20 Dives We Dig

A dive can be old, but it can't be just any old place. It should have a big heart, even if it's small. Its allure rises as the sun sets. As you settle in, it lifts you up. The three B's–bartenders, burgers and bands–tend to be damn good. A dive won't bust your budget. Most of all, you leave wanting to come back.

North

Great Notch Inn, Little Falls

Illustration by Jorge Columbo

Rich Hempel’s granddad started with a roadside stand during Prohibition. For decades, the Notch has been a literal roadhouse with a big front porch, the walls crammed with vintage signs and memorabilia. Faux leopard-skin stools line the bar, which faces a small space where bands or soloists hold forth every night the Notch is open. Hempel, himself a drummer, books all the acts. Quarters are tight, but so are the bands. Pretzels are free, the $7 mini-pizzas are improbably good, and the crowd is friendly, no matter how many motorcycles are parked outside.—Eric Levin

400 Route 46 West, 973-256-7742

Krug’s Tavern, Newark

“Before we remodeled six years ago,” says Joyce LaMotta cheerfully, “we were the diviest of dive bars you could ever walk into.” LaMotta’s family has run this Ironbound stalwart since her great-granddad, Frank Krug, opened it in 1932. The original neon sign, recently restored, still hangs outside. The restrooms are now pleasant and the place is clean, but two things haven’t changed: the local crowd, receptive to newbies, and the lauded 12-ounce burgers, cooked on a tiny flattop at the bar.—EL
118 Wilson Avenue, 973-465-9795

New Park Tavern, Jersey City

With its barred windows, weatherbeaten wood facade and no sign, you might think the New Park was abandoned were it not for the American and Irish flags waving over the wooden door. Inside, the Courtney family’s tavern, which dates to 1930, livens up. Logs burn in the fireplace in winter, and a spacious courtyard opens in nice weather. Aside from corned beef and camaraderie, the big draw is the bacon cheeseburger.—John Holl
575 West Side Avenue, 201-434-9253

Old Canal Inn, Nutley

The barroom upfront is pleasantly worn at the edges; at one end of the bar, a plastic skeleton occupies the chained-off stool where, legend has it, two regulars died in close succession six decades ago. The large dining room in the rear looks freshly redone. The ample menu includes plenty of salads, generous burgers, and crispy fish and chips. A separate beer menu runs seven pages. Live music most weekends.—Ken Schlager
2 E. Passaic Avenue, 973-284-1272

Riverside Inn, Cranford

Locals affectionately call it the Dive for its homey vibe and hodgepodge of vintage neon beer signs and wooden ship wheels. The fare centers on jumbo hot dogs, burgers, and fish and chips. Some menu items are showcased in playful illustrations on paper plates hung behind the bar. A digital jukebox bangs out classic rock hits. On summer nights, the front windows are opened to admit a much-needed breeze into the tightly packed quarters.—Maryrose Mullen
56 North Ave East, 908-709-9449

Sharky’s Wings, Clifton

Don’t have too many beers before choosing the sauce or rub you want on your wings—there are 26, and you can mix your favorites “to create another.” Fried calamari is plump and crispy. Old-time baseball memorabilia complements the flat-screens showing sports. The back room is a party scene in itself.—EL
545 Highland Avenue, 973-473-0713

Smith’s Tavern, Rockaway

Three generations of Smiths have operated this well-worn watering hole and its street-facing liquor store for 78 years. The entrance to the tavern is around back, through an unmarked screen door and a dimly lit vestibule. Don’t be put off; inside, the welcome is warm. Walls and rafters are crammed with memorabilia, including an enviable collection of beer steins. Deer heads stare down from the walls. Food is served Tuesday through Saturday from a lengthy menu. Reliable choices include burgers, house-made soups and retro-priced dinner platters (under $10).—KS
175 East Main Street, 973-627-9723

Tierney’s Tavern, Montclair

In 1934, the year after Prohibition ended, the Tierney family opened this peak-roofed, two-story pub, which it still runs. Flat-screens don’t diminish the well-worn charm of the long, oval bar, wood beams and leaded-glass windows. Hot local bands draw crowds to the second floor. Upstairs or down, the standout is the big, juicy, $7.50 burger, cooked to order from fresh beef.—EL
138 Valley Road, 973-464-3849

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