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Boston's best: Dive bars

Ask ten Bostonians the definition of a dive bar and you'll get ten different answers. Dollar drafts? Unsavory locals? Big Buck Hunter? The term “dive” may have its roots in the Wild West, when bar patrons would dive under tables at the first sign of a drawn weapon. Today's versions need not be dangerous so much as dirt-cheap, pretension-free and perhaps a tad sketchy. Consider this a sampler plate of the best—and dingiest—that Greater Boston has to offer.

Courtside Karaoke
It might be a stretch to call a place a dive if it's technologically advanced enough to serve “real” food and host karaoke three nights a week. Still, in ethos, its questionable cleanliness and willingness to harbor a sex-toy claw machine, the Courtside is a bona fide dive. Grab a seat in a shabby plastic chair, dig your teeth into the poor boys' special ($16.95 for a pitcher of PBR and a large cheese pizza), and enjoy the most debaucherous karaoke-fied watering hole since Razzy's shut down. 291 Cambridge St., Cambridge (617-547-4374;

The Drinking Fountain
Rocker types might fit in better at the Midway Café a few doors down, but the Drinking Fountain is the JP go-to for a traditional beer and a bump. A dive-bar checklist would possess nary a blank square: cheap pints, scruffy townies, and enough forms of entertainment (pool, darts, Naked Lady Photo Hunt) to keep you busy for a few hours. It's $4 for well drinks, mixed stiff, while most of the cheaper pints will run you $3.50 and under. The jukebox is heavy on Motown, and the bathroom door has a hole in it that's curiously bullet-shaped. You can't get much more “hole-in-the-wall” than that. 3520 Washington St, Jamaica Plain (No phone)

Eddie C's
Dating back to the post-Prohibition era, Eddie C's is a typical Eastie neighborhood haunt. It comes complete with sports to watch, mini-pretzels to munch and $8 pitchers to guzzle. And have no fear if things get dicey: the owner is a former cop and won't tolerate any funny business. Bring in food, or—better yet—buy some chips at the bar. Come in, stay a while, and then head the hell back to where you came from. 34 Maverick Square, East Boston (617-567-9395)

Silhouette Lounge

Don't be fooled by the classy “Cocktail Lounge” sign outside. At this cash-only Allston haunt, everything is cheap: the beers, the décor, the floor tiles and the stale popcorn (That last one's free). Darts and pool are central activities, but even just sitting around on those weathered stools and watching all the skinny-jeaned inebriates can be an entertaining evening by itself. Avoid the Silhouette on Friday and Saturday nights, when it gets too packed to reasonably qualify as a dive. 200 Brighton Ave, Allston (617-206-4565)

Sligo Pub
A stone's throw from bro-tastic bars like the Joshua Tree, this Davis Square dive isn't exactly off the beaten path; but it acts like it is. Dark, dingy, and usually male-dominated, Sligo is staunchly no-frills yet entirely welcoming, with dirt-cheap libations and a stacked jukebox. Past patrons have carved initials and drunken musings on the wooden walls, and the bathrooms are labeled with the perplexingly formal “himself” and “herself.” On weekends the Tufts influence is palpable, but otherwise Sligo is very much reserved for Slummerville locals. 237 Elm St, Davis Square, Somerville (617-623-9561)

The Tam
Legally speaking, Boston bars have to serve food. The Tam manages to satisfy this requirement via a long-forgotten vending machine tossed in the corner. This spot has a bit of a history of rabble-rousing customers, which is one reason that ownership removed the door to the men’s room a few years ago. Narragansett tallboys cost $3, and pair nicely with vintage arcade games like Ms. Pac Man in the back. Tuesday trivia brings a slightly more intellectual clientele, but most of the time it's your usual grubby regulars. 222 Tremont St, Theater District, Boston (617-482-9182)

TC's Lounge
Just off Mass Ave, TC's serves as the backdrop for misty-eyed, booze-fueled memories from Berklee grads and businessmen alike. Bumper stickers and Polaroids of barflies from tipsy evenings past plaster the walls. TC's boasts a robust collection of arcade games—Big Buck Hunter, Golden Tee Golf, et al., and at least one machine that has given up its former life for entertainment purposes (looking at you, breathalyzer!). There's even a punching bag if you're looking to get your aggression out on someone other than a fellow bar-goer. Ladies, be sure to check out the dwarfish, blindingly pink restroom. 1 Haviland St, Hynes Convention Center, Boston (617-247-8109)

Other Southie spots may be higher-profile—Murphy's Law figured prominently in Gone Baby Gone—but Whitey's wins on sheer ambience. Tattooed townies play rounds of free pool as they swig $1.50 PBR drafts and nod their heads to Pearl Jam tunes. From the cracked bathroom mirrors to the can of talcum powder that’s inexplicably perched by the center bench, it looks like nothing has changed since the Reagan administration, which is exactly correct. Whitey's last renovated in the mid-‘80s, not long after the then-owner was gunned down right there in the bar. They've cleaned up nice, though. 268 West Broadway, South Boston (No phone)


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