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September 16, 2008

Top 10 Dive Bars With Good Pub Grub

berthasbobbyflay.jpgThe idea seemed like a good one at the time: dive bars that have unexpectedly edible pub grub. The problem seemed to be that no one wanted to label their favorite hangout a dive bar with all the phrase's negative connotations, so I didn't get many suggestions.

Next I asked what a "dive bar" is, and readers came up with some fine definitions.

A dive bar:

* has a pool table and/or pinball machines.

* is usually occupied by three types of people: alcoholics, people wanted by the police, and guys hiding from their wives.

* has a jar of pickled pigs feet (or at least pickled eggs) on the bar.

* is a place where you don't take your girlfriend/wife. ...

* has a condom  machine in the men's room.

* offers only Slim Jims, Beer Nuts, or Utz Potato chips in the way of food.

* is a dirtier, nastier, sometimes scarier sort of place.

* has bottles of onions and other pickled nastiness that sound great after you start working on the second sixer.

* doesn't have a house salad.

* offers no vegetables but french fries. (The jury is still out on onion rings.) The french fries better not be rosemary garlic fries either.

Those definitions may seem to have derailed the whole concept, but I never give up an interesting Top 10 topic once I sink my teeth into it. So let's call the following places "dive bars" in the nicest possible sense. They are a little funkier than neighborhood taverns, they haven't been gentrified, and they definitely don't offer any rosemary garlic fries.

Thanks to all the posters, my fellow reviewer Richard Gorelick, and Midnight Sun Sam Sessa for their suggestions.

Let the arguments begin:

* Bertha's in Fells Point. In spite of the afternoon tea, the live music and the famous mussels, it still has some of the good dive bar elements.

* Daniel's on Route 1 in Elkridge. Bikers dive extraordinaire, all the food is good. (Faithful readers will know who suggested this one.)

* Kisling's Tavern in Canton has good, some say great, wings.

* Linwood's in Parkville. (NOT the Owings Mills fine-dining restaurant.) Great french fries and gravy served on a paper plate. Need more information on this one. Anyone?

* Long John's Pub in Remington. Shrimp salad and fried oyster sandwich.

* Mount Royal Tavern in Mount Vernon for pizza.

* Poncabird just off Boston Street on Ponca. Great burgers and decent shrimp salad, but the service didn't get a great review.

* Spirits Tavern in Upper Fells Point. Excellent homemade guacamole, hot dogs, good cheeses.

* Swallow at the Hollow in Govans. One poster mentioned the bacon cheeseburger, the grilled ham and cheese, and the beef stew.

* Wharf Rat in Fells Point. Stick with anything fried.

(Kim Hairston/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 4:10 AM | | Comments (75)
Categories: Top Ten Tuesdays


The bar side of John Stevens! Fells Point.

Kislings has had great wings for more than a decade... if any of you remember Mark "Roadblock" Evans the bartender from the mid 90's, he'd sit down and literally eat 100 of them... it brings back great memories of good food and good friends.

Mt. Vernon Saloon on Charles Street! They have good food and serve it late.

Captain Larry's in Locust Pt has pretty good anything - menu changes. Peter's in Fells Pt, which used to be an authentic biker bar with incidental food, now emphasizes the food a bit more, but is still grungy enough to be classified as a dive bar, I think.

North Point Inn - hands down - best (biggest) wings around...try the Old Bay wings - you won't regret it. This place is slightly less "divey" since the smoking ban.

The real Wharf Rat in Fells Pt. does a great pizza as well! Kislings has thee wings in this area. After I moved to town I had heard enough restaurants say that their wings were like Kislings so I eventually made my way there to try them. The original and Old Bay wings are fab-u-lous.

I'm not sure that any side of John Stevens or Mt. Vernon Saloon qualify for this particular list, but they would probably show up on the right top ten.

So does Long Johns serve a Shrimp Salad and Fried Oyster Sandwich, or are those two separate items? I'm intrigued.

I'd go Pappa's (right off or on Taylor Ave.) crab cakes. On Wednesdays, you can get a crab cake, slaw, and french fries for $10.

While the bar is a dive, it is connected to a restaurant, so I don't know if Pappas qualifies.

Dancing Monkey - glad to know someone else who likes the Stables!

