83 Proof / Venture a few blocks over to First and Mission and search out 83 Proof. This no signage, understated bar is home to one of the most packed happy hours in S.F. The boys behind the bar make any of the day’s troubles disappear. Though the décor is smart and the lighting is low, this is really just a great neighborhood bar. Frequent this bar more than once and you are likely to make some friends. The crowd couldn’t be more of a mix, anyone working downtown is likely to show up. 83 Proof is the bar that downtown can not do without.
83 First St., San Francisco, CA

House Of Shields / Standing regal, directly across from the Palace Hotel is House of Shields. This bar is a downtown classic. The turn of the century décor is a beautiful way to frame this rock ’n roll crowd. Art kids, bike messengers and young professionals in the know gather around for cold beer and honest cocktails. The gals behind the bar are tough, tatooed, and super sweet. The music is loud and rockin’. There is not a better way to start a night of drinking than at the House of Shields.
39 New Montgomery St., San Francisco
Text by Gabriel Leif Bellman

Hemlock Tavern / Nestled in an unassuming corner in the Tenderloin, Hemlock Tavern is the quintessential silent hipster dive bar. From the outside it looks like your average dive with a full bar, pool tables, and dark lighting. It’s not until you venture inside that you realize that this bar is much more. Pabst Blue Ribbon is on tap (a hipster must), happy hour everyday, and a bag of hot peanuts is a whopping $1. As you eat the peanuts you are instructed to throw the shells on the floor—giving the bar a slightly dirty, grunge feel, yet creating a sense of comfort. The economical drinks are not only easy on the wallet, but made with a bite. Jack and cokes are $4.50, with emphasis on the Jack. Hemlock even acts as a micro-venue, hosting shows (often punk or alternative) 5-6 nights out of the week. Even when the economy is fluctuating, the stability of a reliable and wallet-friendly bar is a sure thing at Hemlock. Afterall, for $10 or less you can get tipsy (2 drinks) and full (peanuts).
1131 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA
Text by Emily Huang


St. Nicholas Cafe / Forget about the grunge bar Holy Land that is the Zizkov district of Prague—the St. Nicholas is actually smack in the middle of international diplomat territory, which makes its trashy environs all the more glorious. In a gothic cellar just a stone’s throw from the American Embassy, it pulls in a cool, rocker crowd of locals and expats. Blue light, worn wooden furniture and cozy alcoves give it an air of bohemian romance. Order up shots of 76 proof Becherovka, an indigenous anise-based liquor with reputed medicinal qualities; just don’t fool yourself that it’s actually something good for you.
Prague, Czech Republic, Trziste 10

Horor Bar / In this fascinatingly ancient city (second in importance to Venice on unesco’s World Heritage List), which scored screen time in both Hostel and Casino Royale, descend into this lugubrious basement (there’s no sign) down a flight of candlelit stairs. Inside, down cheap, indigenous beer amidst creepy candelabras, rows of skulls and what seem to be actual human teeth embedded in the ceiling. Or plow through several rounds of absinthe or a blood-red house specialty liquor served in test tubes until you’re slumped over the broken down grand piano. The music is mostly goth-metal, and it’s located in an old Protestant church—so the blasphemy factor is not insignificant.
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic, Masna 22

Srodziemie / Now that we know Middle Earth is really populated with sex bombs like Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett and Orlando Bloom, suddenly it doesn’t seem quite so creepy. This dungeon-like cellar bar shamelessly plays upon the revival of Tolkien’s trilogy, not as a theme bar, but as a place that just kinda feels like it would be the regular drinking den of hordes of fantastical, mystical weirdos. Actually, it’s mostly students in this astonishingly stunning college town that can be found here downing cocktails with names like Frodo and Arwen’s Kiss, and digging on a hip soundtrack. Preciousss!
Krakow, Poland, Plac Wszystkich Swietych 8

Depeche Mode Bar / Probably not your place if you think Beck and Bright Eyes are the saviors of modern music (bleh). But if you’ve ever for a minute thought that Dave Gahan might, indeed, be your personal Jesus, this is your drinking Mecca. In a cool basement space in Tallinn’s charmingly boho Old Town, a lust-fueled overload of audio and video homage is paid to the synth gods of Basildon within its white stone walls. And it’s always teeming with austerely pretty Eastern new wave girls—who apparently find it too hard to shake the disease.
Tallinn, Estonia, Nunne 4
Text by Ken Scrudato