There’s a time and place for craft beer and fancy cocktails. There’s also a time and place for cold beer and stiff drinks, and the best place to find these is undoubtably a good, old-fashioned dive bar.
The dive bar, a place where you’re happy to spend not too much money to make questionable decisions. Where habitual line steppers and early drinkers are welcomed. They’re unglamorous, well-worn and smoky with bad lighting, but these local watering holes have become a part of our urban ecology.
Here’s my list of the top five dive bars in McAllen.
1. Skean Dhu – Technically, it’s in Mission, but you can’t start a conversation about local dive bars without mentioning Skean Dhu. This Scottish pub has been around since 1984, and not too much has changed since then, including the regulars who cozy up to the U-shaped bar as early as 3PM. Its recipe is simple; dim lighting, generously-poured shots and ridiculously-strong drinks. You don’t go there to be sober, and if you’re feeling adventurous, try their house-specialty cocktail, conveniently named “The Skean Dhu”. This one-of-a-kind concoction is made with tequila and scotch. I actually think it’s an inside joke the bartenders laugh about when someone orders it.
2. Sofies “SS” Saloon – Hidden away in deep south McAllen, this local favorite is your quintessential dive bar. Cheap, cold beer, dart boards and a shuffleboard table are the highlights of this famous biker bar which also caters to college kids and old folks. What sets Sofie’s apart is its large back patio which lends itself well to live performances and social events. Another thing to mention is they don’t sell liquor, but it is BYOL if you buy the setup.
3. Simon Sez – Simon Sez is McAllen’s original rock and roll bar. It was a tough choice trying to decide if it was divey enough to make the list. Without a doubt, it possesses some very divey qualities: it’s smoky, plenty of regulars, the bartenders are cool but don’t put up with unruly patrons. Its live music scene is what makes it different though. Yes, you will see rock bands come and go, but there are those bands that you will witness grow into something bigger. If you’re a local rock band, playing Simon Sez is a right of passage. Aspiring musicians see the life-size Elvis statue, the hanging guitars and wall of hit album covers, and it will give them hope that they might be a star some day. Until then, it’s dollar margaritas and domestic beer specials.
4. Toucan Lounge – This hard-to-find hangout is a favorite amongst locals, which is ironic, because it’s actually a hotel bar. Located behind the Best Western Garden Inn, this low-key sports bar has been a local hotspot to relax and have a cold beer in peace. It might not be as dim, dingy or well-worn as some of the others, but there’s no question it’s a dive, and one of the top 5 at that. Beer bucket specials and well-drink discounts can be had here daily…if you can find this hidden gem.
5. The Denny’s Sports Lounge– The only people who know about this place are the people who know about this place. I’m not sure that makes any sense, but this is one of only five Denny’s restaurants with a full bar. The others can be found in Las Vegas, Chula Vista, Seattle and Tampa. It’s one of the few places where you can make bad decisions on a Saturday night and show up a few hours later, after church, and think about your choices over a cup of black coffee and a Grand Slam.
This list is meant to celebrate the dive bar, and to honor the local watering holes that have stood the test of time and continue to deliver night after night after night. These are the places you go to have a good time without being judged. Where a Molotov cocktail might actually taste the same as an actual cocktail, and the rules are basic, “keep your drink order simple; have your money ready; and don’t cause trouble”.
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