Linwoods in Parkville has the best shrimp salad in town also served on a paper plate

Wargo's in Forest Hill, Knotty Pine (a fire destroyed the original but the new place is just as good) on Conkling St, Don't know in Federal Hill (use to be a scary biker bar, now it's a pretty good bar with excellent food best i've ever had at a bar)

at the risk of getting decapitated, I'd have to say that Kislings feels like more of a frat bar for adults. It used to be very divey with bikers and such, but that was 20 years ago. Last several times I've been there are shooters flying. Dive bars serve shots, not shooters.

You have named the Linwood in Parkville, I think you meant the Linway Lounge.

J.Patrick's in LP. Has good Shepherd's Pie, stew, and Irish music, but has what appears to be plastic trash bags holding up the ceiling. The bags have been there a long time.
Agree with Daniels in Elkridge. Never thought of Bertha's as a dive bar because prices aren't low enough. Can't agree with Capt.Larry's though. Food has deteriorated.

I love Bertha's. The have some of the best Maryland Crab soup. Perfect for those chily days in January.

Guess I should explain the bar Don't know. The actual bar name is "DON'T KNOW" it's on the corner of Fort and Light.

yes, Don't Know has great pub food.

The best pub food in the city is One Eyed Mike's in Fells. I cannot accept a list that excludes One Eyed Mike's.

yay, Long Johns.

This Top 10 has surprassed all others as my favorite. I'm ready to grab a bar stool, drink a few beers and eat some grub. The weekend can't come fast enough!

Peter's doesn't qualify as dive bar with pub grub, in my book. Their food is more inventive and gourmet than that. I'm craving their cheese grits right now!

Roman's near Patterson Park is my favorite dive bar to grab dinner at. They have the best hot turkey sandwich for something like $5 (Roman roasts a turkey every day), and I don't even like hot turkey sandwiches.

Backstretch, close to the corner of Cold Spring and Falls Road (basically in what seems like the basement of a house) is definitely a dive bar. I can't remember if they even have alcohol - they might only serve beer and all their draft beer which is extremely cheap is served in a frosty mug. Well the first one is served in a frosty mug, after that, they just keep refilling your mug. Its the kind of bar where you can put $10 on the bar and drink all night long.

I second Bob UU: The pizza at Wharf Rat is really very good.

Bertha's not gentrified?? I see Volvo wagons in Timonium with bumper stickers telling us all to Eat Bertha's Mussels! I am dissappointed with her pick.

Kislings has the best pub grub in town.

But I'd add 2 more:

1.) Pickled Parrot in Canton--simple but very good pub grub.

2.) Kibby's on Wilkens Ave (near Cardinal Gibbons HS). Best shrimp salad in Baltimore--better than Bay cafe.

Bertha's not gentrified?? I see Volvo wagons in Timonium with bumper stickers telling us all to Eat Bertha's Mussels!

Bertha's has a dual-identity. It's both a neighborhood bar and a tourist attraction. Most (but not all) of the tourists mercifully head to the dining room and leave the bar to the locals.

>You have named the Linwood in Parkville, I think you meant the Linway Lounge.

Yep, thats the place I meant, thank you!

Mid Town Yacht Club...? How did this not make the list. Peanut shells on the floor, dingy as hell, and the food is the best bar food on the planet.

shelby - we do not speak of EL in the third person.

dizzy izzys, of course. I'm sorry... "The Diz". btw, i don't know how MRT got on this list, but I would never eat the food there. That place is filthy.

I've got to add the Batter's Box in Perry Hall and the Bird River Inn in Middle River. Two little local joints with terrific food and friendly regulars.

Carl's on Ostend (2 blocks East of Washington Blvd) in Pig Town. Can't miss it; brick townhouse painted in Raven's purple. They have 75 cent codies, served with saltines and mustard. Locals still put their lunch tab on credit until payday. Keep your head down and order a longneck.

Agree Donnie B. Pickled Parrot has some of the best peel-and-eat shrimp in Baltimore. Love tearing into a dozen with a few beers. Although that shrimp smell does stick with you for a while....

Adam wrote: "I would never eat the food there. That place is filthy."

Isn't that part of being a real Dive Bar? Besides, folks in this country don't know the meaning of the word filthy when applied to an eating establishment. I'm sure some of our world travelers will back me up on this. Without being TOO graphic, please.

