Fancy, handcrafted cocktails have their place—and it sure as hell isn't any of these watering holes. Here, the greatest spots to pull up a stool, crank the jukebox, and grab yourself a pitcher.
*-By Rob Willey
Bob Barbara's Lounge in Philly
CHICAGO: Woodlawn Tap
A few years back, a local study of the air quality in 25 Chicago bars and restaurants ranked Jimmy's (as regulars call this place, in honor of a previous owner) dead last. A citywide smoking ban ended that distinction, but resistance to change is scrawled in Jimmy's DNA like bathroom graffiti. The University of Chicago brainiacs and blue-collar guys who drink here know better than to order Budweiser, because there is none—a legacy, according to local legend, of an ancient feud with a distributor.
1172 E. 55th St., 773-643-5516
BOSTON: J.J. Foley's Fireside Tavern
Two windows that are little more than slits give this Jamaica Plain haunt the foreboding look of a machine-gun nest. But belly up to the horseshoe-shaped bar and the place turns out to be quite chummy. There's a veteran bartender named Dave (a sports-trivia savant who pours a first-rate Guinness) and a virtual-bowling game for the virtually athletic. The fireplace is electric, and mainly a sight gag, but there's real value in the drinks: Two fingers of whiskey come out more like a fist.
30 Hyde Park Ave., no phone
DALLAS: Lakewood Landing
As a rule, any place that calls itself an "upscale dive" is probably faking the "dive" part of the equation. Consider this the exception. The interior reads like a textbook on down-home bar aesthetics: red vinyl booths and fake-wood paneling, a banged-up jukebox spinning old country and blues, a decrepit pool table. The Lone Star is cold, the onion rings are impeccable, and the smoke level verges on hazardous—a feature that will fade once the city's new smoking ban kicks in.
5818 Live Oak St., 214-823-2410; lakewood-landing.com
ATLANTA: Euclid Avenue Yacht Club
The name is a joke, but a serious one—a pointed jab at velvet ropes and VIP areas, and sweet-as-peaches southern gentility. Don't let the solid beer list and surprisingly tasty food (try a Georgia Dog, smothered in Brunswick stew) fool you into thinking there's been any yuppification: For more than two decades, this disheveled tavern has been an equal-opportunity inebriator, slaking the thirsts of truckers, bikers, young lovers, and neighborhood barflies—not to mention hosting gatherings of local pirate enthusiasts in full regalia.
1136 Euclid Ave. NE, 404-688-2582; theeayc.com
MIAMI: Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3559
In an era of "secret" bars that are anything but, it's refreshing to find a place that flies below the radar simply because it prefers the low altitude. This two-story VFW post (where anyone can drink) is tucked neatly at the bottom of a luxury high-rise condo building, thanks to developers who allowed it to remain more or less where it's been since the 1930s. The low-key watering hole inverts every truism about Miami Beach nightlife: The drinks are cheap, the door policy is relaxed, and you don't pay a cent extra for the best seat in the house—that spectacular view of the bay comes free.
650 West Ave., 305-672-1990
AUSTIN, TEXAS: Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon
This red-trimmed, white cinder-block building looks like a cross between a church and an adult-video store. But no one's coming here for a homily or a 25-cent peep show. Nope, they're here to drink Shiner, clutch bingo tickets, and listen to country music until a chicken struts onto a bingo board and answers the call of nature. If the chicken shit lands on the number on your ticket, you win. If it doesn't . . . you still win.
5434 Burnet Rd., 512-458-1813; ginnyslittlelonghorn.com
NEW YORK: O'Connor's
This mellow 78-year-old pub in a recently gentrified part of Brooklyn wears its responsibility to the locals lightly. Stop by early on a weeknight and you might find a few regulars buried in the Daily News or watching Jeopardy! with the bartender while nursing $3 Buds so cold they shock the hand. No one's bitching about the way things used to be, because some things—Johnny Cash on the jukebox, wooden booths, picnic tables out back in the summer—are here to stay.
