Top Ten Spokane “Dive Bars”: A Collection of Love Letters

In today’s world of bloggers, vloggers, Instagram influencers, and YouTube celebrities, everything is an editorial. So, excuse me, while I play favorites. That’s right; this article is going to be completely biased. Now that that is out of the way, in ode to David Letterman, here is your top ten list for the week.

First, a few rules before we play our little game. As a resident of the Inland Empire, this is based solely on my opinion. This does NOT reflect the opinion, sales of, or official stance of Iron Horse Brewery. In fact, they probably wonder what I do over here all the time. And point B, there are many types of dive bars. There are loveable hole-in-the-walls, rough and tumble joints, and “yellow beer bars” where you won’t find a craft beer in the house. There are five-star dive bars that might serve the best food on the planet, have the cleanest kitchen, the best beer, but interior décor hasn’t been updated since the 70’s. There are hipster dive bars with their quirky, eclectic interiors and expansive vinyl collections.

Every buddy’s definition is different. I’ve many times heard folks say they were “slummin’ it” while I eyed the selection of top shelf whiskey and munched my gourmet grass-fed burger in an establishment that I wouldn’t consider “divey” at all. The point is, when someone says “dive bar”, the common thread here is NO B.S. No pretense. No expectations (especially when it comes to bathrooms — this also seems to be a common thread). This is us. These are our regulars. And if you don’t like it, you can… well, you know what I mean.

So, without further ado, here are, by my recommendation, the top 10 dive bars in Spokane, WA. (And no, this does not include the Valley. I said, “Spokane” not “Greater Spokane Area”.)… and if you don’t agree, you can… well you know…

1. Mootsy’s

Mootsy’s, you earned the number one spot in my heart. I must admit that part of this can be attributed to the old saying, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”.  After closing for repairs for a couple months in early 2019, it is good to have you back! However, our love affair extends further back than that. From your live music to your friendly daytime regulars to your local feel; I think I have always loved you. This bar could be Anywhere, USA, but somehow feels distinctly Spokane. The small group of longtime bartenders are friendly, but not chatty or overbearing. Don’t expect any corporate smiles or unnecessary small talk. The atmosphere is comfortable and feels as if it has come together organically over time rather than by design. It modestly touts all the dim lighting and no frills that you need in your life — and you do need it. And when you come in for a show, you can expect to see anything from hip hop to metal setting up beside the bar as loyal regulars crowd in to watch. Cocktails are stiff but not obnoxiously so and the beer selection is good. However, as you walk in, you may notice an award on the wall for serving the most PBR in Washington State. So, grab a cheap beer and belly up to the bar. You might even end up sitting next to me.  

Colin Mulvany photo

2. Park Inn

Park Inn, you fall into a couple of these categories, including Five-Star. Your drinks are wonderful and your constantly rotating selection of beers make it easy to find something that I like. Your staff is always friendly — and in a genuine way that actually says “I like my job” more than anything. The décor is spotted with a collection of beer swag, lights, and promotional pieces that would conjure nostalgia for most. That’s not to say it is either cluttered or fancy, but entertaining to look at. In fact, my favorite things to do is probably look through all the old pictures on the walls. Photos scattered with 80’s haircuts, 90’s crewneck sweatshirts, and tables filled with Bud and ashtrays — a simpler time. (*cough, *cough). But what draws most people in are the two “P’s” of the Park Inn. Pizza and Pinball. Your pizza is killer and your pinball machines are clearly well-cared for. For “pinheads” this place is a go-to. Machines are maintained, replaced, and rotated to keep a good collection of well-functioning machines. While there are ever only two or three at a time, there is rarely a wait — so, let’s keep this secret spot between us.

Park Inn photo

3. The Hub Tavern

The Hub, how could I forget you? I couldn’t. Ever. Walking into The Hub feels like walking into someone’s living room — if the sport of hockey threw up all over it… in the best way. It’s no question that the owners, bartenders, and regulars alike are hockey fans. But don’t worry, if you don’t like hockey or know anything about it, they will only razz you a little. And that’s only because they are good at it! This close-knit group is constantly riffing back and forth in way that instantly both entertains and puts you at ease. The atmosphere is comfortable and the beer is cold. This true tavern serves only beer and wine, takes only cash, and offers a basket of delicious popcorn on the side. (Oh, Hubcorn!) Though they only have a few taps for you beer nerds, they are rotated often — while keeping the Canadian staples — and they offer one of the most varied selections of bottles and cans in town. While you will undoubtedly see new faces coming in and out, if you go at the right time of day, you’ll catch one of the best groups of regulars in town. If you go there enough, you might even make a friend or two.

Internet pic

4. Checkerboard

Oh Checkerboard, boasting as the longest continuous liquor license in Washington state, you’ve been pouring beer since 1933. When the nation said “hell no, prohibition,” you quickly said “hell yes!” For over eighty-five years, you have been unwavering but not unchanging. Though you have maintained your neighborhood vibe over the decades, you have also adapted with the times adding games, pinball, and — of course — liquor to your offerings. This place is a Spokane staple which is both easily accessible and off the beaten path of the downtown area. Just venture a little farther east outside of downtown to find this classic gem. Whether you are looking for a stiff drink, a game of pool, live music or a piece of Spokane history, you will not be disappointed.