I second the inclusion of Captain Larry's (crab cakes, fish sandwich, etc.) the exclusion of Peter's (great food, but not a dive bar IMO). I might also add Duda's to the list.

I was just at Arizona in Upper Fell's Point last night. That is a real dive, but the seafood tapas and seafood ceviche is awesome!. Give it a try

The idea of Don't Know as either a "dive bar" or having good food is absurd. Let's see...NEVER any beer

definitely kibby's on wilkens ave, not just great shrimp salad, but try their patty melt---to die for ! actually all their food is great--eat in the bar though !

I have to say Geckos on Fleet street. It has amazing food, though it is classed up from your normal dive bar fare. It is a must try and if you are a brunch fan Sunday at Geckos is the place to be.

Who's the genius that came up with the term peel-and-eat shrimp, as if it's some kind of awesome feature? It should really be called "headless steamed shrimp" or "peel your own damned shrimp". Peel and eat? What else would you do with them? I'm going to Isabella's now for lunch for one of their famous "Chew-N-Swallow" sandwiches. Woo hoo.

Got to go to Johnny D's Lounge on Joan Ave off of Loch Raven. Great comfort food, cheap drinks, all 20 feet under ground

Owl Meat,
All the places down here call it "peel and eat". Some even go with "plain ole boiled shrimp".


Pickled Parrot a dive bar? I think not. It's so close to the Canton square it is getting more and more gentrified. Plus, most of their dishes are served decorated with a fresh orchid on the plate! I will agree that they have great bar food. Anything with their jerk chicken is excellent. So are their fries.

Rafters on fort has delicious, inexpensive bar food, and great wings. Wednesday night is wing night with .25 wings and $5 pitchers, I highly recommend.

Wait a have a Pickled Parrot back there? Was it at all connected to the Pickled Parrot that was in Minneapolis?

Curb Shoppe on falls rd near the Kelly Ave bridge- Has all the qualifications-
plus great food and specials-I Think its $5.50 for a cheeseburger and beer on wed nites

kibby's has horrible food but try the Funkstown Tavern in Funkstown for one of the best cheeseburgers you even ate.

Something has been bothering me.
It seems "gentrification" is frequently used as a way to describe Canton. It literally means "the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents."
So was urban decay better?
I don't want to live in the county, and I have money, does that make me a bad person? You should see my tax bill, trust me I am paying my dues for the roof top deck.

and One Eyed Mike's is without a doubt "THE" best pub food out there.

amazing nothing from hampden made the list, or the posts...what's that neighborhood come to?

longshots in abingdon,best wings and bar grubb,loaded fries r good 2. ping pong ,live music and pool tables,comfortable stools and a room full of fools

I'd say One Eyed Mike's has some of the best food in Baltimore, not pub food. I'm also not sure if it's a dive, since the Grand Marnier selection gives it a classy vibe, plus they have the pirate theme.

GECKOS on Fleet Street!

The bar atmosphere feels so relaxed and fun with some of the best bartending around.

And the food is awesome.

GO if you haven't!!!

I find it interesting that it seems the lest haute cuisine topics draw the most comments (burgers, pizza, french fries, etc.).

And I believe if the blogs hadn't been down off and on all day, we would have had twice as many. EL

Donny B, duffster and/or Leigh - do any of you know if there's any connection between the Canton Pickled Parrot and the Pickled Parrot that used to be in Minneapolis?

I used to do business in Mpls, for a week at a time, and I would go to the PP at least three times for lunch during those weeks I was there.

They had the best--THE BEST---BLTs I've ever eaten in a restaurant. If I knew the Canton one was connected, I would, no joke, fly to Baltimore to go there.

EL is right that a lot of us didn't want to call our favs "dive" bars. But if you expand the definition to regular bars that aren't full of phonies, there are so many many good ones (such as Koopers, Waterfront, One Eyes Mike's, I could go on and on), it's what makes this town so great.

Koco's has really good stuff all around (even house salads topped with perfectly grilled salmon) and good crab dip and burgers and wings and well just about everything on the menu is good. And the warm service from the Koco's family makes it even better. Hi Marcella!

Dead End Saloon in Fells. Tasty food. The jerk chicken club and rastbeef platter are a couple favorites.

