In a city notorious for its sketchiness, there are a lot of Vancouver dive bars where cheap drinks are far more important than overall safety and comfort, quality meals or sanitary bathrooms.
It is these great places where the common man and the shriveled alcoholic can share a story and a smoke, where the TV’s are few and toilet seats well urinated-on, where the lights are dim and odd smells lurk.
Many dive bars in Vancouver have become popular hangouts for young people who can’t afford to pay top dollar to get drunk. It has also made a lot of dives a lot safer than they used to be, while still attracting the disheveled regulars that make such bars semi-dangerous and a lot more interesting.
If you’re wondering where to get drinks for cheap without any frills whatsoever, here’s a rundown of Vancouver dive bars where the grit and musk are to be expected - and expectations are low.
For your safety, this list is in order from tamest to seediest so depending on how adventurous you’re feeling, you might want to stick with some of the first Vancouver dive bars listed. It can get hairy out there.
Oh and hey, I’m sure I’m missing some. Know of any other dive bars in Vancouver not listed? Make a place suggestion below and check out our Vancouver dive bars listing for more locations.
As far as Vancouver dive bars go, The Cambie is a pretty tame one in the sense of being in the presence of rowdy students as opposed to bikers, junkies and elderly alcoholics. Located below a Gastown hostel, The Cambie has been a place for interesting travelers with little to piss away to enjoy some drink and a warm meal since 1987. The tradition of cheap food and drinks is still there, while becoming much more of a mainstream establishment in recent years. Normally-priced draught pints range from $3.75 - $4.50 and jugs range from $11.25 - $13.50, not including their daily drink specials. Not to mention they have a cheap-ass food menu too, full of greasy options in the $5 - $10 price range, give or take.
The main attraction to Pub 340 is a tossup between the dirt-cheap drinks and the entire room dedicated to pinball machines that includes everything from Star Trek to Spider-Man, Metallica, Starship Troopers, Terminator 2, and Avengers to combine childhood nostalgia with adult beverages. This is a super-fun-yet-somewhat-seedy place with daily specials on drinks and greasy pub food, plus lots of other good stuff like arcades, darts, karaoke, open mic nights, and 12 TVs showing the games. Daily drink specials include featured bottles for $3.75, house draught at $10.50 per pitcher and $5 Jager bombs.
When an establishment labels itself as “Vancouver’s #1 Dive Bar” you begin to wonder the authenticity of it. Is Funky Winker Beans a legit dive bar? Fuck yeah. Tattoos, punk and metal karaoke, and cheap drinks can all be found at this East Hastings dive bar that sees a nice mix of genuine weirdos with those just dipping their toes into the pool of punk rock. If it’s grimy you want, it’s grimy you’ll find in this Vancouver dive bar that always has something interesting happening, from weekly events to live shows.
Located in Vancouver’s east side is Ivanhoe Pub on Main, home of the $5 lunch specials and free-meal-with-beer-purchase Mondays. Located under the Backpacker’s Hostel, it’s a place where travelers dig pocket change for cheap pints being the closest hotel and pub to Pacific Central, and regulars have made home with the assurance they can always get a warm meal for next to nothing. Not only is the place cheap; it’s fun. You’re almost always guaranteed to see some interesting characters with live music on Fridays and Saturdays and drink specials throughout the week. If not watching the game on any of the TVs, you can partake in some friendly competition of your own on the pinball machines, dartboards or pool tables.
When it comes to Vancouver dive bars, there are few as laidback and unpretentious as Brickhouse without being complete sketch holes. Old couches offer comfy seating in a dim environment, shelves are stocked with used paperbacks and the fish tank are all part of what make hanging out at Brickhouse feel like you’re in a basement from the ‘80s. But all the random crap to look at on the walls for conversation starters, moderately priced booze, a pool table and odd unsavory patron are all reminders that you’re still inside one of Vancouver’s most popular dive bars.
On the northwestern end of Chinatown, Vancouver’s West Hotel features its own bar on the ground level known to attract the odd transient and anyone in need of a cheap drink. The eight-story hotel doesn’t look too impressive from the outside, but the history is there. Built in 1913, the West Hotel has outlasted near-prohibition of the 1920’s when provincial laws strictly regulated alcohol sales to stop people from getting completely wasted. But now, anything goes and you can find people in varied frames of mind exchanging drinks for little amounts of money. While not the sketchiest Vancouver dive, the West Hotel Bar does attract its share of interesting folk.
Under the Grand Union Hotel is one of the shadiest pubs Van City has to offer, where you might want to avoid going to alone. The sign reads “Vancouver’s Favorite Country Music Pub” though it’s better known for its daily drink specials on top of already cheap prices, off-putting scents and patrons whose faces have been ravaged by years of abuse. Upon sitting and ordering a drink, it’s normal to feel a sense of emergency to finish it as you come to your senses and question why you decided to come here. But hey, it’s an adventure, kids!
If the absolute sketchiest Vancouver dive bar is what you’re looking for then you’ve found it, my friend. If a 2008 eye-stabbing incident doesn’t shy you away, then go ahead and give Savoy Pub a whirl. This Downtown Eastside dive next to the Rickshaw Theatre is full of peachy characters, and while so many other pubs in the Main and Hastings area have become faux dives as they’ve increased in popularity for their cheap drinks, Savoy Pub is still a place for the downtrodden drinker to share misery with good company.
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