From a dive bar where the walls are dripping, yes dripping, with holiday decor to a dive bar with a nice women’s bathroom, here are some of the Pittsburgh institutions you should know about.
Any city is only as great as its finest dive bar. These businesses are fixtures in their communities: a space for gathering, familiarity and just having fun. Here’s a list of some of our favorite dive bars in Pittsburgh.
Lawrenceville + McKees Rocks
Take A Break is the perfect set up for you to do just as the name implores: take a break. Play pool with a couple of friends, or maybe line up for a quick round of darts. Purchase a carton of cigarettes from the vending machine. I love the black plastic ashtrays as the centerpiece at each table, and the moment near the end of the night when someone buys a handful of Slim Jims to share. Other highlights include a vat of maraschino cherries soaked in some mysterious alcohol, as well as a super nice women’s bathroom, complete with a hanging plant.
The high afternoon sun is torture, so I dip into Lefty’s for a cool beer. I find my partner already locked in conversation with a large man with a graying goatee and a Pirates shirt. We talk about his daughter in Costa Rica, about traveling and complain about the Pirates. Lefty’s is camaraderie, togetherness, a shared language, like the Pittsburghese words and phrases written across the back wall of the bar. Come for the conversations, the beer and shot specials and the famous $4 strong islands.
“It’s not always like this,” Nick gestures to the red and green lights, the wrapping papered ceiling and knit stockings hung throughout the bar. There are a lot of Santas. Nick has been the general manager for nearly seven years, and he noted that since COVID restrictions shut the bar down again in December, he hasn’t yet gotten around to swapping the seasonal decorations. I love the glasses of hard peppermint candy along the bartop. Be sure to come in on a Friday or Saturday for karaoke. Will Nick have his turn on stage? “I prefer for customers to stay in the bar, and enjoy the experience. I’ll stick to pouring drinks.”
Park Place Pub is conveniently situated right on Bryant Street. They’ve got a great selection of draft beer and ample outdoor seating, perfect for a summer evening. If you’re hungry, even better, because Applewood Smoke Burgers is located at the back of the bar. Don’t sleep on the onion rings.
When you walk into Kelly’s, it feels like you’ve traveled through time. Vinyl countertops with swivel stools. The upholstered booths remind me of the best New Jersey diners. Black and white checkered floor. No TVs. All of the food is outstanding, but no matter what you order, make sure you add a mac n cheese for the table to share. There is little in this world that makes me happier than a crispy salty tater tot washed down with an IC Light. Also on offer: a different $5 cocktail each day of the week, and transcendent graffiti in the women’s restroom.
What’s your go-to dive bar in Pittsburgh? Tag us in your Instagram photos with #verylocal or send us an email (helloPittsburgh@verylocal.com)
More Pittsburgh cocktail knowledge
Check out our story on the prohibition-era cocktail the Fussfungle by Cody McDevitt. Cody is also the co-author of “Pittsburgh Drinks” [Amazon, Bookshop.org] a book about Pittsburgh’s cocktails and drinking spots.
New on the Pittsburgh cocktail scene is Goodlander Cocktail Brewery. Bartender Wes Shonk has opened a spot in Larimer that specializes in brewed cocktails. Wes shared some tips with us on how to make a better cocktail at home. Take a look at our guide to Pittsburgh vodkas for some tips from Wes on the best local snacks for vodka sipping.