Top 10 dive bars in the Twin Cities

Categories: Top 10

The Bar.jpg
Sometimes the bar eats you
​Oh, man, who wants a drink? Some nights call for a darker than average drinking spot. Somewhere that serves stiff drinks without an attitude. A place where jeans are invited and dirty-sloganed T-shirts are plentiful. A joint with a great jukebox, beers on tap that don't have any ironic advertising, and a little peace and quiet from the Man. We need a dive bar.

Dive bars to us mean a neighborhood joint without pretention. A great burger and a pull-tab booth don't hurt. Every great neighborhood in this city has its own. We've collected a few of our favorites here.

10. Kelly's Depot Bar 

After years of hanging onto a name that seemed superfluous due to the empty, paved-over railroad tracks, the Depot is finally set to be a stop-off for thirsty rail travelers once the light rail is done. With luck it will hang in there through the construction. This is a great neighborhood joint that's a little light on the neighborhood. It's no-frills, just a quick pour on a tap or a stiff cocktail. It's got a full kitchen as well, an added dive bar bonus, and makes a great cheeseburger. (241 Kellogg Blvd. E, St. Paul; 651.298.0099)

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9. Red Dragon
When selecting a dive bar for an evening of debauchery, several criteria must be met. First, you want sketchy decor. Second, you want to be surrounded by interesting characters. Third, you want to get ripped for cheap. The Red Dragon gets a gold star for all three. The ambiance is seedy but not overwhelmingly so. The interior is a pleasant cross between an opium den and a pizza joint from the '80s. The outside is white concrete. By the doorway you'll find drunken smokers chatting with people on their way to the liquor store, gas station, or bus top. Inside you'll discover friendly barhoppers putting quarters in the jukebox for songs they will never hear. It doesn't matter anyway; they're going to sing along to whatever tune comes on. The drinks are insane. For $6 to $8 you can order a cocktail that will have you crawling home in less than an hour.(2116 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis; 612.874.8870) 

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8. The Rail Station
There's a disturbing lack of real bars around this Longfellow neighborhood. Most spots only carry a liquor license for wine and beer. While the Rail Station has the full liquor license, it also has all the accoutrements of a great neighborhood dive. It's got an extensive menu, pool tables, a designated and heavily populated smoker's spot, and meat raffles. Although the recent updates to the room make it considerably less divey than it used to be, the neighborhood regulars and an occasional gallivanting misanthrope bring it down to our level. (3675 Minnehaha Avenue, Minneapolis; 612.729.3663 website)

7. The Spot
A bar has occupied the northeast corner of Randolph and Victoria since 1885, and it's safe to say little but the name has changed in those 117 years. Then it was Wittmer's Saloon and Tobacco Shop; now it's the Spot. Michael O'Toole, the current proprietor, took over with a fellow bartender in 1983. "I was tired of working for crazy saloon owners," O'Toole explains. Most drinks cost $1.95, no matter if you want a whiskey and water or a pint of MGD. If you really want to unload some dough, order a pint of Guinness for $3.70. There's no happy hour, because it jacks up insurance costs. Like most St. Paul bars, the Spot used to be a union shop. Stan "Killer" Kowalski, the professional wrestler, was the bar's union rep. Every month he'd come by and hit up the bartenders for their dues. On Friday mornings back then, the Spot would be packed to overflowing with overnight workers from the nearby Univac plant. Nowadays there's still a steady run of 8 a.m. drinkers. It's a good bar to sit and watch baseball in--O'Toole is a big Twins fan. There are dartboards and a jukebox but no pool table (again, drives up the insurance). On the back wall are pictures of other Spot Bars around the world from Staples, Minnestoa, to London, England.  "It all started with the one in Bangkok," O'Toole says. "Some lady was stumbling down an alley and found a Spot Bar." This Spot, however, seems bound to remain exactly where it is. (859 Randolph Ave, St. Paul; 651.224.7433)

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6. Christiensen's Big V's Saloon
The thirtysomething knit-hat-topped guy returned from outside and announced, as if declaring the sky is blue, that it's 50 degrees out, and, oh, by the way, "Hey, that hooker was just peeing in the doorway." Like many bars, the smoking ban found Big V's setting up an area for huffing butts outside the door. Unlike most, theirs consists of that one little folding char and a coffee can on University Avenue. It wears its diveyness with punk rock pride, pulling in great (and sometimes not-so-great) lesser known bands every day of the week. During the lighter hours, the University habitues finds solace at the bar, quaffing vodka drinks from the plastic bottles preferred by hardcore drinkers on the go. (1567 University Ave, St Paul; 651.645.8472)

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58 comments
robbyrob79
robbyrob79

I'd just like to that that there have been very few occasions that I've heard country music playing at the country bar.  I think the author should probably revisit the Country Bar again later on in the day.

ron.neuman
ron.neuman

" Stand Up Franks" was a Northside institution , not a NE bar .  Moby's should be on the RIP bar list .

