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A man with tattoos pouring shots.
Shots at Big Gun Burger Shop & Bar.
Andre Hinds

Top 12 Charleston Dive Bars for a Shot and a Beer

Hide from Valentine’s Day in a dark dive bar

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Shots at Big Gun Burger Shop & Bar.
| Andre Hinds

The Holy City isn't exactly known for its seedy clubs and gritty bars, but there are a few places to get reasonably priced beers that haven't gone all Prohibition-era chic with the decor and drinks menu. Those over the whole craft cocktail movement or just want a no-frills break from $18 libations should take a look at one of these dives. A few might be hidden, and the staff might be surly, but the drinks are cheap.

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The Royal American

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The Royal American could have easily opened as the Disney World of dive bars, as many were wary of its declarations of being a dive before day one, but the owners did a good job of making the space feel worn in and comfortable. The Royal American is now the place to go for giant cups of bourbon punch and exciting music acts.

Local 616

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Local 616 owner Dwayne Mitchell was a mainstay of legendary dive bar Upper Deck Tavern (RIP), until he went out on his own to open his own place on upper Meeting Street. It has all the hallmarks of a dive — cheap drinks, a pool table, and a cast of regulars — but it also boasts an expansive patio, creative slushie drinks, and pop-ups from aspiring chefs in the kitchen.

Moe's Crosstown Tavern

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Moe's Crosstown Tavern is an institution in Charleston. Most of the staff have worked at the joint for over a decade, and they always remember a friendly face. Moe's a great selection of local draft beers, mountainous burgers, and a hangover-killing brunch.

Tin Roof

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Tin Roof is a magical kingdom of tattooed ladies, music geeks, and food and beverage aficionados. The bartenders can make you a classic cocktail, a frozen libation, or pop the top on a can of beer. Tin Roof brings in some of the best rock/rap/indie shows in the Lowcountry. The kitchen cooks up some pretty mean hot dogs as well.

Recovery Room

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Recovery Room (Rec Room) is the grown-up's dive bar, thanks to its location away from the Upper King crowds and owner Chris "Boston" DiMattia's no nonsense attitude. Rec Room is also the largest seller of PBR in the country. Go for the cheap beer, and stay for the tater tot nachos.

Sugey's Bar

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King Street dive bar Sugey’s Bar is dedicated to all things heavy metal — but even if you don’t listen to Motorhead, you’ll have a good time here. Concert posters line the walls and old slasher movies play behind the bar. The drink selections are more sophisticated than most dives, with a decent wine selection, local beers, and tropical concoctions like the Pantang Painslayer (a take on the Painkiller).

A dar bar with a disco ball overhead.
Sugey’s Bar is dedicated to heavy metal music.
Erin Perkins

A.C.'s Bar & Grill

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A.C.'s slogan is "up all night," and they mean it — well, until the mandated 2 a.m. closing, but it does have a kitchen that stays open long past others on King. Many beers are less than $3, and the Champagne menu consists of Miller High Life. The staff might look surly, but they're actually a lovable bunch (unless you're acting like a jerk).

AC’s Bar & Grill serves food late at night.
Erin Perkins

Cutty's

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Bagard Street bar Cutty's is right across from pizza parlor D'allesandro's and seems right at home on that corner. It's dingy, windowless, and covered in cat memorabilia (the owner is a big fan of felines). Cutty's claims to be the largest seller of Fernet in South Carolina. Shots, anyone?

Cutty’s serves some of the most Fernet in South Carolina.
Erin Perkins

Big Gun Burger Shop & Bar

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As the name implies, Big Gun Burger Shop & Bar serves really great burgers, but it’s also a dive bar by way of cheap beers, ample shots, and pop-up punk shows. There’s also craft beers if you’re into that.

Burns Alley

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"If you can find us, you'll never forget us" is the slogan for Burns Alley, and it's correct. Nestled off of King Street, this dive isn't the easiest to locate, but listen for live music, bustling crowds, and the pouring of cold beer, and it should lead down the side street (next to Five Guys) to Burns.

The Bangkok Lounge

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While Bangkok Lounge looks like the former Upper Deck Tavern, it now offers a seven-nights-a-week karaoke bar with tiki drinks. Though owner Chris “Boston” DiMattia previously said, “I don’t want to call it a tiki bar, but we will have four frozen drink machines and hope to have a signature punch on tap.”

