Below is a transcript of a live online panel discussion on dive bars in the Boston area, which took place on Thursday, October 20, 2011. The panel included several panel members, with food writers and media people participating. The hour-long chat included talks with the panel about dive bars that have good food, as well as particularly sketchy dives and dive bars that are no longer around. And as always, the chat included some viewer participation. [Note: The original discussion can be replayed at the following link: http://www.hiddenboston.com/online-discussion-1011-2.html and please go to the restaurant discussions link to check out our other chats.]
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Good morning, everyone! Welcome to another discussion, this one focusing on dive bars in the Boston area.
Marc H.: This is our 16th discussion (we actually had a really fun one last week with college students), and as always, we have some panel members who you may know. Why don't we do some introductions? I'll start--I'm Marc, the founder and owner of Boston's Hidden Restaurants as well as the news-based blog Boston Restaurant Talk http://www.bostonrestaurants.blogspot.com
Michelle C.: Thanks, Marc! I'm Michelle, a local, budget-friendly food blogger (www.theeconomicaleater.com)
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Hi, Michelle! Welcome!
Justin h: Dive bars.... Always a good time
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Definitely. Rainy nights like the one we had last night are just made for dives.
Justin h: Northern star, always fun
alls: barley hall
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Hold those thoughts, as we'll be getting into dives in a minute. We're still waiting for a few folks who will be on the panel today.
Justin h: Not totally a dive bar but big city is cool, and different
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Today's discussion centers around a topic that always seems to be a popular one--dive bars in and around Boston. We'll start by talking about dives that have some particularly good food (for instance, the bar pizza at the Lynwood Cafe in Randolph), then move on to discuss some of the more, er, INTERESTING dive bars in the area--ones that are very sketchy, have a lot of character, a bit of history, etc. And maybe we can wrap things up by mentioning a few dives that are no longer in business, but that you still have fond (or bad) memories of.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): By the way, Luke O'Neil, who is a Boston-based food/drinks/music writer--and the author of "Boston's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in Beantown"--had been hoping to be here today, but he is on a plane somewhere right now (presumably to head to a dive bar or two). If you like dive bars, his book is certainly one to check out. http://www.amazon.com/Bostons-Best-Dive-Bars-Drinking/dp/1935439251
Marc H. (hiddenboston): A quick note to our viewers: Feel free to chat with us at any time, but for the most part, we will try to talk first with the panel, then open up the discussion to all of you if you would like to ask or answer any questions.
Michelle C.: Great! I'll definitely check out Luke's book - thanks for the heads up.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): There's also a New York City dive bar book that is a bit similar to Luke's (someone else wrote it, though) that I carry with me at all times. :-) It is extremely funny, as you might expect considering some of the dives in Manhattan.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): By the way, before we get started, for some examples of dive bars, a question we posed to our readers on the subject, with some pretty interesting answers... http://www.hiddenboston.com/questions/dive-bars-boston.html
Marc H. (hiddenboston): The Boston-area food/drinks writer MC Slim JB had a great quote on this page, stating that "a real dive bar has to be on the filthy side and have an implied threat of violence."
Michelle C.: Haha...well said!
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Soooo......what are some dive bars that have good food? I'm thinking items such as bar pie, wings, steak tips, burgers, etc. As I mentioned before, the Lynwood in Randolph is a good example, as it has some of the best pizza in the Boston area and is NOT the type of place you want to go to for a business meeting.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): I'll mention another, though I don't think they like to be considered a "dive bar," as they take a lot of pride in the food they make. The place is Cronin's Publick House in Quincy by the old shipyard, and they have some outstanding dishes, including Cajun chicken soup, steak tips, KC sirloin, and bar pizza.
Michelle C.: Newtowne Grille on Mass Ave. in Cambridge has some surprisingly good/cheap pizza...nothing fancy, but great for what it is.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Yup, that's actually a place I go to every now and then, usually for takeout pizza. Perfect pizza to have with beers while watching a football or baseball game.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Newtowne actually used to be a bit more scary than it is now. It seems that a lot of college students have found out about it, so it's not quite the "boulevard of broken dreams" place that it used to be.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): That stretch of Mass. Ave. between the Arlington border and Harvard Square used to have a string of dives, including Nick's Beef and Beer House (between Porter and Harvard), where you could get $3.00 pitchers and double cheeseburgers that cost little more than pocket change.
