High dives

It's harder than ever to find a bar with soul in town these days. But it's not impossible.
By MIKE MILIARD  |  August 31, 2009

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SWELL SWILL: The gun's always greasy, the beer's always cold, and the popcorn's always free at the Silhouette in Allston.

See the losers in the best bars. Meet the winners in the dives.

—  Neil Young

We find ourselves living in a city that's changing before our eyes. The humble, the homegrown, the timeworn — these things aren't valued like they once were. Where they do still exist, they're often being replaced with the shiny, the pricy, the soulless. But even in this dead-eyed era of creeping corporatism, pockets of character, authenticity, and independence do still exist.

Bars, we're talking about. Dive bars. Holes. Downmarket drinking dens. The kind of local places where the beer is but a couple bucks. Where the drinks are cold and stiff. Where the air wafts with the unmistakable but not-altogether-unpleasant tang of suds long since spilled. Where the neon shines bright and true and the jukebox plays good and loud.

Here, in no particular order, are some of our favorites.

CHARLIE'S KITCHEN | 10 Eliot Street, Cambridge | This Harvard Square haunt has a better beer selection than most proper dives. It also has the best punk-and-indie-stocked juke in town. Occasional live music? Gravy.

CROSSROADS IRISH PUB | 495 Beacon Street, Boston | Wednesday nights, buy a pitcher and get a free pizza. Thursday nights — sign up for the Beirut tournament! — get an order of hot wings with your pitcher. You can't beat that with a stick.

DOYLE'S CAFÉ | 3484 Washington Street, Jamaica Plain | Not exactly a "dive," per se, but the utter laidbackness and lack of pretension of this cavernous, creaky, character-rich, 127-year-old JP classic earns it a spot on this list. Try the Pickwick Ale.

THE DUGOUT | 722 Comm Ave, Boston | The name fits on a technical level: it's below street level! But to judge by the primary decor — BU hockey team pictures dating back to the '60s — it's otherwise a misnomer.

J.J. FOLEY'S | 117 East Berkeley Street and 21 Kingston Street, Boston | It's a rare dive bar indeed that features friendly-faced barkeeps in starched shirts and black ties. But that's the kind of class you're in for at these two Irish-Boston institutions.

THE MODEL CAFÉ | 7 North Beacon Street, Allston | I say "Model," you say "Mo-delle." Let's call the whole thing off. Then we'll crack open a couple beers, feed five five bucks into the jukebox, and argue about what songs to pick.

P.A.'S LOUNGE | 345 Somerville Avenue, Somerville | The P.A. stands for "Portuguese American." Long frequented by men from Madeira and the Azores, it now also plays host to hipsters seeking cheap booze and some of the best live music in town.

T.C.'S LOUNGE | One Haviland Street, Boston | Walls chockablock with cheesy kitsch. Posters stained yellow from cigarettes of ages past. A faux fireplace. Shots with names like "Oxycontin" and "Blackout." Naked Photo Hunt. Pure class.

THE TAM | 222 Tremont Street, Boston | In a nifty nod to thrift, this Theater District stalwart glued countless pennies atop its tables. You'll need more than a few Abe Lincolns to order a beer here — but not too many more. (Try the Brubaker pounders.)

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