A well-stocked jukebox. A no-nonsense bartender. An opus of graffiti on the bathroom walls. Their histories predate the word “mixology,” and the regulars post up at the bar, not on Instagram. These are the qualities that elevate a spot to dive-bar status. Here, our guide to the city’s oldest and best.
435 Massachusetts Ave., 317-636-0584
It’s been called the last real dive on Mass Ave, a graffiti-covered, fluorescent-lit original among the corporations that have swarmed the swanky real estate along that diagonal strip. Opened in 1982 by David Andrichik, the Chatterbox stays true to its community roots, serving old-school cocktails, Patties of Jamaica, and live jazz every night. No wonder it’s a favorite among IU jazz students and Jazz Festival partiers looking to keep the music going a little longer.
The Butler Inn
5221 E. Washington St., 317-359-6061
Named after Butler University—which is to say, after Ovid Butler—this bar has been in continuous operation in some form or fashion since 1926. Kids working from the hipper, newer bars begin to push out the old guys as day stretches into night, raising the energy and volume to a midnight frenzy. DJ Django spins most Saturdays to help the $4 Long Islands go down even easier. But until they get their kitchen remodel completed sometime in early 2020, get used to packaged snacks.
808 Logan St., Noblesville, 317-773-6132
Why not get competitive when you’re getting your drink on? After finishing your breaded tenderloin and Wicked Syd (peach whiskey, Malibu rum, and fruit juice), it won’t be hard to find a challenger at the shuffleboard table located smack-dab in the center of the bar. If you need a potty break, duck your head! People were a lot shorter in the late 1800s, when the building was constructed.
5725 W. Morris St., 317-247-6209
The bar first cropped up in 1947 and has been a Speedway-adjacent landmark for drivers and their crews ever since. Every piece of memorabilia hung on the wall was brought in by a racing-team member straight from pit row. They have great pub food—including pit-smoked barbecue—but the best thing on the long menu is their wings, which are smoked, then fried. May draws crowds, especially for the Carb Day after-party with rough-cut country crooner Dallas Moore.
6331 Ferguson St., 317-255-5039
it calls itself “The Last Stop in Broad Ripple” for good reason. So go ahead and tell your Uber driver to collect you outside this canal-side hole in the wall that’s been issuing last calls since 1979. Connor’s gets a lot of rowdy love from the rugby and hurling teams it sponsors every season, but fans of all stripes can settle in here until the final buzzer.
3520 W. 16th St., 317-916-2814
As a nod to co-owner Tito Gomez’s heritage, a Venezuelan flag flies in this Speedway joint, which serves up authentic arepas with traditional garlic-cilantro sauce. If you make this place your second home and become a regular, bartender Theresa will bake you a birthday cake.
901 N. Dorman St., 317-237-9008
At some of the places on our list, the jukebox skips the moment you walk into the bar. But not at this Cottage Home gem nicknamed The Hog, where everyone and everything is welcome—except pretension and malice. Pull up to the bar—the handmade cocktails are surprisingly elevated for a dive—and sit alongside working-class heroes, hipsters, and heads of industry. Relax, they’re playing your song.
7143 Southeastern Ave., 317-356-2913
Regulars have called this spot a second home in lean times and fat, which is why the ownership insists that everyone eats. Tucked into the back of a no-frills strip mall, it’s been an institution for three generations of ownership. The place swells with patrons on Fridays for the free food that comes with a drink purchase, and neighborhood patrons use its 1970s-era digs as an unofficial clubhouse.
6267 Carrollton Ave., 317-257-4036
Conveniently located just behind The Vogue, this low-slung hangout that’s held on as a bar since the 1950s and was christened the Alley Cat in 1975 offers the perfect antidote to the nightclub’s bright lights. You’re not guaranteed to see a famous face as you crush Yuenglings and get your $14 worth on steak night (for a 6-ounce filet, potato, salad, and Texas toast), but the Cat is the closest, darkest perch to the stage door and tour buses parked out back.
631 E. Michigan St., 317-631-9545
Before Lockerbie Square was cool, back when it was still just old houses orbiting the parking-lot archipelago that was downtown, Lockerbie Pub was there serving tenderloins and stiff drinks. While the city grew up around it, this historic oasis opened its arms to new and seasoned regulars, steadfastly busy at lunch and late at night, with darts and games that probably wouldn’t fly at the newcomer cocktail bars.
