20 Jersey 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.


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


Kim Marie’s Eat n Drink Away, Asbury Park

Illustration by Jorge Columbo

This curio-filled Irish pub one block from the boardwalk provides an atmospheric alternative to Asbury’s downtown dining scene. What’s more, the kitchen stays open until 1 am seven days a week. The menu is substantial; check out the deep-fried Irish egg rolls, stuffed with corned beef, cabbage and Swiss. Drafts are served in Mason jars. In the warm months, seven sidewalk tables are available for open-air dining (dogs welcome).—KS
1411 Kingsley Street, 732-774-6666

Stuff Yer Face, New Brunswick

A cousin to a calzone, the stromboli is reputedly a Philadelphia invention, but the Rutgers community has been feasting on them since Stuff Yer Face opened in 1977 a few doors from its present location. Thin pizza dough is wrapped around an assortment of stuffings and baked. The menu lists 32 varieties, but with a long list of add-ons, the design-your-own possibilities are said to be “in the billions.” In beer, your choices are relatively limited, to just under 100.—Shelby Vittek
49 Easton Avenue, 732-247-1727

Tiger’s Tale, Montgomery

Wood-paneled and glowing with beer signs, Adrian Stevens and Cory Wingerter’s Tiger’s Tale has a digital jukebox and 40 captain’s chairs around the rectangular bar, stocked with bowls of free popcorn (frequently refilled by the attentive bartenders). Best bet on the menu is the 8-ounce burger, grilled from fresh, not frozen, beef right behind the bar.—SV
1290 Route 206, 609-924-0262


Brewer’s Towne Tavern, Haddon TWP

In 2006, Kurt Brahms and Glenn Wira took over and renamed this 1934 pub, while retaining its collection of vintage beer trays, Phillies and Eagles gear, and Jersey license plates dating to 1926. In the back, you’ll find a pool table and vintage arcade games. The $8.50 Brewer’s Burger, with caramelized onions, mushrooms, bacon and Gorgonzola, hits the hedonistic jackpot.—SV
239 Haddon Avenue, 856-854-5545

Broadway Bar & Grill, Point Pleasant Beach

Possibly the only dive that opens at 7 am with a happy hour and does a brisk morning business, thanks to commercial fishermen coming from the docks for shots and beers before heading out to a day of party-boat fishing. Food service begins at 11 am, with burgers and wings flying off the grill til all hours. A block from the beach, the Broadway is also known for seafood specials and live bands playing classic rock.—EL
106 Randall Avenue, 732-899-3272

Cassville Tavern, Jackson

Think unfinished man cave. Accoutrements include an autographed photo of actor Chazz Palminteri, a shelf displaying a can of each of the 20-odd beers, and a couple flat-screens, incongruous against the faded paneling. For some reason, there’s a Denver Broncos rally towel behind the bar. The Cassville is so throwback you expect someone to light up a cigarette, but it doesn’t happen. The staff is affable, the atmosphere relaxed. If you have a good cardiologist, try the Spider Burger, a 17-ounce monster with Swiss, blue cheese and liquid blue cheese.—Ed Condran
550 West Veterans Highway, 732-928-1411

Corner Bar, Pilesgrove

There is no disputing the Corner Bar’s motto, emblazoned inside the bar: “It’s better here than across the street.” Across the street is a cemetery. Since the bar’s founding in 1933, it has been a Salem County hangout for locals as well as a stop for those en route to the Shore. You can enter through the adjoining liquor store or directly into the bar, with its dartboard, hot sandwiches, and all-day $1 Miller High Life drafts. Free peanuts on Saturdays produce a double crunch: when you eat them, and again when you cross the floor strewn with the shells.—SV
1002 Route 40, 856-769-9804

Donkey’s Place, Camden

Founded in 1943 by boxer Leon Lucas (nicknamed Donkey for the power of his punch), this idiosyncratic bar is run by his grandson, Rob. Anthony Bourdain has touted its cheesesteak (beef slabs on a seeded bun) as the world’s best, but you can get one pretty much only when the sun shines. With Haddon Avenue fairly desolate these days, Donkey’s is open only Monday to Friday from 10 to 6, plus one Saturday a month, matching the work week of most of its customers. They’re a lively lot, singing along to the newish-oldies soundtrack in “Kicking Ass since 1943” T-shirts.—Robert Strauss
1223 Haddon Avenue, 856-966-2616

Jay’s Elbow Room, Maple Shade

Illustration by Jorge Columbo

The brick building is square, the scene inside, anything but. It’s noisy, full of locals ready to break into an Eagles cheer at any time in football season. (41-33, the score of February’s Super Bowl win over the Pats, is now enshrined on a wall.) For atmosphere, there’s a nonfunctioning phone booth near the restrooms. Also a pool table, around which there’s always a kibbitzing crowd. The kitchen stays open late. You can order a cheesesteak or a hoagie until 2:30 am. The gritty joint closes at 3.—EC
2806 Route 73 North, 856-235-3687

Jug Handle Inn, Cinnaminson

Named for Jersey’s gift to the left turn and located on one, the Jug Handle Inn has the oldest liquor license in Cinnaminson, issued in 1912, when the place was affectionately called the Hole in the Wall. Owners Kevin and Nicole Stone feature blues bands on the main floor and a long, well-stocked bar. Head downstairs for shuffleboard and other games. What to eat? Easy. The Buffalo wings are renowned.—SV
1018 Forklanding Road, 856-665-9464

Tara’s Tavern, Farmingdale

The exterior, with its drab-gray shingles, is easy to drive by without even noticing. Step inside and you feel—not quite like Dorothy waking up in Oz, but like you’ve come to the right place to kick back with buddies. The wood paneling may evoke the ’70s, but the bands rock, and owner Tara Bruni sets the comradely tone with an annual Tara’s Tavern ski trip. Forget your diet and order the ReVamp, a powerhouse of Buffalo chicken strips, crumbled blue cheese, cheddar- and ranch-garlic mayo on a baguette.—EC
1 Cookstown-New Egypt Road, 609-286-2300

Twistie’s, Strathmere

Illustration by Jorge Columbo

Reputedly a speakeasy during Prohibition, this cozy, red-shingled house on Strathmere Bay has been a beloved May-to-October social spot under a succession of owners (including Jimmy and Rose Twist in the ’50s). Its unique decor includes fish mounted on the walls, rows of coconuts carved and painted into grinning heads, and an old jukebox packed with an eclectic mix of tunes. The menu is extensive, but the can’t-miss choices are steamers and the fresh fish-of-the-day sandwich. Twistie’s also boasts one of the best sunset views in the area.—SV
236 Bayview Drive, 609-263-2200

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  1. Stef

    Yesterday’s Bar and Grill in Clifton has the best wings, Burrata Salad and specials. The beer is ALWAYS Ice Cold!It’s a dive bar with gourmet quality food!
    Also DP’s in garfield~~~ someone missed the best two dive bars!

  2. Krista

    Old Canal Inn in Nutley is NOT a dive bar. There are so many great, true dive bars in the area but I don’t want anyone to know about them so I won’t mention them here. 🙂

  3. Joe Broski

    Gotta laugh how Jackson, Farmingdale, and Point Pleasant became South Jersey! They are all equal distance from Cape May and High Point – about as Central as you can get!