An Ode to East End Dive Bars

The decor at Liar’s Saloon in Montauk is exactly how it should be.

My love for dive bars runs very, very deep—but I haven’t always been this way. Dive bars and I were off to a rough start when, at 21, it was all I could really afford—I was too broke for the $14 cocktails next door—and maybe I resented that. The dive bars of that time were also in a college town, which is a very particular brand of dive bar that I have fully grown out of. Now is a good time to mention that I am politely excluding university-adjacent dive bars to this letter of admiration. They served their purpose (perhaps a little too often) but they aren’t part of the current dive bar chapter of my life.

A (not at all comprehensive) google search tells me that the term “dive bar” comes from bars originally being housed in cellars or basements, so when patrons ducked in from the sidewalk it gave the appearance of “diving in”. I like that, and I hope it’s true. And, as it turns out, dive bars don’t really have to be down a flight of stairs anymore for us to continue diving in (and falling out).

Where I live there are only a handful of these precious establishments left. More and more upscale establishments keep popping up left and right, endangering these precious local watering holes. As a local who does not make that second-home-money that makes up a large part of the local economy: I need them. I need them bad. I can’t drop $14+ on a cocktail on a regular basis, and sometimes (okay, all the time) I want chicken fingers and fries served in a plastic basket. I want to do all this in my athleisure (yes, I am implying that I eat chicken fingers after the gym) and I don’t want to be judged for my no-makeup Monday. I work in an upscale hospitality environment so I love skipping the formalities and just getting what I want. The bartender will usually read your vibe and act accordingly which ranges anywhere from exchanging five year plans to never speaking to you again until you ask for a check. You can cry, and nobody cares. You can wear headphones and laugh at YouTube videos and nobody cares. You can scream at the television or FaceTime your cousin in the corner and nobody freakin’ cares. What a dream!

At a dive bar, you can cry, scream at the television, or FaceTime your cousin in the corner—and nobody cares.

Every time I find myself three drinks deep at the Whisky Wind in Greenport, I inevitably interrupt a conversation to sigh and exclaim, “Man, I love this bar!” It smells like spilled beer, Fireball shots, and vanilla for some reason. On good days, the restroom stays out of the aroma equation. The music is curated by the people via a digital jukebox, the way it SHOULD BE. (Take note, all other dive bars.) And who doesn’t love the adrenaline rush of a half-broken janky bathroom lock? Our expectations are always tempered and relatively low, so it is unlikely we will be let down. There is no pressure here. You come as you are, so long as you take it for what it is, too. The best part is everyone under that roof is after the same thing you are: just a no-fuss, no-frills, good ol’ time.

One of my favorite moves when I have friends visiting from out of town is to have them take the train to Mattituck, and wait for me at the Broken Down Valise.  Without fail, I get a comical stream of text messages:

“Where’d all these bras on the ceiling come from?”

“They have BARLINK HERE!”

“This vodka soda was only FIVE DOLLARS! Amazing!”

Here’s to all the dive bars—Shagwong obviously included.

By the time I get there, they are having so much fun it is difficult to get them out. Sometimes I can’t get them out, and end up spending $20 on an uber home. Oops. I should mention that this tactic only works on really down-to-mars friends who are into this sort of thing. Would not recommend for your bougie friend who sends drinks back often (or at all).

So here’s to all the dive bars, and divey joints in general. We need you more than ever, and I hope we can do our part to keep you around. Today, and every day, we raise a plastic cup to you.

Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:

The Whisky Wind, Greenport
Billy’s By The Bay, Greenport*
The Broken Down Valise, Mattituck
Cuddy’s, Jamesport
Sophie’s, Southold*
Digger’s, Riverhead*
The Dory, Shelter Island

*The asterisk means that this establishment toes the line between dive bar and casual restaurant. I realize some owners may not view the term “dive” as a compliment. (Though in this case, they should!)

Read more: Old Montauk Lives On at Liar’s Saloon