This list was updated May 2016, per suggestions from our readers. This is a living list and we welcome you to tell us about places we have missed.
Miami’s nightlife continues to reinvent itself as it caters to both locals and tourists looking for a way to escape the everyday life and bask in the sexiness of our city. With craft cocktail culture taking the city by storm, and bars multiplying in the trendier parts of town, sometimes what the spirit needs is just a good old watering hole to seek refuge. No frills. No bullshit. And no $13 drinks that take an hour to make and burn a hole in your pocket faster than you can say “Cheers!” Take a tour of our favorite Miami dive bars.
Now, we all know the popular South Beach dives like Anthony Bourdain’s favorite Mac’s Club Deuce, Ted’s Hideaway and Lost Weekend deliver when that raunchy nerve calls to us, but if you reside on the mainland, our neighborhoods nestle some great dives without the Beach hassles. For many of us, these joints were the foundation of our adventures in tippling.
Fox’s Lounge, also known as Fox’s Sherron Inn, has officially taken the title of oldest bar in Miami after the city’s beloved Tobacco Road poured one last round this October. This South Miami staple has been going strong since 1946. Its liquor license dates to 1940, when it was originally set to open before WWII put a halt on construction. Most of us grew up thinking it was a strip club — because of the seedy neon sign on its US1 facade — until around the age of 16, when older friends disclosed the magical “ventanita.” Before Wynwood became the hipster hub of town, Tuesday nights at Fox’s were the hangout for “alternative” types looking for cheap drinks, indie tracks to sway to, and cigarette-fueled debates in the back parking lot.
A skip and a hop away, in the shopping strip that has become Sunset Place mall, lies an historic 1920’s pine cottage that has been a gift shop, tea room, doctor’s office, and a great neighborhood dive bar. Nestled within lush fuchsia bougainvillea bushes, Bouganvillea’s Old Florida Tavern, or “Bougie’s” provides locals — in particular UM students — with cheap libations and live music. Wednesday ladies night and Thursday’s reggae nights are particular favorites. Admit it, we’ve all gotten down to Jahfe at some point.
If you’re not put off by the college crowds (you were there once too, remember?), then pick up a game of beer pong or darts at Coconut Grove’s Barracuda Raw Bar and Grill. What makes this bar different from its surrounding student haunts is the surprising selection of craft beers on tap they’ve carried even before good beer was “a thing” in Miami. Share a couple of pitchers with friends and make foes while taking turns selecting songs on their state of the art jukebox — arguably the only thing that’s kept up-to-date in this hole.
Speaking of selecting songs, on an unassuming stretch of Red Road, on the edge of Coral Gables, you’ll spot an old baby blue cadillac with a surfboard on the roof. This vintage beauty is parked in front of worn-down, wooden paneled, ‘50s retro Seven Seas. The cozy space is decked out in Americana, with neon signs, old photographs, hanging flags, a pool table and a juke box. But the action happens in the small corner of the main room, where on Saturday nights, you’ll find the most eclectic of patrons belching the lyrical sounds of their favorite karaoke tunes — be it a couple of nerds doing their insider rendition of “Mr. Roboto,” or abuelo reminiscing through a Willie Colon ballad. Karaoke at Seven Seas may not be home to the next winner of The Voice, but belting it out there is a Miami institution.
Another tried-and-true dive is Coral Gables staple The Bar, which has been there before Coral Way’s favorite mile developed it’s mystical allure. The Bar continues to embrace those who need to loosen up their ties after a long day at work. Friday lady’s happy hour and their annual St. Patrick’s pachanga are a rite of passage for Miamians.
So is catching a soccer match or your favorite punk or “underground” (often for a reason) band at Churchills in Little Haiti — the boldest of neighborhood sore thumbs. At times you look around the place, spacious for a “dive”, with two main rooms and a patio, and it’s surprising that it’s actually one of the most important music venues in town. But really, what keeps us coming back to this 30-year-old bar is the people-watching.You won’t find the motley Churchill’s cast of characters under one roof on any given night anywhere else in town.
Downtown’s newest favorite destination for delightful degenerates is Pub One. We’ve all been hiding out there, behind their pitch-black window tint, which keeps the hustle and bustle of downtown out of your imbibing business. Surprisingly enough, it is actually the cleanest dive on this list and, and makes for one hell of an interesting date — especially one whom you don’t really want to be seen with.
Billy’s Pub Too is also good for a clandestine meetup, unless you’re a North Miami resident or a Barry or J&W student. Don’t expect cleanliness here, grime lines the walls as if it had been lathered on them, and you’re bound to carry that familiar bar funk home. The charm, however, is unparalleled, and you’ll feel warm and fuzzy the second you hear the ding on the vintage cash register machines, push buttons and stamp sheets included.
If you seek the ultimate disconnect from reality, decked with grimy, dark, raunchy, trashy, and altogether charming allure, then make a field trip down to Eureka (fitting for 184th) to find yourself at home at Goodfellas Bar & Grill in West Perrine. Bikers and blue-collar types drink their sorrows away while Shelly and Nancy pour them some heavy spirits that are light on the wallet. It’s $3 bucks for mixed drinks. The place is altogether magical, with sea creature imprints on the round bar, underneath a raft hanging from the ceiling. Talk about a dive.
Sometimes the best things in life are the one you stumble upon unexpectedly. That is the case for Mike’s at Venetia. Located on the 9th floor of the condo building called Venetia (hence the name), its probably the kind of place you heard about through a friend or came across on Yelp and decided to give it a try, as you would not stumble across it while walking the neighborhood. But it is very definition of a hidden gem. It’s far from fancy, but it has that “locals only” vibe that makes you settle in comfortably. The clientele will always be a mixed bag, but thats part of the charm. Oh and the best part? You can have a meal and get good and tipsy for under $30.
If you’re seeking a dive bar that serves to remind you that you are still very much in Miami, then Sandbar Lounge in North Beach gives you just that. Staying true to its name, its floor is covered in two inches of fresh sand and there are two large lifeguard chairs in the corner. While at first glance it does not come off as a typical dive since it is well lit and not overtly seedy, it serves dive vibes at dive bar prices.
There is no glitz and glamour to Eddie’s Place in Sweetwater. But it’s been around for 40 years so clearly they are doing something right. You will not get a world famous mojito or craft cocktail, but what you will get is exactly what you’d expect from a dive bar. You’ll get a dark, smoky bar full of interesting characters, a working jukebox, pools tables, a rickety darts board, an old cigarette dispenser in the corner and drinks that won’t break the bank. And if you’re really lucky that night, you’ll get Manny as your bartender. He comes highly recommended from our readers.
When it comes to a down and dirty dive experience, Happy Stork’s (affectionately called Happy’s by its regulars) in North Bay Village is perfect. That is, if your version of perfect is Bruce Springsteen blasting in the background while raspy voiced locals chat you up over some of the cheapest drinks in town. It’s a quintessential dive in every way- no frills, no lace, just the Miami grime we’ve come to love.
You may need to take a shower right about now, but having to get decked out and dressed up to go out all the time can be a drag. Luckily, these are just a handful of the watering holes that cater to the Miami dive barfly. Tell us your favorites in the comments.
Paula Echevarria is a gregarious locavore and multimedia freelance journalist currently working as the Miami editor for Tasting Table.