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The City Gets a New Kind of Dive Bar

From the Hi Lo Club to Hogan's Goat Tavern, these bars are sketchy looking and fancy drinking.

“I know it when I see it” is how Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously defined pornography. The same could be said for a dive bar. One only has to look for the following traits: dinginess, crappy choice of beers, a dusty back-bar circa 1974, and a nasty liqueur selection.

But you can no longer judge a dive bar by its cover. Renditions of this genre are propelling the biggest trend in the bar scene today. The vinyl barstools still might be ripped, but Speakeasy flows out of the tap. Instead of Cuervo, you can choose from cutting-edge mescals. And instead of derelicts, there are hipsters.

Examples abound: In the Excelsior, Broken Record has bourbon on tap. The new Hi Lo Club on Polk Street has a good whiskey selection, and Hogan’s Goat Tavern in Dogpatch offers a choice of 12 microbrews on tap. In Albany, the Hotsy Totsy Club offers a tequila sour made with the amazing Tequila Ocho reposado and mixed with chamomile liqueur, egg whites, and lemon. Even the fancy Tenderloin bar Tradition has a full page of its menu devoted to modern-day takes on dive-bar drinks such as the Long Island iced tea.

“We’re always getting asked what’s the biggest trend in cocktailing right now,” says Scott Baird, who with his partner in the Bon Vivants, Josh Harris, opened Rio Grande, one of the better redux dive bars. “I used to say foams, barrel aging, and housemade bitters. Now it’s about ‘pulling back.’ It’s all about being less precious.”

Plus, adds Harris, “if you create a dive bar with unpretentious attitudes, and loud music, it’s where bartenders like to go after work.” And we all know everyone wants to drink like a bartender.

Broken Record, 1166 Geneva Ave. (near Naples St.); Hi Lo Club, 1423 Polk St. (near Pine St.); Hogan’s Goat Tavern, 2289 3rd St. (near 20th St.); Hotsy Totsy Club, 601 San Pablo Ave., Albany; Tradition, 441 Jones St. (near O’Farrell St.); Rio Grande, 1108 Market St. (Near 7th St.)