Dive into the Tucson bar scene

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Kelsee Becker and Kelsee Becker | The Daily Wildcat Kelsee Becker / Arizona Daily Wildcat The Shelter Cocktail Lounge, off of Grant and Columbus, offers customers a 1960s-themed dive bar atmosphere with their colorful decor, lava lamps, arcade games, and JFK memorabilia.

The low down on the most down low spots in Tucson

1. Buffet Bar & Crockpot

538 E. 9th St.

Buffet Bar & Crockpot — or just The Buffet for brevity’s sake — is a Tucsonan institution. Located down the street from Fourth Avenue and not far from downtown, The Buffet is the sort of place you do your drinking after you’ve already done plenty of drinking. This makes for a good assortment of people. Gutter punks and frat boys can (kind of) mingle at the The Buffet, and the tight space makes it a practical necessity. That is the allure of the dive bar, after all: Cast off your pretentiousness, we’re all here to drink. Get a Mexican jello shot or a PBR and look at the graffiti-lined walls. Or do whatever you want. It’s The Buffet. 

2. The Shelter Cocktail Lounge

4155 E. Grant Rd.

I was tempted to make The Shelter number one out of respect for the irreplaceable vibe: red lights, pictures of JFK literally everywhere, all confined to the cozy circularity of an imitation bomb shelter. The Shelter is a take on what would have happened if the Cuban Missile Crisis resulted in nuclear fallout and the last remaining Sonorans were stuck forever in 1962. Maybe that’s why there’s an indoor smoking section — a Godsend for smokers who don’t wish to sweat all summer long. A little on the pricey side, and perhaps dive bar purists will complain about it’s presence here, but there is no way this uniquely Tucson bar could be lower than number two on this list. Vote Kennedy ‘64.

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3. Danny’s Baboquivari Lounge

2910 E. Fort Lowell Rd.

Like Buffet Bar & Crockpot, Danny’s checks off one of the more elusive criteria for a quality dive bar: a weird yet perfect name. Another criteria is of course the hominess, maybe the only necessary quality of a dive bar. And Danny’s has that in spades. I once met a man who told me he was having his wedding reception there. Last time I was there, two men broke out into an impromptu performance of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah on the bar piano (yes, the bar piano). The patio is wonderful. During the winter months the fire pit gets going to warm you up. Occasionally they project a movie onto the side of the adjacent building. Good times. 

4. Nancy’s Boondocks 

3306 N. 1st Ave.

This is where the list gets tough and becomes more subjective. At a certain point it’s about finding your dive bar, not someone else’s, and this depends on everything from a friendly bartender to proximity to your house. For me, Nancy’s Boondocks is a welcome oasis. Don’t get me wrong — this is a dive, a real dive (remember to lock your car doors!), but the drinks are cheap and strong, the pool tables are good, there’s a giant wine bottle standing outside and Nancy’s hosts a quality karaoke night, where once I saw a perfect duet rendition of Evanescence’s “Bring me to Life.” What more can I ask for?

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5. Your Dive Bar Here

This is the point of the list where it’s basically impossible to make distinctions. Dive bars are wonderful because of their weird idiosyncrasies and rough edges, the cracks through which the light shines through. I encourage all readers to find their own dive bar, to find a little refuge off of Main Street, to get away from downtown and Fourth Avenue and try to see a different side of the city you may call home for the next four years or more. It’s not nicknamed the "Dirty T" for nothing. Be responsible, stay safe. Cheers. 



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