Checkerboard photo

5. Garageland

Garageland, this is cheating. In my head, you are categorically not a dive bar. But others would throw you into either the “hipster dive bar” or the “five star dive bar” category by the sheer amount of Rainier that you serve — and because I would agree that, yes, you are five-star in so many other ways — I have included you. (I warned you that I was going to be biased and I love this bar.) Maybe I am blinded by your lovely bartenders, your amazing slushy drinks, your kick-ass Brussel sprouts, but if the internet can list “Linda’s Tavern” as the #2 “dive bar” in Seattle, then by god, you get to be on my list — have these people never been to The Central Saloon? This place is pretty big — and by that, I mean there is a lot of room for activities. From skeeball to pool to pinball to arcade games to a custom-made photo booth. Between activities and checking out the artwork, don’t forget to eat some grub — it’s delicious — and tip your bartenders! These ladies are the coolest.

Garageland photo

And while that concludes my top five, there are five more don’t miss spots that deserve a five-star dive bar rating in some way or another. And while you may only be tolerating me and my ramblings at this point, let’s continue, shall we? I’ll try to be brief…

6. Moezy Inn

The Moezy, if these walls could talk… you have a storied history, I can tell. And, I love it.  You have a classic, clubhouse like feel. You have been a neighborhood bar for generations, and it shows. The kind of place where you say, “This is my Dad’s bar.” Then, one day you find your kid saying, “This is where my mom likes to go.” Like Cheers, but without dopey Woody or lecherous Sam. One of your flashy-dressed regulars — clad in the craziest of outfits, but always there — is actually nothing more than a mannequin waiting to startle the beejebus out of newcomers. (She often is repositioned and redressed, as to make you wonder, “Are you watching me, Flo?”) Your regulars are hardy and good-hearted. Your pinball is plenty. Your patio often complimented by a tricycle or two, and dog bowl can be found by the door. Who doesn’t love a good bar dog? You open early enough to catch the morning gameshows, but are still there for me at 2 a.m. So, turn on The Price is Right, and let’s have a beer! Maybe, I’ll catch you on the way home too.

Moezy Tavern photo

7. PJ’s Pub

PJ’s, the first time I walked in, I thought to myself, “I bet this bar has great karaoke.” You can smell it in their air. I was right. You can find the karaoke champions and the too-drunk-to-hold a note singers here. So, it’s fun whether you want to sing or just watch. You get the whole spectrum. You have a rotation selection of craft beers, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find someone ordering a shot of Jager at the bar top. Your layout is split by staircases into layers upon layers, making the bar feel spacious and easy to find a space to fit your needs. Your staff is friendly, easy to chat with. The kind of bar staff that makes people feel like they are getting the “friendly hookup”, but really that is just how you pour a drink. They just do it with a friendly chat and a smile — one that you know isn’t forced or mandated by some corporate handbook.

Victoria EB Media photo

8. Maxwell House

Maxwell House, everyone knows you have the best broasted chicken in Spokane. It’s legen—dary! But does everyone know that you have an outdoor beach volleyball court? Well, they do now! Combine all this with the comfortable interior of wood and brick making it feel old, but warm and cozy, this place is really unique. But, I think what I loved the most was when I walked in the first time, an older gentleman was waiting tables — that’s not it, let me get to it. He was busy, but he saw me standing there and made time to speak with me. From what I gathered, this was his place. And even though he couldn’t help me with what I was asking, he was patient and kind. And then he went back to waiting on his many tables. Quality of service. Quality of food. Quality of atmosphere. (I did see recently that this place was listed for sale, so get there quick before you miss your chance.

Photo by Seattlebars.org

9. The Brown Derby Tavern

Derby, you are no longer a dive bar. From what I have heard, you used to be a classic dive! But, you have cleaned yourself up, and now I’d say you’re more of what I would call, “a neighborhood bar”. Congrats! However, because you were such a dive staple for so long… and because you maintained a lot of your original traits… I have included you. Also, congrats! I mean, you kept your log cabin like exterior — classic dive charm. You have an old mural-like painting framed on your wall. And, if you look closely enough, not everyone’s legs match up with their torsos. In fact, I think we may be missing a pair. If you are over 5’8” you will have to duck to get onto the patio. (I love asking my tall friends to come outside with me.) The drinks are quality and can range for classic to higher-end booze. Though, I usually stick to cheap beer and a shot of Fernet — which the bar staff was quick to pick up on, thanks guys. Your tap selection is good enough for craft drinkers, but you keep the big boys on too. And, you have a great patio for an afternoon beer, just to sit in the heart of Garland and watch as the people walk by — but don’t steal my spot, people! (Or at least, buy me a High Life, I’ll see ya on Tuesday. Maybe we’ll play some pull tabs?)

The Brown Derby Tavern

10. Sam & Dom’s

Sam, Dom, like your neighbor, The Checkboard, you have been here awhile. You have watched Spokane grow and change, but you have remained the same. You are the classic dive bar — and I hope I don’t have to keep saying this, but I mean this in positive way. I mean to say that you are a five-star dive bar, in the way that you may see an older exterior, a place that has been here a while, but take a seat. Go in and stay a while. You might be surprised by how much you like the no B.S. atmosphere, the great rapport with regulars, and the good beer selection that runs from old staples to newer craft cans. Did I mention that they have killer hot dogs? Try a burger. Some of these places like Sam and Dom’s should really be called “establishments” rather than dive bars. They have been here a long time. Their regulars are established in their ways. Their atmosphere is set. They have been keeping beer cold for 70 plus years. So, don’t think you should tell them what they should change or update. Maybe, just try it their way.

Sam & Dom’s

**There are many, many, many other good bars, restaurants, dives, establishments in Spokane. I didn’t even touch the valley! So, I know I have missed a few, because the list would be way too long. So, if I didn’t include your favorite place, or maybe even your place of business, it is not because I don’t love you. Maybe, you didn’t fit into my criteria for this article. Or maybe, I’m not ready to share you yet, and I’m trying to keep you my little secret…shhhhhh.


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