Interiors at the newly remodeled Bangkok Lounge, formerly the Upper Deck Tavern. Mike Ledford

The Griffon Pub

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The Griffon is a welcome respite from the tourist traffic on East Bay Street. The little dive bar near Waterfront Park started in 1996, which was also when the practice of stapling dollar bills to the wall began. Order the fish and chips to soak up all the local beers.

The Royal American

The Royal American could have easily opened as the Disney World of dive bars, as many were wary of its declarations of being a dive before day one, but the owners did a good job of making the space feel worn in and comfortable. The Royal American is now the place to go for giant cups of bourbon punch and exciting music acts.

Local 616

Local 616 owner Dwayne Mitchell was a mainstay of legendary dive bar Upper Deck Tavern (RIP), until he went out on his own to open his own place on upper Meeting Street. It has all the hallmarks of a dive — cheap drinks, a pool table, and a cast of regulars — but it also boasts an expansive patio, creative slushie drinks, and pop-ups from aspiring chefs in the kitchen.

Moe's Crosstown Tavern

Moe's Crosstown Tavern is an institution in Charleston. Most of the staff have worked at the joint for over a decade, and they always remember a friendly face. Moe's a great selection of local draft beers, mountainous burgers, and a hangover-killing brunch.

Tin Roof

Tin Roof is a magical kingdom of tattooed ladies, music geeks, and food and beverage aficionados. The bartenders can make you a classic cocktail, a frozen libation, or pop the top on a can of beer. Tin Roof brings in some of the best rock/rap/indie shows in the Lowcountry. The kitchen cooks up some pretty mean hot dogs as well.

Recovery Room

Recovery Room (Rec Room) is the grown-up's dive bar, thanks to its location away from the Upper King crowds and owner Chris "Boston" DiMattia's no nonsense attitude. Rec Room is also the largest seller of PBR in the country. Go for the cheap beer, and stay for the tater tot nachos.

Sugey's Bar

King Street dive bar Sugey’s Bar is dedicated to all things heavy metal — but even if you don’t listen to Motorhead, you’ll have a good time here. Concert posters line the walls and old slasher movies play behind the bar. The drink selections are more sophisticated than most dives, with a decent wine selection, local beers, and tropical concoctions like the Pantang Painslayer (a take on the Painkiller).

A dar bar with a disco ball overhead.
Sugey’s Bar is dedicated to heavy metal music.
Erin Perkins

A.C.'s Bar & Grill

A.C.'s slogan is "up all night," and they mean it — well, until the mandated 2 a.m. closing, but it does have a kitchen that stays open long past others on King. Many beers are less than $3, and the Champagne menu consists of Miller High Life. The staff might look surly, but they're actually a lovable bunch (unless you're acting like a jerk).

AC’s Bar & Grill serves food late at night.
Erin Perkins

Cutty's

Bagard Street bar Cutty's is right across from pizza parlor D'allesandro's and seems right at home on that corner. It's dingy, windowless, and covered in cat memorabilia (the owner is a big fan of felines). Cutty's claims to be the largest seller of Fernet in South Carolina. Shots, anyone?

Cutty’s serves some of the most Fernet in South Carolina.
Erin Perkins

Big Gun Burger Shop & Bar

As the name implies, Big Gun Burger Shop & Bar serves really great burgers, but it’s also a dive bar by way of cheap beers, ample shots, and pop-up punk shows. There’s also craft beers if you’re into that.

Burns Alley

"If you can find us, you'll never forget us" is the slogan for Burns Alley, and it's correct. Nestled off of King Street, this dive isn't the easiest to locate, but listen for live music, bustling crowds, and the pouring of cold beer, and it should lead down the side street (next to Five Guys) to Burns.

The Bangkok Lounge

While Bangkok Lounge looks like the former Upper Deck Tavern, it now offers a seven-nights-a-week karaoke bar with tiki drinks. Though owner Chris “Boston” DiMattia previously said, “I don’t want to call it a tiki bar, but we will have four frozen drink machines and hope to have a signature punch on tap.”

Interiors at the newly remodeled Bangkok Lounge, formerly the Upper Deck Tavern. Mike Ledford

The Griffon Pub

The Griffon is a welcome respite from the tourist traffic on East Bay Street. The little dive bar near Waterfront Park started in 1996, which was also when the practice of stapling dollar bills to the wall began. Order the fish and chips to soak up all the local beers.

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