Pete
Pete

Everyone gets angry when their favorite dive isn't mentioned. Then they get pissed when it is! I thought the Country Bar and Grill write up was fair and accurate. The ones that are getting angry; you were offended because you were the aforementioned, gnarly and unkept. Let's face it, no one goes to any dive bar and expects to see pretty people. Its the beauty of the dive bar. 

Duke
Duke

Wow, you folks need to work on your reading comprehension. Drink with the dead. You know dead animals, as in animal hides and ghosts of drunkards and shit, not dead as in, everyone who drinks there is a vodka tonic away from liver falure. Also, the article didnt say that the only people in there are gnarly and unkept, just that its a place for them. Also, there was no mention of the music being boring, none.

Aaron Goldsmith
Aaron Goldsmith

Looks like some great places to hit up for happy hour! My usual bar recently closed down so I'm looking for a new place to unwind and hit up some good happy hour deals. To find happy hours in your area, check out Fiesta Frog.

Sam Woodman
Sam Woodman

At first I was mad that NE Palace wasn't on the list, but then I realized the less unwary hipsters who wander in there with no idea what's in store the better.

CuntryGirl
CuntryGirl

Way to go CBG! I'm happy that my favorite bar made #1....HOWEVER, what a disappointing commentary :( Drink with the dead? There is nothing dead about this lively bar. What about the staff? Fun, unique people that really add to the character of the place. And boring country music? Anything but! The mix of music at the CGB is another of my favorite features. There is a jukebox though, so maybe someone played a bunch of shitty music during your visit, but that's not the norm. Finally the "gnarly unkept(sic)" comment?! I wish i could post a few pics here of my friends and I on one of our many fantastic evenings at CBG, you'll have to take my word for it....we're a good-looking bunch ;) Yes there are some people in there hollywood might not find quite up to par, that doesn't mean they aren't interesting, cool individuals. I've met so many people there that I never would have encountered anywhere else in my everyday life, had great conversations, and ended up with new friends. I believe that a key ingredient in a great dive bar is the neighborhood "Cheers" feel, and CBG most definitely has that. So to all the City Pages readers out there: it made it to number one, if you love a great dive, check it out for yourself....and when you fall in live like the rest of us you can tell City Pages to go fuck themselves, like I am right now.

A few of my other favorites-- The Vegas Lounge (NE)Frenchmans (Richfield)Silver Bullet (Carver)

The Truth Hurts
The Truth Hurts

The country bar is a dirty little rat hole. The only reason to go is for the fried chicken and only because shorty packed up and left town. Check out the bathrooms at this rats nest. I mean, take a little pride, damn, it's disgusting. If it gets semi- busy,the place is packed because it is such a tiny bar. But if you wanna hang out with some serious drinkers and you need a woman with little or no standards this may be the place for you. If you bother with this place the least you can do is stop in at Caffrey's.  If you bring a date here and she doesn't try and get you to leave. you can bet personal hygiene is very low on her to-do list. Call me a hater or whatever but I know this bar, and I do still go there because I have some friends that know some of the bartenders and the door guys there. CLEAN YO 

Nikki
Nikki

"Gnarly, unkept crew?" Really? I'm there all the time, as well as several of my friends and we are far from this less-than-positive description.  Yea, there's a few patrons that could fit this profile, but many other bars have them too.  It's about the mix of people, the affordable drinks, the amazing wings, and some NON-superficial good times! If you want glamorous, egotistical, fake people, go to the fancy clubs downtown, or, rather, fly to L.A! Just sayin......