I agree w/ posting that said NOT to include Capt Larry's in Locust Pt. I got suckered in by comments on a previous Top 10 list about crabcakes. Crab cake was bland and service was verrrry slow. Won't be going back.

Has Pickles become too urbane for this list. After all, it is the neighborhood bar for lots of folks [including our daughter] when there are no sports in town. Once when we met the DevilChild there, they ran the tab simply as "Mom and Dad."

yes mount vernon stable, and of course 1/2 price ribs on mondays and open late

They have 75 cent codies, served with saltines and mustard.

I remember when every little neighborhood store had these and for 5 cents. I haven't had one in ____ years. I wonder if they would still taste as good.

We make Captain Larry's on Fort Ave. a destination for crab cakes and fish tacos. We've consistently had great food there but but parking can be tough.

Judge's Bench is a dive in Ellicott City that on Mon. & Tues. have great hand tossed pizza's that are much better than their regular menu available during the rest of the week. The pizza plus their great beer lineup (15+ taps & a ton of bottles) make for a kicking dinner.

Help me out here isn't there a James Dickey poem...("Looking for the Buckhead Boys") where the passage to manhood was taking a dump in the towns dive bar or pool hall?(Tyree's)
That would be a good criteria for a "dive bar"

I highly doubt it.

Others I can think of for the general list though:

1.) To whoever mentioned Johnny D's, How could I have forggoten THAT place!. That would be near the top of my list. Good Call.

2.) The Emerald Tavern on Harford Rd. always had pretty good bar food too.

3.) The "old" Della Roses on Belair Rd (which is not open anymore) would have been near the top of my list too--if it were still open.

....and how could I forget Pickles? BEST wings in town, bar none. I'm getting too old to remember all the great dives I've frequented in my life.

But I'll throw out another one too,,,Fields Old Trail on York rd. Yhey always had really good, greasey, bar food.

And the "old" ALonzo'so Cold Spring was as "dive" as you could get. That might very well have been my top all time dive bar for food. But it has since become way too yuppifies. Good burger though.


How about the original Charles Village Pub on St. Paul Street (the one that's actually "in" Charles Village). Now there's a dive bar with GREAT food. probably 2nd to Kisslings in my book. OMG I can't believe I forgot that one.

I have been going to Kislings for 14 years. It is not as much as a dive as it used to be. And the prices are definitely not dive bar. The wings are still great but there used to be a much better happy hour.

Any place that garnishes the plate with an orchid can't possible be a dive bar!

"don't want to live in the county, and I have money, does that make me a bad person? You should see my tax bill, trust me I am paying my dues for the roof top deck" -
hope you're enjoying that rooftop deck that you're paying dues for. It's partly reponsible for completely blocking my view of the harbor.

Pebbles Pub in Catonsville

I ate at Pebbles yesterday. It was very good- and VERY MUCH a hole in the wall! Good Call Bill

Donny B, forget about the real CVP. When I first got to Baltimore, the CVP in Charles Village was called the Bluejay Lounge and it was the worst old man dive bar you could imagine. Just plain Jurassic.

OK, I'll bite. Gecko's in upper Canton {wait for it...}. They have [a] 2 pool tables, [b] good music, [c] great bartending {haven't been in about a year, and still remember Nick's name, a real gentleman}. It is pretty-much cleaned up, but that's ok yes?
Has a great "neighborhood bar" feel to it. Good food too. And most importantly, a good vibe, due to all the above.
Hm, guess it's time to take the wife there again. And yes, taking the wife there is safe, so there's your qualification.

Ohmigawd, forgot all about Long John's! Some of us girls who worked backstage at BOC would go there with our stagehands after shows (but wouldn't dream of going without our protective male phalanx!).

Rosebud, Pappas Seafood (formerly Hale's) at Taylor & Old Harford has coddies. I don't remember how much they cost, but they were right tasty!

Jim you win. Curb shop is the ultimate dive bar and I love the food.

I went to the Curb Shoppe for Happy Hour once. The special was a platter of cold cuts on a small table. Some guy pulls his chair up to the table, makes a sandwich and proceeds to eat it over top of the platter.

I wish I could say that i just left, however, truth be told, after he was finished I went over there and made a sandwich.

alonso's is speeding back to dive status but the food is awful and overpriced.

Berthas should not be on here, not a dive its a tourist trap

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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