7123 El Cajon Boulevard, La Mesa
The Go Lounge
Nowhere near as seedy as the location’s previous incarnations — Mad Dog’s and, before that, Tommy’s — the Go Lounge is a welcome addition to La Mesa’s dive circuit. This vintage rock ’n’ roll–themed venue has excellent dive qualifications (budget beverages, a ready-made crowd of locals, zero pretense) and its own quirky flair. The result is an easygoing neighborhood bar that pours $3 happy-hour pints from 13 choice taps (add a shot of Jack for $2). Check out movie Mondays, local-music Thursdays. There are bands on Friday, DJs on Saturdays. Oh, and the bartenders aren’t dicks.
La Mesa Boulevard
For a DIY pub-crawl, head to La Mesa Boulevard. Don’t let the quaint-looking storefronts mislead you: these bars are as divey as they come. Start off with dinner at Gingham or Johnny B’s for a burger, then head to Hoffer’s Cigar Bar for a post-meal beer and live jazz on the patio. Once you’ve got a buzz going, hit up Pete’s Place — where a smart-ass customer carded me at the door and someone put enough money in the jukebox to play Bieber for 20 minutes. Shoot pool, shoot the shit. For those who want more action, cap the night off at the wonderfully simple Regal Bar. Most places close around 11:00 p.m., so you might want to get an early start.
817 West Washington Street, Mission Hills
If neighborhood allegiance is any indicator of dive status, this Mission Hills monument is Mecca. Here, I was once home-turfed by a Navy kid who, after slurring about all the posers who aren’t even from here, revealed that he’d just relocated from Kentucky. Any joint that evokes passionate geographic loyalty from fresh-off-the-boat transplants is worth its weight in spilt bar-booze any day. Nativist clowns aside, Lamplighter is home to some of the worst (and therefore the best) karaoke conquests in town, meriting accolades past from Karaoke Star magazine, AOL City Guide, and the Reader.
4671 Park Boulevard, University Heights
I once ordered a PBR tall can at this University Heights relic, only to be told that the bar “doesn’t serve white trash.” I was then offered a Budweiser. With bartenders named Goldie and Bubba — and the joint’s website boasting about gunfights and “an actual bomb exploding in the bar” one New Year’s Eve — you couldn’t ask for a more classic dive. The place even rated a mention in the Anchorman outtake reel, Wake Up, Ron Burgundy. Don’t miss trivia on Monday nights. Yelling out the answer (or cheating with a smartphone) merits a complimentary shot from the bar.
4977 El Cajon Boulevard, City Heights
(No longer in business.)
You know that stretch of El Cajon Boulevard between I-15 and the College Area that starts to feel a little sketchy around sunset? That’s where you’ll find Last Call — a City Heights beacon of belligerence that encourages you to “go ugly early” with a weekend happy hour running from 2:30–5:30 p.m. Despite the location, Last Call attracts an affable neighborhood crowd that, in comparison, makes the clientele of trendy Uptown “dives” look like haughty bourgeois. Catch karaoke on Wednesdays and Thursdays, live bands on Fridays, hip-hop on Saturdays, and football on Sundays and Mondays.
2772 Garnet Avenue, Pacific Beach
Nite Owl Lounge
Tucked between an RV dealer and an overgrown vacant lot, the lounge opens at noon every day of the week. A laid-back, older, early-drinking crowd puts away $4.50 well drinks and cheap beers while ordering Chinese takeout. There’s neither clock nor window on the walls, so it might as well be midnight all day long — like in Vegas. Stay for the good jukebox and the twin pool tables. The scene is younger and rowdier at night, though never all that crazy.
3373 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights
This Irish pub offers cocktails for $3.50 — that’s regular price, not happy hour. The drinks may not be as stiff as other dives listed here, but the place makes up for it in price and authenticity. On Tuesday nights, they have traditional Irish music played by non-sober musicians who take up a lot more space than the little stage. When it gets packed, you may have to wait for a fiddler to bow a long note before you can squeak past.
7245 Linda Vista Road, Linda Vista
Housed in one of the few American Legion posts open to the public, Padre Gold is the untapped ore of Linda Vista dives. Just look at the numerous Yelp reviews insisting that you’ll be drugged, shot, stabbed, robbed, groped, or otherwise mistreated at ole Padre’s post. Dirt-cheap drinks ($3.25 wells, $2.75 domestic drafts) pour daily, beginning at 9:00 a.m. Hell, there are even rumors of a woman pawning her false teeth to go out drinking here. Don’t miss NASCAR Wednesdays and karaoke Thursdays. If you’re lucky, you might catch the Derby Dolls rollergirls celebrating after a match.
Poway’s Irish Pub
Formerly known as Patrick’s Irish Pub, this long-standing local watering hole was bought out by Rob Jenkins and Rob Goforth in January. Jenkins has been bartending at this location for years and gladly made the transition to part-owner with Goforth, who seems to collect bars for fun. (He owns three others.) Here, they have Taco Tuesday specials, karaoke on Wednesday, trivia on Thursday and live bands on the weekend. The only changes they’re making are basic structural repairs, better food, and lowered drink prices. I sat down with these men so they could fill you in on basic bar etiquette:
What’s the worst way to get a bartender’s attention?
Goforth: Don’t snap or whistle. I’ll tell you I’m not your dog.
What’s the best pick-up technique?
Jenkins: More alcohol.
Goforth: Just be nice, start up a conversation.
What’s a good tip?
Goforth: $1 a drink.
Jenkins: That’s standard, but for people to remember you, it’s two or three times that.
What does the drink a person orders say about them?
Goforth: If a girl is drinking whiskey, stay away…it means she’s a hardcore drinker.
Jenkins: Yeah, she’s already been through the vodka and the lighter stuff.
2223 El Cajon Boulevard, University Heights
Red Fox Room
If this piano bar connected to the Lafayette Hotel is a dive, it’s one of the classiest dives in the world. With 16th-century English woodwork, the Red Fox Room offers a slice of history you can find nowhere else in this town. Monday and Tuesday evenings, enjoy The Dave Shaw Duo while dining on steak and sipping reasonably priced cocktails. Typical patrons may be a bit older, but it’s a cool place to take a date if you want to actually communicate — without having to shout over loud music.
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