Selecting Riverfront Times' Best of St. Louis 2012 wasn't easy. Choosing the winner meant several worthy candidates would go unmentioned -- until now. In this RFT Music series, we're beeboping and scattin' our way through notable runners up in a number of categories. This week: The best dive bars in St. Louis.
The Silverleaf Lounge (3442 Hereford Street; 314-481-4080) The bartenders here claim that the Silverleaf is the smallest bar in the city of St. Louis, and that's a believable claim. The entire room holds just a few small tables and a row of stools along the bar, and what also must be the smallest bathrooms in the city of St. Louis. But the patrons are chatty and welcoming to non-regulars, and the tiny jukebox is stuffed with new country and old blues. Don't expect many frills here, but the tiny draft-beer selection and limited cocktail options are more than made up for with the friendly spirit of the bar and the Etta James on the jukebox.
Red's Eighth Inning Bar (6412 Michigan Avenue; 314-353-1084) This rowdy little establishment is situated right in the middle of a neighborhood, near the corner of Michigan and Holly Hills avenues. The huge jukebox is constantly blaring, and the people there are always looking to see or be seen. It's a great people-watching bar, not least of all because the modern rock music is usually playing so loud that neighboring tables can't hear you shit-talking with your friends. The bartenders don't take any crap and won't hesitate to kick you out if they don't like you, or hug you and offer you a free drink if you manage to get on their good side. Old school.
Highlights Bar and Grill (7301 South Broadway; 314-351-2422) There's a little smattering of dive bars on South Broadway (just down the river from Bellerive Park) that welcome newcomers and make exploring new establishments easy with their fabulous prices. The corner space occupied by Highlights was formerly called Kathleen's Steak House. The drinks are cheap here, but know what you want because there isn't a drinks menu to be found. It's the kind of bar where people are friendly, but they won't really bother you. And though the bar stools may all be full, it's still easy to get the attention of the bartender. This place does offer something extra that is lacking in many dive bars: food. The pizza selection is limited, but hey -- dive-bar pizza!
Rosie's Place (4573 Laclede Avenue; 314-361-6423) The Central West End is known as a bourgeois neighborhood with impressive houses, world-class restaurants, very expensive cocktails and impossible parking. Though located on the poppin' south edge of the CWE, Rosie's Place is kind of the opposite of all of that. The parking still blows goats, but the bar is more in step with the working-class parts of the city. The drinks are affordable and the rules are loose; patrons can light up a cigarette or stumble in with man's best friend: Yep, you can even bring your dog inside. Rover loves Rosie's, too.
Time Out (3805 Meramec Street; 314-457-9112) Many people know about the Time Out bar on Gravois Avenue near the corner at Chippewa Street, but this Time Out is its laid-back sister establishment. While the Gravois location offers multiple rooms, club lights and a near Landing-like experience after midnight, the Meramec location is just a classic, lazy dive bar. It's quiet and low-lit, with many people drinking on their own or just enjoying a beer after work. There's a pool table that seems constantly in use, and the clacking of the pool balls are frequently the only noise in the room. Patrons here tend to keep to themselves and it's a great place to grab a cheap drink and dig into a good book.
Jimmy Mack's (5838 Southwest Avenue; 314-645-5777) Located just around the corner from a sort-of classy dive, the Hideaway, Jimmy Mack's is anything but classy. It's rough in every aspect, from the bartenders to the patrons to the décor. But it's also the place to go if you want to be amused by strangers and if you know how to keep your mouth shut. Daytime drunks will stumble into your table and it gets a little raucous at night, but it's all in good fun. The bar offers a greater liquor variety than the average dive, but don't ask for a fancy cocktail or you'll be outed as an interloper.
Area IV (5918 Hampton Avenue; 314-481-4122) The square footage is slightly more impressive, but Area IV is considered the sister bar of the South side's Silverleaf bar. And though the front door opens to the busy stretch of Hampton Avenue just south of Chippewa Street, this Princeton Heights bar feels like a hidden neighborhood watering hole. It's decorated to honor firefighters, with pictures of firemen and firewomen who are friends of the bar featured prominently on the walls. There are a few televisions and a computerized jukebox, but that's about it. Not that it matters, really. People don't come here for the amenities. They come for the friendly vibe, the laid-back atmosphere and the cheaper-than-cheap beer.
Cat's Meow (2600 South Eleventh Street) This Soulard bar isn't quite like the others. Instead of drawing the young and drunk the average Cat's Meow patron is old and drunk, instead. Though the bar is still welcoming to co-eds looking to get naughty (with Mardi Gras beads for sale behind the bar), people here are more likely to be sitting around and talking about sports and snacking on pretzels than flashing their goodies. Unlike some neighboring bars, the prices are cheap, and the bar is bright and memorable, offering affordable pitchers and shot specials.
Cards Soulard - Formerly Cuz (1530 South Seventh Street; 314-241-2400) The first thing patrons notice about Cards Soulard is the building. It is a bar that is housed in what was clearly a converted fast-food establishment. If the drive-through lane around the building didn't give that away, the retired (but intact) soda-fountain station inside makes it obvious. Though it's larger than most places that are considered dive bars, Cards offers the same smoky air and dive bar atmosphere. On the weekends, the bartenders are young ladies who don't wear much, but it doesn't matter. They are great hosts and the prices are right and if you ask them nicely enough, they might let you do a body shot. It's a dive bar with extra sauce.
Sophie's Place (2815 Watson Road; 314-645-4033) Sophie's is a weird little dive directly on Watson Road in Clifton Heights. The two-room set up hosts the bar in one room, with a game room connected. In the game room there's a pool table and some of the absolutely worst karaoke in town (in a good way). If karaoke isn't your jam, you can retreat to the dark, frequently crowded bar room, where patrons are loud and seemingly always looking to make friends. It's the kind of bar where people go to talk to strangers, so if you want to be left alone, this is not the place. But if you want to have some interesting conversations and drink a few free shots, Sophie's might be your new favorite place.