South Florida's Best Dive Bars

While eating at Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza my second week in Florida, I met a yacht captain -- a younger, thinner, clean-cut version of the John Goodman character in The Big Lebowski. We got to talking about dive bars.

"I've got the perfect dive bar to take you to," he said. This being a Tuesday, he promised it wouldn't be crowded. Despite my wariness, I agreed to follow him, with a short list of boundaries before we departed. This being a stranger and Florida being Florida, anything could happen.

And that's what he was hoping, as the "dive bar" turned out to be Bimini Bay Bar, where a topless chick served us bottled Budweiser with placards: "Gone to Pee." House-made porn looped on the TVs. Yacht guy's conversation veered to swingers. The sweetheart bartender sized me up and grabbed her rack. "Honey," she said, "three payments of $933 and you'd have a rockin' bod." 

As enthralling as the place was, it wasn't for me, nor was the stranger. And the bartender's promise of a Ping-Pong show had me pounding my Bud and bolting for the door.

Bimini Bay Bar is beyond dive bar, as dives should accommodate all walks of drunks, not such a specialized niche as those in the market for porn. A dive bar should have decent music from one of several genres. And if there's food, it's primarily to soak up booze. A dive bar is home to a layer of filth, the kind of place where you might want to look before you sit down. But most of all, a dive bar is one that inspires affection for the place and the characters who go there.

A holiday week in Florida is a great time to tuck away and hide from tourist throngs at a dive, particularly on New Year's Eve. But we've got other reasons to recognize some of the area's best dives: the reopening of the downstairs at the Elbo Room as well as the impending closure of Treasure Trove. With hope, one of these selections may ease its absence.

10. Sail Inn Tavern
Decorated with salvaged nautical elements such as portholes, ocean maps, and boat ropes, the entertainment here comes from the characters, of course: bikers, golf and tennis

pros, writers, tattooed types, loudmouthed lesbians, metalheads,

meatheads, and the late-night party set.

9. Bahia Cabana
A Johnny Cash or Neil Diamond music bender may set the tone at Bahia Cabana, the beach bar for tourists and locals alike. Allow yourself to be greeted by the most flamboyant drunks in the hot tub at the entrance. Order a Miller Light or a frozen piña colada and watch the evening's shitshow of line dances, fist pumps, and bump-and-grinds.

8. Flossies
This open-air bar near the airport offers tiki drinks, cheap beer, outdoor picnic tables, and plenty of opportunity to ogle bikes and barflies. Half roadhouse, half street party, it's a biker's destination.

7. Red's Bar and Package Store
A respectable jukebox, plenty of barstools, cheap booze, and great bartenders make this a go-to dive bar. Add $1 Jell-O shots and Wednesday-night karaoke and it's a Wilton Manors oasis.

6. Kim's Alley Bar
Perhaps the most upscale dive bar of the list, this spot has a bright room filled with pool tables and action and a dark room that's better for pairing off once you've found prey or it's found you.

5. Harry's Banana Farm
A fantastically named bar is home to an eclectic mix of locals, from plaid-wearing hipsters to seasoned drunks, all here for cheap booze, Iron Maiden, foosball, and ambiance. And hey, if you want to get classy, you can order a pitcher with an ice-filled Ziploc to keep it cold longer.

4. The Hut Lounge and Package Store
This spot tucked next to Publix opens at 7 a.m. and caters to professional drinkers of all types: sports fans, off-duty bartenders, dog lovers with Fido in tow, and fans of EJ the DJ. If it's to become your local, best to get to know Zero, the owner who resembles a cross between Jerry Garcia and Einstein.

3. Grady's
This is the kind of dive to hit up when you're good and drunk so you'll be less disturbed by the filth. The dim interior is somewhat reminiscent of an old moose lodge with

drop ceilings, cigarette machines, and wood-laminate walls. Grady's even

has a shrine dedicated to itself. The jukebox is filled with music gems

of yesteryear, and the patrons aren't shy about doing a little

impromptu dancing.

2. Elbo Room
The mother of Lauderdale dive bars, the Elbo Room has been around since 1938. With the recently reopened downstairs, locals and tourists are here in full force. Be ready for booze when you grab a barstool. Leave the car at home, as it's near impossible to swing by for just a drink.

1. Treasure Trove
We're sad to see this beloved bar go come January. Will its revival in a new location evoke the same dirtbag, beach-bum charm?

Runners-Up: Starlight in Pompano? O'Malley's? J&S? Let us know in the comments what we've missed.

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Food Critic
Contact: Melissa McCart