39 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn; 718-783-9721
NEW YORK: Jimmy's Corner
Jimmy Glenn, who's pushing 80, used to be a boxing trainer. You get that from the memorabilia on the walls of his bar—dozens, maybe hundreds, of old photos (like one of Ali, shadowboxing underwater) and fight notices, tributes to the famous and forgotten alike. Mainly, though, you get it from Jimmy. He's here most nights, sharp as a razor in gabardine and loafers, keeping an eye on the humming room with the quiet vigilance of a man used to looking out for people but never much for the spotlight himself.
140 W. 44th St., 212-221-9510
PORTLAND, OREGON: Skyline Tavern
There's no shortage of places to grab a cheap beer in this town. What draws you to this Old West saloon up a winding road north of the city are the amenities: Ping-Pong tables, horseshoe pits, a huge communal grill, and a jumble of outdoor seating, all with a postcard-worthy view of the Willamette Valley. Go with a family pack of hot dogs or a lump of ground chuck, and let the afternoon dissolve into sunset.
8031 NW Skyline Blvd., 503-286-4788
SAN FRANCISCO: Zeitgeist
This often-raucous joint can reek of sloshed beer and guys who pedal bicycles for a living, and its well-inked bartenders can achieve an exquisite level of pissiness. But happiness resides in the beer garden out back. Order a pitcher (there are more than two dozen brews on tap), grab a $6 Niman Ranch burger from the salty grill cook, lock down a picnic table, and behold: bikers and bike messengers, yuppie invaders and righteous defenders of the Mission, dudes in skinny jeans and men who work with their hands, all drinking side by side in harmony.
199 Valencia St., 415-255-7505
PHILADELPHIA: Bob Barbara's Lounge
The owners of this dive understand that sometimes even serious drinkers need a little entertainment. On Thursdays, $6 gets you a drink ticket and a drag show. Friday and Saturday bring the Crowd Pleasers, a bluesy band specializing in "liquor-drinking music." And it's not like the South Street institution makes it hard for you to tie one on any other night of the week: The house special, a can of PBR and a shot of Jim Beam, is a borderline-irresponsible three bucks.
1509 South St., 215-545-4511
WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Tune Inn
The guy sitting next to you may be a lobbyist, a lawmaker, even the president's speechwriter. And nobody cares. At this taxidermy-strewn sliver of a bar just off the Hill, the worst instincts of a town rife with self-aggrandizing influence peddlers are checked at the door. Where does that leave you? In a booth drinking Bud, munching on a bacon cheeseburger, staring up at three stuffed deer asses and some words of wisdom on a plaque on the wall: all you need in this life is a tremendous sex drive and a great ego. brains don't mean shit.
331 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, 202-543-2725
LOS ANGELES: Frank 'n Hank
Frank was the father; Hank was the son. Seventeen years ago they sold this Koreatown shoe box to a Vietnamese-American woman called Snow, and she's been running it ever since. The place isn't a time capsule: The dartboard is electronic, poker is played on a video screen, and the jukebox careens from Patsy Cline to Jimmy Buffett. Nevertheless, every day at 5 P.M., Snow unlocks the front door, makes sure the $3 domestics are iced down, and then sets about the quiet, heroic task of making up for every ass-clown bottle jockey in the city.
518 S. Western Ave., 213-383-2087
LOS ANGELES: Tiki-Ti
Forget Trader Vic's: A rum-soaked night at this violin shop turned tiki lounge is as close as you'll get to the tropical-drinks craze that swept Hollywood from the thirties through the seventies. Marlon Brando drank here; Burt Reynolds too; but when the Polynesian fad went bust, founder Ray Buhen managed to keep rolling. Today the menu includes something like 90 concoctions—including Ray's Mistake, a mixture of rum, passion fruit, and "super-secret flavor."
4427 W. Sunset Blvd., 323-669-9381; tiki-ti.com
SEATTLE: Eastlake Zoo Tavern
This cavernous beer-and-wine-only co-op pays homage to the gritty Seattle that big dollars from high-tech industries threaten to erase. Games are plentiful and old-school: darts, pool, shuffleboard, and snooker (you'll want to read up on the rules to avoid embarrassing yourself).
2301 Eastlake Ave. E, 206-329-3277; eastlakezoo.com