6500 E. 10th St., 317-353-8165
The Hilltop is hemmed in on all sides by a historic cemetery, which is why they say it’s “better to be there than across the street.” It’s another neighborhood bar where the bartenders have worked at every spot in a square mile, and everyone mostly knows everyone. Owner Kim York Watkins has turned it into the place to go for takeout pizza that renders all chain delivery services unnecessary. The Deluxe features tons of veggies that get sweat out in a pan beforehand, so the crust stays crisp to the center.
29 W. Main St., Carmel, 317-846-5545
Old Town Tavern takes you back to a time when a person could chain-smoke indoors and nurse an epic grudge—both of which are perfectly acceptable here. The latter applies specifically to owner Bruce Calabrese, who will gladly tell you about the time he banned Budweiser from the bar when one erstwhile brand salesman refused to donate to Calabrese’s charity golf tournament. Since then, if you want to drink Bud in Carmel, go somewhere else.
934 N. Pennsylvania St., 317-635-0361
Owners Michelle Vials and Deann Gross have turned The Living Room into something of an amateur performance space. While the Hot 96 DJs pack them in, the real draw is the sort of Nashville-meets-LA hopefuls karaoke every Friday night, complete with tall glasses of sweet, jewel-toned courage. You will hear the most excellent notes come out of unlikely mouths, and these folks really leave it all on the 10×10 stage. In the daytime, the lunch rush is full of construction workers filling up on the grandma-style specials like hot ham and cheese.
1514 N. Emerson Ave., 317-357-7622
The sign favors a certain waffle restaurant chain, and the interior feels like the backdrop to a gritty detective drama, complete with cracked vinyl and rusted, late-1960s architecture. Weekends can get rowdy, so please leave your drink inside when you smoke out front, and if you need to throw hands, take it to the parking lot—or better yet, down the block. No one will snitch.
3701 W. 16th St., 317-631-8807
Allegedly “world famous,” the “Spanish Burger & Stew” on Mike’s racing-themed menu is not a collective noun, like peanut butter and jelly. Instead, think Hall & Oates—a duo popular when the decor was likely new in this vintage charmer located half a lap from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While both menu items compete for our love, the burger—smothered in tomato sauce with hunks of onion and peppers—wins going away.
5602 N. Keystone Ave., 317-251-9902
Located on Keystone Avenue, this diner-like sports bar serves up some of Indy’s most-loved wings. KSR is best experienced when you have some time on your hands, as the service takes a more relaxed approach than most comparable joints. Game sound takes precedence over TouchTunes on most nights and weekends, so be prepared to hear some of Chris Berman’s “HE COULD. GO. ALL. THE. WAY!” calls during your stay.
3826 N. Illinois St., 317-923-4707
Every year, thousands of people drive by this little pocket of rock lore and never notice it, but it’s nationally recognized as one of the best places to see a show or play on tour. Surf-rock legend Dick Dale stopped there on every tour, between big venues like casinos and theaters. Punk Rock Night is the bar’s weekly $6 love letter to the genre, one of the many traditions and artifacts owners Rob Ondrish and Dave Brown inherited when they purchased the club 18 years ago.
375 Illinois St., 317-639-1605
Given its proximity to Lucas Oil Stadium and reputation among local concierges as a spot for visiting quarterbacks (and other players) to run a sneak, you might consider this the (very) unofficial bar of the NFL. But whether you run plays for a living or just stepped off a Greyhound bus, owner and bartender Jessica Thompson makes sure everyone feels safe and has a good meal. The homemade meatloaf sandwich is an all-pro.
7041 E. 10th St., 317-351-0009
A tribute to many Americans’ muddled Irish ancestry, the Mutt assures customers that there’s a little Irish in everyone, and all are welcome. Regulars at the low-key Irish sports bar hybrid specialize in Indiana nostalgia, from Sammy Terry to Bobby Knight, and freely share strong opinions about where to find the best doughnuts in town.
9104 Crawfordsville Rd., 317-299-5291
You won’t “make it rain” here, though the bar features what some affectionately call a “load-bearing stripper’s pole,” as it is integral to the building’s structure. Instead, donate your dollars to bar regular Paco, the resident TouchTunes DJ who stitches together a dive-worthy soundtrack of ’70s soft rock and sad country.