Michelle C.: Beacon Hill Pub is supposed to have decent food as well...I've been for drinks, but have heard the food is good!
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Both the Beacon Hill Pub and the Sevens are fun places to go.
Michelle C.: $3 pitchers - always a good thing! ;)
Richard C: Hi Marc!
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Hi, Richard! Welcome to the chat! Feel free to introduce yourself!
Richard C: Richard here from Boston Burger Blog, plenty of dive bars with worthy food.
Richard C: also write weekly burger musings for the Weekly Dig..
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Richard and I were joking (well, half-joking) about hosting this discussion at Cappy's Tavern in Readville, which is just about the perfect dive, in my opinion. Great greasy burgers there.
Richard C: still need to get over there, I was completely serious :)
hyde: Central Square Cambridge used to be a dive bar mecca. I miss the Bradford most of all. The Buffet was also very divey. (And real regulars always pronounced it "buffitt).
hyde: and Nick's Beef and Beer House was *classic*--the fake fire logs on the walls for lighting were the best.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): I tried to buy a few of those fire logs when they closed, but they had all been taken by then.
Michelle C.: RF O'Sullivan's could be considered a more "upscale" dive - tiny, extra casual, not very clean...but, the food is insanely good (went last night for the first time).
Marc H. (hiddenboston): I probably get to O'Sullivan's about 40-50 times a year. It used to be a bit more of a dive, but many of the regulars seem to be gone now.
DM: Ahoy! Dan McCarthy, editor for UrbanDaddy Boston (www.urbandaddy.com) here. Gonna catch up on the thread and drop in here and there.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Good morning, Dan! Welcome to the discussion!
Marc H. (hiddenboston): So now that we have most of the panel here, I'll ask the initial question from a few minutes back--what are some dive bars that you like to go to for their food? Any good steak tips, bar pizza, wings, burgers?
Marc H. (hiddenboston): And I'll add one more--Sadie's in Waltham (just off Moody Street) can be a rather grim place, but their pork tips, turkey tips, and steak tips are all great.
Richard C: The Avenue in Allston used to be a complete dump; slightly better now, still a total dive. The burgers are fantastic, Griddled, greasy and only $1 on Mondays.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Uh, $1.00?
Richard C: all day Monday, toppings are .50 each I believe, but a basic cheeseburger is $1. Two people can easily eat for under $10, you'll probably need 1 or two burgers are fries are a la carte.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): So I could have 5 burgers and 3 beers there for maybe $15? Monday can't come soon enough.
Richard C: exactly, I'll meet you there...
Marc H. (hiddenboston): :-)
hyde: oh, how about the Drinking Fountain on Washington in JP? I haven't been for many years, but that was a great neighborhood bar way back.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Is that still around, hyde? What part of Washington Street?
hyde: I think the Drinking Fountain is still there. it's a few blocks past Doyle's, going towards Forest Hills
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Darn, and I was right around there last night, too. We almost went to Kelleher's on the Roslindale/JP border last night. I guess they have some excellent food there now, though it still looks scary from the outside.
Richard C: I always liked the pizza at Doyle's, I don't think it's more than $6 and pretty damn good.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Yes, it's a bit like South Shore bar pizza and can be very good. Speaking of South Shore bar pie, anyone have any favorites for it? Some of the biggest dives south of Boston have the best bar pizza (the Alumni Cafe in Quincy is a good example).
hyde: side note: I had what I think was the worst meal of my life (corned beef and cabbage) at that dive bar that was the B side and is now the terribly named Lord Hobo.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): The B Side actually had some good dishes back in the day, though not everything was good there.
Michelle C.: Bad corned beef and cabbage is never a good thing...
Marc H. (hiddenboston): No, definitely not. I had one of the worst versions of it ever at a bar south of Boston that is now closed and shall remain unnamed. :-)
Richard C: worst meal of your life? that sounds like a topic for another discussion.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Yes, perhaps we can do that next month.
DM: The Chipolte burger at Tavern at the End of the World in Charlestown has served me very well. Good prep work for a marathon drinking day. That usually starts and ends there.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Ah yes, I love Tavern at the End of the World. By the way, before we move on to our next topic, do any of our other readers out there have any suggestions for good food at dives in the Boston area?
