The dive bar is difficult to define. Everyone has their own ideal version, and sometimes other bars just don’t match up. This East Bay dive bar list doesn’t strive to list every favorite; instead, use this as a guide to find a favorite to make your own. There’s the cozy home feel of Schmidt’s Pub in Albany, where board games can be played by the fireplace; Warehouse Cafe offers quirkiness in the form of polar bears in display cases; and the karaoke nights at Mel-O-Dee Cocktails attract local wannabe singers looking for their moment to shine. Whatever dive bar you’re looking for, the East Bay has you covered.Read More
10 Tried-and-True East Bay Dive Bars for a Boozy Night Out
The low-key places to drink with the locals
If you’re looking for a dive bar with a bit of quirk, Warehouse Cafe has quirk to spare. Located at the end of a twisty-turny road in Port Costa, the front of this dive features views of the Carquinez Strait, while the cavernous inside features plenty of drinks and knick-knacks — including, famously, an upright polar bear in a glass display case. There’s a pool table, prime rib on the weekends, cocktails, and a lengthy beer selection to get the night rolling.
Little Hill Lounge
Little Hill Lounge has been a part of the El Cerrito bar landscape for decades, but more recently this dive picked up some new-school bar cred when the owners of the Kon-Tiki in Oakland bought the bar in 2022. The new ownership kept the bar wonderfully dark and divey, with music nights and pop-ups to go alongside the strong drinks.
This dive bar has been around since the 1940s before settling into its El Cerrito Plaza home in 1969, and it’s been a favorite after all these years. This is the place to go hang out with the locals, and its claim to fame is the popular karaoke night, which now happens four nights a week. If you’re feeling a bit shy, there are also five TVs to watch sports from if that’s more your style.
Hotsy Totsy Club
The Hotsy Totsy is a San Pablo Avenue mainstay that got an update when new ownership took over the space in 2009. Despite the changes, the bar manages to keep its longtime local clientele happy while attracting new East Bay denizens to its location with well-made specialty cocktails. Besides the solid drinks, there’s shuffleboard available, and a food truck parked outside for a convenient post- or pre-drink bite.
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The charm of Schmidt’s Pub on Solano Avenue is that it feels like you’re having a night out at someone else’s home, with beers to drink and games to play alongside the fireplace. The “bar” is a counter at the back of the pub, where patrons can order beer or wine before settling into a table. Be warned, it’s a cash-only dive that tends to get packed with locals quickly, but it’s a gem of Solano Avenue if you can find a seat.
If you’re looking for a more mature semblance of the college bar experience, the Graduate is the place to go. It’s not quite next door to UC Berkeley, but the distance gives the bar some space from an all-student crowd, mixing in neighbors with soon-to-be grads. There’s a solid bar menu made of classic cocktails and free popcorn for customers.
The Kingfish Pub & Cafe
The Kingfish is a well-loved local dive that survived the condo-fication of the East Bay by rolling across the street via trailer to its current location at 5239 Telegraph Avenue. The former bait shop now has a sprawling patio out back with TVs to watch sports on, and it continues to attract crowds any day of the week.
Don’t let the skeletons and skull decor throw you off — the Avenue is welcoming to patrons both living and ghoulish. The year-round, Halloween-esque interior is courtesy of owners Curtis and Tana Howard, and is filled with fun props to marvel over while you down a drink or two. If Halloween is a favorite holiday of yours, it’s worth dropping in during this time as the Howards really up the fun factor.
Thee Stork Club
Thee Stork Club was a true dive and music venue back in the day, and now new owners Marc Ribak and Billy Joe Agan are keeping that history alive — albeit in their way. The spruced-up space still hosts bands of all kinds in its performance area, but the bar itself is now a 1970s throwback space, complete with velvet paintings, faux rock wall, and casino carpeting. The back room, meanwhile, is an all-red vibe with circular booths perfect for nursing cocktails with friends. The drink menu is made up of “classic” drinks from the 1990s, such as appletinis and lemon drops, just like what every dive bar needs.
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Cafe Van Kleef
Cafe Van Kleef is a quirky Oakland spot, known for its greyhounds and tchotchkes, and generally being a laidback spot to hang out. Order at least one of the few specialty greyhounds at the start, and soak in the artist vibes of the space while you’re there.
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