The 36 Best Dive Bars In Iowa, According To Iowans

The outside of Carl’s Place on July 21, 2023, named the top dive bar in the state by Starting Line readers. (Photo by Nikoel Hytrek for Iowa Starting Line)

If there’s one thing every Iowa town needs, it’s a good dive bar.

Maybe it’s where the shift workers gather after a long day. Maybe it’s the only place left on Main Street. Maybe it’s a gathering place for bikers, for race fans, for music lovers.

It’s been described in many loving ways by its regulars, but never as snobby or high class.

“They serve heavy and smoke indoors!! No food! It’s great,” Canaan K. said, lovingly describing Front Street Tap in Brooklyn, Iowa.

So we asked Iowans: What’s your favorite hole-in-the-wall? Where is the best dark, dingy corner? Where is your go-to for cheap beer on tap and mixed drinks poured as if you’re family (that is to say, strong)?

It was a tough ask for some.

“Too many to pick just one,” Christian S. noted. “I mean, do you have a favorite kid?”

Others lamented the dives that didn’t last.

“I sure miss a lot from days gone by,” said DeWayne B.

“It was so bad they tore it down,” said Susan M. (who did not elaborate on which one).

Those who did answer the question on Facebook put a whopping 96 different dive bars on our list from all corners of the state, which you can see in full (and contribute more to!) here.

“I’m unnerved by how many of these places I’ve been drunk at,” Maureen O. said.

Only one dive tallied triple figures in mentions and likes, and that is Carl’s Place, 1620 Woodland Ave. in Des Moines.

The outside of Carl’s Place on July 21, 2023, named the top dive bar in the state by Starting Line readers. (Photo by Nikoel Hytrek for Iowa Starting Line)

Known as “Sherman Hill’s favorite dive bar,” Carl’s has quite the reputation—including being accused by the state in 2019 of “running an illegal sports betting pool, keeping customers’ tabs open for multiple nights contrary to Iowa law, and allowing alcohol consumption past 2 a.m. and indoor smoking.”

Probably a good time to mention that Starting Line cannot vouch for the reputations of the bars joining Carl’s on this list. So peruse these 36 top Iowa dive bars at your own peril!

Cameron V. suggested you look over this list while listening to “badass Iowa artist Annie Kemble” and specifically her song, “Dive Bar,” from the 2022 album of the same name.

Here, then, are Iowans’ definitive dive bar list in 2023, in alphabetical order:

  • The Alpine Tap Room, Des Moines
  • American Tap, Webster City
  • Baxa’s Sutliff Store and Tavern, Lisbon
  • Blue Bird Tavern, Elma
  • Blue Room Lounge, Cedar Falls
  • Byron’s, Pomeroy — “Deadhead’s dream and best music around,” Kerry N.
  • Carl’s Place, Des Moines
  • Circle Tap, Davenport
  • Dave’s Fox Head Tavern, Iowa City
  • The Deadwood Tavern, Iowa City
  • Dingus Lounge, Knoxville — “It’s not only a local favorite but a favorite of race fans from around the world,” Cindy D.
  • Fat Annie’s, Moravia
  • Gabe’s, Iowa City
  • George’s Buffet, Iowa City — “Awesome burgers,” Josh F.
  • Green Gable Inn, Cedar Rapids
  • Greenwood Lounge, Des Moines
  • The Hideout, Germantown — “They have the best broasted chicken in the country!” Cristie T.
  • Hilltop Tavern and Eatery, Iowa City
  • Ike’s Job Site, Marathon
  • Joe’s Place, Iowa City
  • Kelly’s Little Nipper, Des Moines — “I don’t know about the rest of Iowa, but having lived in DSM for over 35 years—and eaten and drunk in every nook and corner—Kelly’s Little Nipper was the best dive bar I ever found.” Scott B.
  • Little Bohemia, Cedar Rapids
  • Mike’s Hilltop Tap, Muscatine
  • O Face, Council Bluffs —Bar Rescue even walked out on them!” Nancy M.
  • Octopus, Cedar Falls
  • Paul’s Tavern, Dubuque
  • Prince’s Tavern, Sioux City
  • Riverside Tavern, Lehigh
  • The Shack Tavern, Cedar Rapids
  • Sportsman’s Pub, Spirit Lake
  • Stevie C’s, Grimes
  • Thumbs, Ames
  • Tip Top Lounge, Ames
  • Waveland Tap, Des Moines
  • Williams Recreation Parlor, Red Oak — “More characters there on a Friday afternoon than a Disney film.” John N.
  • Yacht Club, Des Moines

 

by Amie Rivers
07/21/23

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7 Comments on "The 36 Best Dive Bars In Iowa, According To Iowans"

  • Have been to several of these taverns – in my younger days. Thanks for putting this together.

  • Been to the Waveland Pub in Des Moines! Historic little place and Thursday Nights was the night of the week ti enjoy a beer with friends! I even fixed their roof when it leaked 😀

  • the park Avenue pub on the Southside of des Moines.good food awesome people own and great bartenders. plus many games of horse shoes played in back year round.

  • I proudly supported each and every one of DesMoines dive bars for many years. I gladly spent way too much money SO MANY TIMES!!!
    They even allowed me to do drunk and stupid tricks at their bars that they could laugh about as they happened and for years to come.
    I’m old and sick and don’t get around much anymore, but damn it!….I still have amazing memories of the fun I had.
    So THANX to all that helped me make those memories. I hope y’all still have some too.
    Much Love!

  • In town for a visit live in Dallas TX now left Des Moines in 1995 and attended many of these back in the day. Mostly the late 70 and early 80s

  • None of these ones from Des Moines are actual dive bars. They may have been at some point but they are just a gimmick now full of hipsters. I encourage people to find the real dives in DSM in particular to drink in and then decide if it’s fun. Leos Lounge was a real dive bar. They had to build a traffic circle with a flower pot in the middle to stop the drive by shootings. The only thing dive bar about these places is the lack of upkeep and investment in the buildings because why would they? Suckers will keep spending money in them so why do any improvements.

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