Toronto’s best dive bars are no-frills neighbourhood joints without pretension. Nothing to set across town for, they’re modest, familiar parlours for late nights and long tabs – these are the kinds of places you stumble home from but can afford to keep shuffling back to.
The Bar With No Name | 1651 Bloor St. W
Defying all labels, The Bar With No Name is a High Park watering hole that hosts open mics and Magic: the Gathering nights while TVs are all sports and patrons can share pub grub over a board game or Cards Against Humanity.
Bill Hicks Bar | 946 Queen St. E
Bill Hicks Bar is a Leslieville dive that pays tribute to its namesake counterculture comedy anti-hero by playing up his cult appeal. A curious if befitting shrine, the walls are all plastered with hard rock and comedy albums, old vinyl records fan across the ceiling. Space is tight and you order at a tiki bar, washed in dull, red lighting and twinkly psychedelic touches.
Bistro 422 | 422 College St.
Known to some as “the Beast,” Bistro 422 is a boozy Little Italy basement bistro with a reputation. Feel free to chalk that up to the cheap pitchers of local brews (or standard cocktail mixes) or the full page shooters list – whatever: just as long as you know that this isn’t a place you walk away from without a distinctive wobble. (So don’t forget they serve food, okay?)
The Communist’s Daughter | 1149 Dundas St. W
Borrowing its title from Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea song of the same name, Dundas West’s Communist Daughter appears to take its colour scheme and general visual aesthetic from the album, too, but a lot of what’s seen here is leftover from the space’s previous life as the Portugese diner Nazare Snack Bar. The generously poured wine and pickled eggs are new, though.
Lipstick & Dynamite | 992 Queen St. W
Lipstick & Dynamite’s vegetarian-minded menu, board games and arcade consoles almost make this West Queen West establishment more café than dive. It’s an intentionally informal space with a no fancy cocktails policy in full effect, but come here for a couple of pints or some bar rails and you’re set.
Sweaty Betty’s | 13 Ossington Ave.
With its yellow walls proudly decorated salon style with framed tattoo flash and sailor portraits, Sweaty Betty’s is an Ossington dive appealing to those with an affinity for a very specific, borrowed nostalgia, but the cheap, unfussy mixed drinks and draft beer the attracts is less specific clientele.
Thirsty and Miserable | 197 Baldwin St.
This Kensington Market beer bar has eight draught options and stocks a variety of 35 bottles that often includes some special small batch brews and rare imports. Borrowing its name from a Black Flag song, it relishes in its dive status, so look no further than the recycled tall can boxes fixed to the walls for a list of what’s on offer.
Unlovable | 1415-B Dundas St. W
Tucked away from sight, Unlovable is a Dundas West basement bar named after the Smiths song. Previously the bar’s held monthly Morrissey- and Smiths-only DJ nights, and while that chapter closed with 2015, you can bet that they’ll hold the after party if Moz ever comes back to town.
(Main photo: Communist’s Daughter by Stephen Chanasyk via Flickr)