I like to drink, ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing quite like sitting down with a few friends for a beer or two or eight at the end of the day. Unfortunately, the comedy paychecks roll in few and far between, so that prevents me from drinking at classy establishments, the kind with fancy specialty cocktails, glitzy dancefloors, and a high-end clientele, all gussied-up for a night on the town.
The solution to this? The Dive Bar. That bastion of American hope and freedom where the drinks are cheap, the people down to earth, and the bathrooms unimaginably shabby. Dive bars have always been favorites of mine. They’re often tiny hole-in-the-wall joints with an eclectic feel to them and a dedicated customer base. Usually you can walk into a dive bar and see the same folks every night, hunched against the bar, drinking the same drinks and talking about the same things as always. A good dive bar can feel like a home away from home.
As a frequent patron of several Louisville dives, I’ve decided to compile a list of some of my favorite bars, so those of you that tire of paying too much to get into the many local “singles bars” and “nightclubs” can settle in for a night of real bar experience. By the way, I’m not trying to dissuade you from going to these places. Quite the opposite, actually- I’m helping you get prepared for some of the most ridiculous experiences you can have in the Louisville bar scene.
This small bar on Goss Ave., “the cutting edge of Germantown,” is a good place to start on your Louisville dive bar tour. A familiar mom-and-pop-type affair, stop in any night of the week and you’re bound to see Groucho himself manning the bar in his trademark fedora and drinking a cup of coffee. His love of all things pop culture and esoteric has directly informed the look and feel of the bar – The front door sternly admonishes “No Droids Allowed,” referencing Star Wars before you’ve even entered the bar. A tiny television next to the bar is always showing an array of awesomely horrible kung-fu and monster movies, and the back wall of the bar itself is littered with Gundam figurines and a life-size Freddy Krueger head wearing a birthday hat.
Dive Cred: Groucho’s has a back room that feels JUST like your grandparents’ basement. Hell, it even smells like it. Also, Groucho’s features late-night karaoke every night of the week, with a huge library of songs all stored ghetto-style on hundreds and hundreds of burned CDs. At one point, the backdrop of the karaoke stage was a giant banner that read “Fuck You, Jake Reber.” Finally, don’t come expecting mixed drinks- Groucho’s is a strictly bottled-beer joint.
Bathroom Status: The bathroom doors are cleverly marked XX and XY, but apart from that, they’re pretty average for dive bathrooms. Relatively clean, small, cinderblock-walled rooms.
Night to go: Check out Groucho’s on a Wednesday night for the “Comedy in a Fishbowl” show or come on the first or second Thursday of each month for “Comedy Attack!” or “Music Attack!,” featuring the delicious Morels Vegan food truck parked outside.
4. The Highlands Taproom
My love of the Taproom has already been well documented, but there’s always more to say about it. This stalwart of the Bardstown Rd. bar scene is easily the smallest bar on this list, built “shotgun-style” and consisting of a narrow front room with a few tables and an even smaller back room with an old pool table. Where the taproom shines is the large outdoor seating area that frequently overflows into the neighboring Kashmir Indian Restaurant yard, much to the chagrin of evening outdoor diners.
The Taproom has a bit of a generic bar feel to it, with the walls covered in neon beer signs, but it makes up for it with a friendly bar staff, a diverse cast of bar regulars, and the occasional crazy person wandering in off of Bardstown Road.
Dive Cred: The pool table always seems like it’s missing a ball, and the bar is so narrow, it seems like you’re always banging your cue into the wall. The walls next to the pool table are lined with hundreds of dusty beer mugs, reserved for regular customers. Also: if you wander around outside behind the bar, you will almost certainly be passed a joint.
Bathroom Status: The Taproom bathrooms are surprisingly spacious. Compared to the cramped feeling of the rest of the bar, the bathrooms are downright palatial. They’re also relatively clean. The chalkboards on the walls, however, fill up throughout the night with drunken insults and even drunker responses to those quotes.
Night to go: The Wednesday night Eddie and the FuckMunkys open mic is usually a blast, but on Thursday nights the Taproom seems to turn into a gay karaoke bar, which usually leads to some fantastically outlandish drunken performances.
Louisville’s quintessential neighborhood bar, Nachbar is nestled amongst a row of houses on a quiet street in Germantown. Inside, though, it is one of the biggest hipster bastions in the city. Expect to see a lot of guys with beards, girls with tattoos and cat-eye glasses, guys with beards hooking up with girls with tattoos and cat-eye glasses, dogs on rope leashes, and empty PBR cans by the score. Despite what the cool kids would have you think, though, Nachbar has way more than PBR – in fact, for a dive, it boasts an impressive selection of bottled and draft beers.
