When I was in college, every Thursday we went to “the Deuce.” The reason why is fairly murky. It’s not because it was particularly near our school. You had to take a cab to get there. Nor was it because there was a lack of dive bars near campus (RIP The Keg of Evanston with your big cups, stale popcorn, and very occasional murder — you served us well). But still, despite its inconvenience, every Thursday without fail a few hundred Northwestern students piled into cabs (usually 7-8 of us thick) and headed across the Evanston/Chicago border to a ridiculous dive bar in Skokie officially called the Mark II Lounge. It was open until 4am, and it was super classy…if by classy you mean exactly the opposite of that.
The rumor was that the tradition of Northwestern students going to the Mark II harkened back to prohibition, when liquor couldn’t be served in Evanston so desperate students found a dive right across the border in Chicago that would serve them (before you go thinking this is a cool 1920’s speakeasy bar, you should know that prohibition basically started in Evanston and then stubbornly held on until the 1970’s). Who knows if that creation story is true, but whatever the reason, we went willingly like herded sheep, and my memories of the Deuce are some of the best of college. The packed dive with random karaoke, cheap, bad beer, and free pizza was the center of a million crazy nights with friends that can only really happen in college. It was a cornerstone of many of our going out experiences. And while there were probably as many nights there crying as laughing and dancing, I couldn’t remember a place more fondly.
A good dive bar isn’t so much about the place, but the energy it gives off. It’s the history that seems to be ground deep into the sticky floors that presumably haven’t been washed ever since your favorite author or singer used to frequent the joint. If Rent measures a life in love, dive bars measure a life in pitchers of cheap beer, terrible bathrooms, crazy knick knacks, jukebox songs that can only be sung while shouting, and the amount of grizzled, tattooed motorcyclists playing pool in the corner. It’s where you play quarters on dirty tables, and happily eat frozen pizza with Bud Light to chase your Jameson shot. Dive bars are a place where you do not walk, you only stumble. And when you stumble upon the perfect dive, it just feels like home.
At Uproxx, we love a fancy cocktail once in awhile, but there’s something irresistible about our favorite dives. And so, we compiled them here. That way you too might enjoy the best dives we’ve found (and personally love) in America. Just do us a favor, don’t make them too hispter-y if you go, we like ’em dirty.
The Sip n’ Dip Lounge (Great Falls, Montana)
Look, I can’t recommend that you fly to Great Falls specifically to go this tiki lounge. But GQ can (and did!) in a list of best bars in the country — saying it was the number one bar on earth worth flying to (okay it was in 2003, but it’s still true!). Great Falls isn’t on my list of top places that I would tell people to visit in Montana (to be honest), but if you’re driving through the state, I would highly recommend a visit to the Sip n’ Dip. It’s a pretty incredible place. The interior has that classic 60’s tiki look that I’ve seen many a bar try to imitate. This is the real deal. Live “Mermaids” swim in the pool behind the bar every night, and you can’t go wrong with a drink the size of a fishbowl (whether you split it or decide to tackle it by yourself is between you and your God). It’s all great, but I think the best part of the Sip n’ Dip is Pat, who has been singing and playing the piano there since 1963. That’s right, this place has an elderly woman who has been performing covers at the little Montana bar for over 50 years and she’s awesome. #lifegoals
Go there. It’s magical.