Southside4life
Southside4life

I love the CBG, have lived 3 blocks from it for the last 4 years and I wouldn't go anywhere else,I love the bartenders, the drinks, the food, I love everything about the CBG! its the best bar on the southside, hands down

OTIS
OTIS

I love CBG, the owners are personable and fantastic People! Yes, you might leave smelling like a chicken wing, if you sit right by the fryers, but I kinda like that, ok for a bit! :) The happy hour crowd is bit older, but my favorites! The evening crowd, younger and hip. I also am not unkept and gnarly, that is offense, yes.. and not true! Haven't been for Thursday Trivia yet, hear it's a blast... BEST CHICKEN WINGS AROUND !!!!

Jeromeo Lee Wright
Jeromeo Lee Wright

CBG represent ,          Wow my favorite bar in the city was voted #1 Dive Bar . But then the recognition was quickly pissed on when I read the rest of the article . Every one has an opinion but yours was something I would like to call a little jaded . You could have not misinformed your readers more about the true atmosphere of the CBG .Of course I'm biased , I used to work there was the first DJ to rip at the place you assume only plays country and folk music . What a shame .I usually have a saying for time's like this " That's mighty white of you ..." I'm sure you will get alot more grief over this CBG thing than one would expect but hey you earned it . Loyalty is one thing that you didn't mention . The CBG is the 'Cheers' of the Southside . If you think what I got to say is bad you haven't really met anyone who is a true patron . The guy headed to Happy Hour,Str8noChasa

Hoodrich
Hoodrich

The Country Bar is the Best Bar in the Twin Cities! Best Chicken Wings, Best People, Best prices. Everyone I take to this bar says its their favorite bar ever! 

Scotty H
Scotty H

Kelly's Depot hanging in through construction? Pshaw, no luck needed. We rock that place out almost erryday.

Michael Simonson
Michael Simonson

I have spent a ton of time at the CBG and first off, I'm not a gnarly, unkept person.  That was an insult to the real people who go to the CBG.  I love the CBG because it's family owned and the people there get to know you.  Being from Southern Minnesota, where bars care about you and not your money, this is a great place to be and have some fun. This is the problem with City Pages, you make great list and have the right place/persons in the right spots, but your writing about them is pure crap. I can see what you are talking about with the "pretty people" but I would disagree.  There are plenty of youngsters that enter the CBG and have a few drinks.  Just go there after 9pm on a Friday or Saturday and you'll see them.

Totem
Totem

Seems like an opportune place to list the 'gone but not forgotten' dives.  In no particular order:

1)  RIP - Stand Up Franks (NE)2)  RIP - Al's (St Louis Park)3)  RIP - Gippers/The Classic (St Louis Park)4)  RIP - Uptown Bar5)  RIP - Mitch's Tavern (Hopkins)6)  RIP - The Buttery (St Paul)7)  RIP - The Viking (West Bank)8)  RIP - King of Clubs (NE)9)  RIP - Popeye's (Lake St)10)  RIP - Poodle Club (Lake St)11)  RIP - Cloggy's (Richfield)12)  RIP - Break Away Lounge (Robbinsdale)13)  RIP - Thunder Bird Hotel Lounge (Bloomington)

LSA
LSA

I work at Kelly's Depot and am absolutely thrilled to see it recognized among the best our town has to offer when it comes to "dive bars" but I would insist on pushing past this "dive" label in order to see the Depot for what it really is:  an authentic, unpretentious, neighborhood gathering space where much of the foundation of our community has been laid. Kelly's is family-owned-and-operated since 1989 and on any given night one can usually find the pillars of our Lowertown community down at the Depot, getting squirrelly, or staying relaxed - but always making our own fun! 

anyone familiar with Lowertown knows that it is a neighborhood that stretches across a wide demographic range, from the ecsentric residents of our low-income artist housing, to lucrative business owners, to the metal heads who flock to hear the live music that leaves their hearts pounding.  it is this wide range of people that creates and nourishes the  genuine, quirky, and wildly diverse fellowship at Kelly's, where there is space for anyone with a friendly spirit to call the Depot home - even if we all turn and look at you a little funny the first time you walk in the door.  (we're just curious.)  

in large part the bar has stayed strong through the upheaval of construction because of our incredibly loyal neighborhood base.  we have also been thrilled to welcome a new "generation" of Depot regulars in the large lunchtime construction-worker crowd that frequents the bar throughout the week, looking to enjoy each of the quick and delicious daily from-scratch specials we serve.   

on a personal note, it is really difficult to put into words how much being a part of the "Depot Family" has touched my heart and impacted my life for the better.  I have experienced very few places where it feels so natural to share my silly, nerdy, goofy, random and intuitive self with the general public - in an environment that has sprung up organically without the influence of fake, commercial "flare" personality.   and if you're still not convinced that Kelly's Depot is the best bar ever, it should also be said that I'd wager my Two Cats that you'll never find a better "every hour" deal on drinks and food - because I know there is no way in hell I'm loosing this bet.       

