Agreeing to compile a roundup of just five San Diego dive beer bars is akin to asking to be crucified. I could fill a column simply naming the best brewery tasting rooms (AleSmith, Mike Hess, Bagby), beer bars (Toronado, Tiger!Tiger!, Encinitas Ale House), brewery restaurants (Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Pizza Port, Karl Strauss Brewery Gardens) or loveable dives (Cherry Bomb, Star Bar, Pac Shores), but there’s no way to spotlight them all in 500 words. Instead, here’s a snapshot of the greatest dives that are as heavy on craft beer as they are light on your wallet. And if your favorite is missing, just go down there and complain about it over a pint.
Lancers, University Heights (4671 Park Blvd.)
Billiards, pinball, cheap cocktails and an insanely good craft beer selection. Bottles and cans range from local favorites such as AleSmith and Stone all the way to Duvel, Russian River, Ommegang and, of course, Bohemia and Budweiser. Soak up your booze-fueled experience with a burrito from El Zarape—conveniently located across the street.
Hamilton’s Tavern, South Park (1521 30th St.)
Look up “dive beer bars” in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of Hamilton’s. Don’t miss its Firkin Fridays or Deer Hunter wings (if you dare). If you get overwhelmed by its continually rotating tap list, head next door to South Park Brewing Company for a smaller, but equally palatable selection of local brews.
O’Brien’s Pub, Kearny Mesa (4646 Convoy St.)
What this iconic lounge lacks in interior design, it more than makes up for with hard-to-find beer on draft and an extensive bottle list. Plus, its seemingly non-stop events like tap takeovers, keep the glass nights and even a Wet Hop Festival means that if you’re heading to Convoy for some food and just end up drinking your dinner at O’Brien’s, you won’t be the first.
Churchill’s Pub & Grille, San Marcos (887 West San Marcos Blvd.)
North County is home to a ton of San Diego’s brewhouses, but it tends to lack noteworthy watering holes. However, Churchill’s consistently boasts one of the best tap lists worth traveling for. Local offerings from Societe, Lost Abbey, Mother Earth and more are regulars on its draft lines, and while it might not be quite as divey as others on the list, its British-inspired menu will satiate even the hangriest drunks.
Live Wire, North Park (2103 El Cajon Blvd.)
Where else will you get drunkenly served pints of Consecration and still stumble out with money in your pocket? Plus, Live Wire’s jukebox is tied for first place with Hillcrest’s Alibi, and if its Christmas lights decor and sexy vinyl booths are too hipster for you, you can take the classiness down a peg or two across the street at Gilly’s, the only karaoke bar my generally well-behaved husband has ever been thrown out of.