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Our next topic should be a fun one, by the way.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): We have about 25 minutes left and two topics to cover, so let's move on. What are some particularly sketchy or scary dive bars in the Boston area that you have been to? Included in this might be places that have a ton of character (and characters) and perhaps a bit of history to them, whether it be good or bad.
Michelle C.: PA's Lounge in Somerville....scary, dark, but good venue for local live music and some cheap beer
Marc H. (hiddenboston): That's just outside of Union Square, Michelle?
Michelle C.: Yes it is!
Richard C: I went to Aces High in Southie once. Let's never speak of that day again...
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Southie has a number of scary-looking places, including the Blackthorn, which really isn't all that scary--I've been there a few times with no real problems.
hyde: the bad corned beef was not at the B side, it was at place it was prior to that, The Windsor Tap. which was a really sketchy place.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Oh right, now that place was definitely scary.
DM: Croke Park has always had the lingering threat of the unexpected. Especially if you're not a local.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Just the name "Croke Park" sounds scary. It's also known as Whitey's, no?
DM: Yes, the very same. As Luke points out in his book, not named for Whitey Bulger, but for another "Whitey" who was a low level bookie in the neighborhood who was eventually gunned down in the bar.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Ah, sounds like a good place to go on a first date.
hyde: there used to be a bunch of down and dirty places in Boston on the edges of the old Combat Zone that were good scary places to drink. A few blocks out there was also the Blue Sands, which was a fantastic cabbie dive.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Yes, I have a great story from the Province Pub near Downtown Crossing that is too long to write about here, but basically I found myself running out of the place as fast as possible, being chased down by someone who simply wanted a light for his cigarette.
Michelle C.: Wow, Marc - that sounds intense!
DM: @ Marc - That was me. Sorry, whiskey night...
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Ha ha, I forgive you.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Has anyone been to Joey Mac's in East Cambridge? Or Upstairs Downstairs on the Quincy/Dorchester line? Or Parrotta's Alpine Lodge in Chelsea? Those are three places that I want to check out, but just don't know what I'll be getting myself into.
Michelle C.: I have not....
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Some of the scariest-looking dive bars are actually in the suburbs. Groton had one (of all places), and you can find a few in such towns as Walpole, Norwood, Beverly, Holbrook, and Framingham.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): More than a few people stay away from Lewis' Bar & Grill in Norwood Center, but they have terrific burgers there, and it's not really all that scary.
hyde: I live in Attleboro now, and there's still a couple real dives here
Richard C: Waltham has some sketchy places, Moody Street is quite the gamble.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Yes, as I mentioned earlier, Sadie's in Waltham is a bit sketchy, but great tips there.
DM: @ Richard C - Agreed
Marc H. (hiddenboston): So we have about 10 minutes left--why don't we talk about some dive bars that are no longer around?
Marc H. (hiddenboston): I used to go to many, including Nick's Beef and Beer House, The Rat in Kenmore Square (which was more of a music place), the Midnight Court in downtown Boston (where Jose McIntyre's is now), and Woodley's in North Cambridge (the basement of where the Elephant Walk is now).
Michelle C.: Razzy's in Somerville....gone, and according to people who I knew went there, it's probably a good thing.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Yes, that place didn't close all that long ago, as I recall.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): By the way, for some reason I'm thinking there was a place called Bloodstains across Somerville long ago. Does anyone remember that?
Marc H. (hiddenboston): And of course there were Fathers 1, 2, 3, and 4...
Michelle C.: Bloodstains?! That's one place I'd never go into...
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Is it because of the name, Michelle? :-D
Michelle C.: Hahaha yes - the name scares me.
Richard C: no chance, Michelle.
hyde: I think I mentioned most of the closed ones I used to like (sigh, the Bradford Cafe) except maybe the Jumbo Lounge in Somerville
Marc H. (hiddenboston): The Jumbo. I do recall a stabbing there when I was in school.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): I think there was also a place called Castle Grayskull, but that may have been a music place.
Marc H. (hiddenboston): And the bar in the basement of the Aku Aku in Cambridge (now Summer Shack) that looked like something out of a Mad Max movie...
Michelle C.: OK all - I need to head to a meeting, but great chat today. Thanks again, Marc!
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Yes, it is noon and time to go. Thanks, all! Maybe we can all meet up at a dive bar one of these days for a dollar draft and a cheap burger or two.
Richard C: thanks, Marc!