Wag$
Wag$

Attention Joy Summers !!!!    Have you ever been to The Country Bar and Grill? The Country Bar, also know as the (C.B.G) its located at 3006 Lyndale Ave S. MPLS MN 55408.     Im informing you of the address because the  critique here in your artical  could not have been  of The Country Bar that we have grown to love like a second home. With the most eclectic walks of life that you find in any bar in Uptown, the best fried chicken in the city, and family owned vibe, how could you write such a offensive article of randomness?  This is slander and you know it. You should have been here for trivia on thursday. It was a full house and prizes were won!  Others watched college basketball, threw darts, bowled, golfed, played BUCKHUNTER, ate chicken, enjoyed a birthday, and knocked back a few with friends. I think as a rational person, assuming that you are one, you may want to visit a place a few times  on random days and evenings to  make a good ol fashioned effort  when rating a bar #1 dive bar and not knowing the first thing about the people or real family love that radiates between the Beautiful staff and regular customers. Oh, and if you honestly heard Waylon jennings or Johnny Cash, you were there During a week day  and our sweet friend Barb played it. you will hear a lot more of these artist.     Prince, Stevie Wonder, N.E.R.D, Earth Wind and fire, Alicia Keys, Sade, Bob Marley and his kids, 2pac, The Chili Peppers, Zeppelin and a whole lot more......  Stop in some time for real and have a good time with us. 0pen 2pm to 2am Trivia   Thur at 7pm,  Fri Sat night 9pm Kareoke, Open Sundays 11:30 during Pro Football season.

Totem
Totem

Great list.  Much better than I expected to see (unlike those ridiculous 'best burger' lists - ha! not even close).  Being from Wisconsin and learning how to walk in these types of places I can't argue with any here.  Other posters suggest Palmers and as much as I love the place, its gotten too trendy over the last 5 years.  Still good in the morning tho.  Other posters called out The Valley in Eagan.  No question, had the author been to this place the list would have stopped at 1.  Check it out all.  Its a beaut.

What
What

If you happen to love your bar so much, shut up and go there and get drunk and pass out.

GetOffMyLawn
GetOffMyLawn

Don't bitch about your favorite dive not making the list! Mine DID make the list, and now I fear it'll be overrun by hipster dipshits who are looking to ruin something authentic because that's what makes them seem cool or whatever. Stay out of my neighborhood hole-in-the-wall. It's done just fine for 100 years without you driving up the prices.

David Odland
David Odland

U Otter Stop Inn, any VFW, for starters

edit: just remembered, U Otter isn't the same anymore, so I take this back. :(

Jgdiva247
Jgdiva247

The picture of Shaw's is really old. The place looks much different now and has for awhile. I am sure Mike Shaw appreciates the nod, but it would have been nice to present a picture that would have made the bar recognizable to your readers.

guest
guest

Palmers and the 4th Street Saloon 

idrivefast
idrivefast

Decent list, although I am glad someone pointed out that Palmer's is notably missing. Glad to see the Rail made it, although they only have one pool table and not multiple ("tables"). Tony J's and the Red Dragon both deserve to be on the list if for no other reason than the fact that people were shot and died on their front sidewalk in the last few years. 

anonymous
anonymous

Tappers is on the WEST SIDE. Just FYI.

Galamaria
Galamaria

Now THIS is reporting I can use.Kelly's Depot Bar was a decades-long tradition for postal workers at the St. Paul plant up the street on Kellogg Blvd.  I was a kid working there in the mid-1990's and co-workers would ask me to cover for them while they ran down there for a couple belts while on break.  My understanding is that a few years later, the longtime owner "Monty" actually died right there, slumped over the bar sitting on a stool.  Everyone around him thought he'd passed out as usual, till they couldn't wake him up at closing time.  People said afterwards he died doing what he loved.Ironically, they have the BEST cold pasta dish with tuna and peas I've ever tasted.

Zach
Zach

Dive bars can't have websites.  A rule I just now made up

Melissa Summers
Melissa Summers

I've been to all but two of them.  Wait.  Maybe I shouldn't admit that.