1008 N. Bosart Ave., 317-875-1804
This second home to many service-industry pros features a 1950s-themed decor that doesn’t quite jibe with the bar’s 1982 founding. But no one here seems to mind. Perhaps they’re too busy plotting their next Indy Eleven outing. J. Clyde regulars who are fans of the soccer club tailgate at every game.
5109 E. 10th St., 317-353-6474
This bar, which has a long history that includes a prior life as a roadhouse, is the very definition of an old haunt. Legend has it that its most notable patron is an otherworldly spirit named Leo, a former customer and actor who passed under mysterious circumstances.
2533 E. Washington St., 317-632-0696
Every Irish bar on earth is merely trying to capture the vibe of the Golden Ace, which feels like hanging out at a friend’s place. McGinleys’ has been a tentpole for Irish immigrants since it opened in 1934, helping connect newcomers to jobs, community, and stability. When St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Sunday, they host a Catholic Mass, and owner Chuck McGinley still cooks cheeseburgers on the bar’s 70-year-old skillets purchased by his parents, original bar owners Anne and John McGinley.
243 N. State Ave., 317-974-9285
Local music aficionados Jimmy Peoni and Mark Tester opened State Street Pub as a haven for local and touring acts. It’s a tiny venue, but the kind of place where artists come to put on shows for other artists. From hip-hop to punk and experimental, synthy sounds, SSP is the prime spot to catch a legend in the making.
4343 Madison Ave., 317-783-2553
Steve and Debbie Baker operate their roadside bar like two parents tending to a coop of rugrats, some of whom are older than they are. Steve runs the bar while Debbie rules the kitchen, hand-breading chicken and frying it in a heavy-bottomed cast-iron skillet until it’s craggy and crunchy.
8336 W. 10th St., 317-271-8122
It’s an unusual scene: a sports bar sharing the same font as the adjoining convenience store, bathed in the glow of gas-pump fluorescence. The westside oasis—there’s seemingly nothing around it for miles—hosts trivia nights, dart leagues, and karaoke. They also make some outstanding dry-rub wings that produce an audible crunch, making this a true one-stop shop.
5170 N. College Ave., 317-283-4601
Owned for decades by lovable curmudgeon Russel Settle, this SoBro icon hasn’t changed much since the old man died in 2010. Same strict rules, same worn-out linoleum floors, same dusty model airplanes hanging throughout. And the cash-only policy is as baked into the culture as cigarette smoke is into the ceiling tiles.
2450 E. 71st St., 317-254-0037
Before owner Kyle Buckley turned it into The Rook, it was called The Rookie, though there’s nothing inexperienced about its wing game. Veterans know to order the Atomic Fireball Wings, an off-menu specialty that blends Fireball whiskey with sweet chili sauce for a truly lip-tingling, delicious burn.
372 S. Meridian St., 317-631-6974
Built in 1850 as a roadhouse for rail passengers, The Noodle has had many lives. During Prohibition, the Brady and Dillinger gangs made liquor in the basement and used the east wall for target practice. Now, it’s a legendary blues bar, and everyone from Robert DeNiro to Liza Minnelli has stopped by. Try Thursdays, when drinks are half-price.
9546 Allisonville Rd., 317-578-2146
Northside strip-mall favorite Kip’s Pub exists to supply two things: tasty, greasy food and an endless number of pool games with friends. Watch out for ruthless sharks masquerading as anonymous retirees.
1102 Fletcher Ave., 317-636-6288
Sam’s is what flair-coated restaurants wish they could be: full of genuine history, beloved by their neighborhoods, and fueled by a kind of energy usually reserved for the rec room of your cool friend’s house. They’ve got the thick layer of tin decorations right, are quick with the piping-hot pizza, and host a karaoke night so good, The Black Lips crashed the party while in Indy.
2535 S. Meridian St., 317-384-1027
Around since 1879 and once run by a family that famously stocked an on-site turtle pond to keep customers in a steady supply of their popular turtle soup, this “last chance” bar heading out of town on the old trolley line stands as a proud southside landmark. New owners have thankfully kept the grit.