Top 5 Cleveland Dive Bars

Fertile dive bar ground with deep, deep roots

In the most affectionate way possible, Cleveland might be the dive bar of America. And while that might sound like a negative, from this writer it is a glowing compliment, a tribute to the city’s longevity, deep history, unapologetic authenticity and almost universally down-to-earth residents. Chatting with someone from Cleveland, the love for the city shines through immediately, a testament to the devotion sparked by one of the Midwest’s great cities.

Taken together, all of those factors make for fertile ground when it comes to the birth and preservation of some of the country’s best dive bars. From dive bars that pay tribute to the city’s blue collar history and close relationship with Lake Erie (Harbor Inn, see below) to classic Midwestern dive bars that serve as nerve centers of a neighborhood (Parkview Nite Club, below), Cleveland is a city filled with timeless, beautiful places to snag a cheap domestic beer in great company.

The list below captures our favorites, but Cleveland is full of great options, all of which can be found in our Cleveland Dive Bar Travel Guide

1. Harbor Inn

Harbor Inn - Cleveland Dive Bar - Sign

1219 Main Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113 | Google Maps

A staple of “best dive bar in America” lists for a very long time, Harbor Inn’s status as the oldest continuously operating bar in Cleveland certainly supports that distinction. Long a destination for workers with livelihoods tied to the nearby Cuyahoga River, little has changed beyond an expanded bottle beer selection and not much else.

Under a sign that reads “Harbor Inn. Division of Wally World.” Harbor Inn packs in the standard set of Cleveland dive bar amenities, including a set of bar games and a collection of long-won bowling trophies. Just across the river from the born, then defunct, then reborn Cleveland Flats neighborhood, Harbor Inn stands an enduring, brick-laden Cleveland dive bar fixture.

2. Now That’s Class

Now That's Class - Cleveland Dive Bar - Dart Board

11213 Detroit Ave, Cleveland, OH 44102 | Google Maps

Driving by Now That’s Class can mean missing the Cleveland dive bar entirely as its single awning and lone door mix in seamlessly with a semi-urban city block. But walking into Now That’s Class is a different story, a dizzying array of visual stimuli that stretches across two graffiti- and sticker-covered rooms. The working, vintage jukebox at the end of the main room gives way to a secondary room that looks part concert venue, part skatepark, part shrine to the fine art medium of spray paint.

That Now That’s Class features live music should come as no surprise as this is a Cleveland dive bar that oozes rock. Not only does the artwork throughout the space harken to Cleveland’s deep connection to music, but should that same music motivate Now That’s Class patrons to dance, a long metal pole on an elevated stage provides a great outlet to do just that.

3. Parkview Nite Club

Parkview Nite Club - Cleveland Dive Bar - Inside

1261 W 58th St, Cleveland, OH 44102 | Google Maps

Historical, deep rooted cities like Cleveland, especially in the Midwest, are littered with corner neighborhood dive bars, the past and present hubs of local activity that serve as collecting points for the residential neighborhoods they serve. Parkview Nite Club might Cleveland’s finest example of just that phenomenon, a corner plot in Cleveland’s Detroit Shoreway neighborhood just west of the city’s downtown core.

In addition to the affordable beer dispensed from the bar, Parkview Nite Club hosts a classic American kitchen, providing the vintage food to go with vintage beer that makes this Cleveland dive bar such a neighborhood institution. And a visit to Parkview Nite Club wouldn’t be complete without a stop at nearby Tina’s Nite Club, a mini “nite club” circuit that in this case includes Tina’s signature karaoke night crowds.

4. Hotz Cafe

Hotz Cafe - Cleveland Dive Bar - Inside

2529 W 10th St, Cleveland, OH 44113 | Google Maps

Babe Ruth drank here. Ty Cobb drank here. FDR drank here. And that’s really where any argument to visit this Lincoln Park classic should end. No other motivation should be necessary. But to sweeten the pot, the stools those luminaries sat on are still in use among a handful of other original fixtures that trace back to Hotz Café’s opening in 1919.

Even more remarkable may the fact that Hotz Café has stayed within the ownership of a single family for four generations and counting, cementing the deep connection between the Cleveland dive bar and its neighborhood. And the bowling game in the center of the main room is not to be missed, a machine as vintage and as majestic as Hotz Café itself.

5. Dickey’s Lanes

Dickey Lanes - Cleveland Dive Bar - Bar Door

3275 W 25th St, Cleveland, OH 44109 | Google Maps

Name a better duo than a Midwestern dive bar and bowling. Dickey’s Lanes sits squarely in the overlapping space among those two institutions, a small bowling alley on Cleveland’s south side that packs its largely league-based membership into a dive bar just off the scoring tables. A past Drunk History filming location, original murals dot the walls within Dickey Lanes and the ancient lanes look largely untouched by time.

Not to be outdone by the other luminary Cleveland dive bars on this list, Dickey’s Lanes can trace its history back to 1946 when similar bowling alley slash bar combinations were common in its part of town. Today, Dickey’s remains as the lone stalwart of Cleveland’s bowling heyday, the original fixtures and noticeable lack of glow bowl-style electronic scoring a clear connection to that past.

Of course, countless other Cleveland dive bars likely deserve to be on this list, places like neighborhood pool hall B And G Tavern, institutions on a micro level that serve as enduring and authentic connections to Cleveland’s deep roots, grounded people and impressive devotion to the art of drinking.

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Published October 9, 2021

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