Nachbar has an interesting feel to it. There are lots of weird paintings of German fairytales on the walls, and it’s a fairly dark little bar. Like the Taproom, it’s built shotgun-style and consists of a single narrow room. There’s a lot of outdoor seating in the spacious backyard, though, but get there early – by ten or so, it’s completely packed with smokers.
Dive Cred: Nachbar gets CRAMPED, especially when bands are playing. They generally set up in front of the back door, trapping people inside. There’s a corner full of grandma furniture in the back of the room, featuring a floral couch and some ceramic owl statues. Nachbar also boasts one of the best dive features a bar can have- an incredibly kick-ass jukebox, with music that they actually occasionally update to include newer songs.
Bathroom Status: The bathrooms are basically cramped little closets covered from floor to ceiling with graffiti. The men’s urinal almost always has a garbage bag over it. Also, I hope you’re a clean person, because if you’re not, the sink is located outside of the bathrooms in the main room of the bar, and believe me: Everyone is watching you not wash your hands.
Night to go: Free jukebox night on Mondays means you can listen to all of the Funkadelic and Ween you want, all night long! Can you say “Maggot Brain” on repeat for 3 hours?
Holy hell, now we’re really getting into the contenders for Louisville’s most ridiculous dives. Don’t let the fancy awning and double doors out front fool you – Cahoots is a shithole, filled with that very special dark, dank, shithole charm. Packed with punks, this former music club-turned dive bar-turned dive music club, is known for being excessively rowdy. I have seen more people thrown out of Cahoots than any other bar I’ve been to. I have seen fistfights and con games and general out-in-the open idiocy. This all probably stems from the fact that Cahoots is exceedingly cheap. We’re talking $1.50 wells. You go to Cahoots, you’re getting wasted.
Dive Cred: Cahoots has the cheapest drinks in town, but good luck getting the attention of a bartender – Cahoots employs the slowest, least attentive bartenders I’ve ever encountered. Don’t expect Tom Cruise in Cocktail-style tricks – they all move like they’re on quaaludes. If you’re into pool, Cahoots has a few tables, but they’re usually filled with hustlers trying to take your money. I once saw someone turn down a pool hustler, only to have him bust out a game of three-card monte on them.
Bathroom Status: The Cahoots bathrooms do not have doors. You go around a corner and there’s just a trough to pee in – a filthy, filthy trough.
Night to go: Go on one of the nights that there’s a concert. Most of the bands that play are punk or hardcore, so be prepared to mosh and expect to leave covered in buckets of sweat, none of it yours.
1. Mag Bar
Now that you’ve worked your way up through the ranks, I think you’re ready for the king of the Louisville dives: The Magnolia Bar and Grill. Note: The “and Grill” is a misnomer. There is absolutely no food to be found at the Mag Bar, unless you count vomit. Relatively tame during the day, Mag Bar gets rockin’ late at night. It fills up with the youth of Old Louisville, and since they all live a few blocks away, they have no inhibitions whatsoever about getting completely and utterly shitfaced.
Mag bar consists of a tiny front room with a small concert stage and a few booths lining the walls. Don’t even think about snagging a booth – they fill up early and are never vacated. In fact, don’t even plan to sit down at all. There’s also a larger back room that a lot of people don’t even realize is there, filled with several pool tables and a pinball machine and the distinct aroma of fresh poo.
Dive Cred: Come bearing currency, because the Mag Bar is cash only. You can also pump some of that cash into the rockin’ jukebox, filled with custom mixes from bar regulars. The bouncers only card sporadically, so be prepared to bump elbows with a lot of underage kids, getting wasted and talking about it in that way that only underage kids do. There’s a smoking area out back that’s mostly mud, but that’s okay, because at the Mag Bar you can SMOKE INSIDE. Well, technically you can’t, but you also can, if you know what I mean. Believe me, no one’s paying attention. Also: Yes, the shit smell in the back room never goes away.
Bathroom Status: Try to hold it in if you can. The bathrooms at Mag Bar always have ridiculously long lines and are the tiniest, most disgusting water closets imaginable. They make me glad that I’m a man, so I don’t have to actually touch anything inside of them. The walls are covered in graffiti and the floors are covered in half an inch of water.
Night to go: Go on Wednesday night after 11 for the most wild dive bar experience in Louisville. The Mag Bar gets so cramped you can barely move. You’ll get to hang with the hippest hip chicks and the gayest gay men in town, all of them drunkenly making out while dancing on top of the bar.