Johnny
Johnny

Gopher, Obbs, Vadnais Inn, etc, etc, etc

Josh
Josh

Half Time Rec.

Mastodon Rickles
Mastodon Rickles

The Spot is amazing!  I go there regularly just to chat with the crazy regulars.  Mike O'Toole is nuts (in the best possible way).

wutUKnowboutthat
wutUKnowboutthat

The owner of The country Bar CANNOT take criticism of any kind. He should just be happy the police & the health department haven't shut it down yet due to RAMPANT criminal activity by his alcoholic, overserved, ego maniac friends & employees that he protects time & time again. Maybe one day he'll realize that the only reson people love this place is for the dirty charm & the tasty wings.Not because of the "improvements" he thinks he's made since he aquired the place (narrowly & under his wifes name, as he could not get the loan from the bank to purchase it from his grandpa, who didn't even really want him to have it in the first place cause he knew he would run it into the ground). Until then he will continue to think his sh*t doesn't stink & neither does his musical taste. If you hate country music so much maybe you should change the name of the bar to "Eminem & Tupac is all we play here cause we're a wanna be hard ass gangster bar" Just another ungrateful,unappreciative southside white boy douche bag with blinders on when it comes to having any business sense whatsoever.He needs to recognize & embrace the term "dive bar" with pride and be thankful the City Pages even recognized that that armpit of a bar even exsists..Maybe he should concentrate on being a good person and not pissing on the whole neighborhood and burning bridges all over town, maybe then I wouldn't be writing this. Good bar. Sh*t owner.Damn shame.

Contactmwhere
Contactmwhere

Next time you plan to come to the CBG, DONT!!!! Tell us your real name so we can show you were the door is. Dont let it hit you in you ass on your way out. If you dont like the place stay the hell out!

whatsupbro
whatsupbro

Oop. And here comes the race card. Get off of it.

Lorene
Lorene

RIGHT ON MICHAEL....IM NOT GNARLY AND UNKEPT EITHER...!!!!   LET ALONE DEAD!!!!

Tone
Tone

country bars the shit all day every day

Lorene
Lorene

I have been going to the country bar and grill for over 25yrs...and I find the things you wrote very offensive...I love that bar and everyone in it!!  I have had birthday parties there..celebrated my wedding there...brought my oldest daughter there for her first legal drink...etc...could things change there??  Maybe..but they better not change a damn thing..I have MANY friends there..and the owners are fantastic...I have always been treated with respect..and will recommend the cbg to anyone who asks where to go...the drinks are strong and the chicken is awesome!!!...I can go there  by myself...feel welcpme and appreciated...and when in need....they ALWAYS GOT MY BACK!!!...

Lorene Ferguson...CBG BABY!!!

Joy Summers
Joy Summers

I can't help but feel like you missed the part where the Country Bar was selected as the #1 best bar on this list.  I've been there countless times over the course of many years, because it's an awesome bar.  Better luck next year?

Totem
Totem

 4th Street Saloon.  Nice.  I suppose a metal detector at the front door makes it qualify.  Also the homicide that occurred yesterday 2 blocks away.

JonnyBeGood
JonnyBeGood

 That place is full of wannabe american irish who supported the IRA before 9/11.

Totem
Totem

 Too mainstream to be a dive bar.  Just like Al's Bar grew to too much popularity before they closed (RIP).

trogdor
trogdor

I used to live a few blocks from The Spot.  Went there all the time.  Mike and Jim are awesome.  Is Jim still there?  I haven't been there in a few years.  Be careful, it's a rainforest out there.

falcon_the
falcon_the

@wutUKnowboutthat Queers with stinky feet go there. Icky!

I.M.Smarter.Than.U
I.M.Smarter.Than.U

@wutUKnowboutthat It IS a shit hole and the regulars are old alcoholics anyway. Their opinions mean nothing.

CuntryGirl
CuntryGirl

Agreed. What a hypocritical asshole. If you dislike it so much stay the fuck out. Its a small place and they sure as hell don't need your four dollars. Leave it for the many people that fill the CBG nightly because we love it :) Stay home and clean your own fucking bathroom, they've got drinks to serve.

Michael Simonson
Michael Simonson

Great, you selected them #!.  But did you really select them #1 with the way you wrote it? Think about that. Oh, and when was the last time you were there at 10pm on a Friday night?

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