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Perfect Dives

Dr. Dremo's
Mike Miller at Dr. Dremo's. (Sora Devore for The Washington Post)

You won't find two pieces of furniture that match. My favorite table is a small wooden one with a tabletop that is a United States county map. It's crazy how the Midwest's counties are huge and in a perfect grid but the Northeast's are really tiny and jumbled. What a great conversation piece. But that's just one way to pass your time at The Argonaut (1433 H St. NE, 202-397-1416). There's also a pool table, a huge flat-screen TV and tons of board games! It also serves some pretty good grub. I highly recommend the sweet potato fries. Globes hang down from the ceiling of the bar area. Not only are they interesting to look at as you wait for your beer, but they're also lights. As for the rest of the place, no two lights hanging from the old tin ceiling are alike. Most important, though, no two people in this joint are alike. Diversity is the true theme of this dive bar.

-- Jen Baldassari, Washington

The best dive bar in my area, Arlington, is by far Jay's Saloon and Grille (3114 N. 10th St., Arlington, 703-527-3093). It's a place to come to hang out with your friends, watch a game, listen to a local band (every other Saturday) or just relax at the bar. Unlike most of the other bars in the area, it doesn't attract the meat market, Red Bull-drinking, night clubbish crowd. At any given time there are lawyers and CEOs sitting next to general contractors and roofers talking about the latest baseball trade or the fastest way to drive to Dulles. You don't hear people asking what you do or how much you make or what kind of car you drive . . . it's refreshingly, well, normal in there. Ahh.

Oh, and the food is great. They have daily specials, half-price burgers on Tuesday and a killer quesadilla. They also have a pool table and a full bar and a great selection of beers and wine. And in the summer or warmer months, you (and your dog!) can sit outside on their patio.

-- Tracy Moe, Arlington

The Cowboy Cafe (4792 Lee Hwy., Arlington, 703-243-8010) has to be one of the area's best dive bars! It represents the socioeconomic confluence of this postage-stamp-sized county, all crammed into a postage-stamp-sized bar. You can order an Amstel Light or a rum and Coke, but the long-neck domestic bottle is the standard issue -- along with a greasy burger. The bar has the ubiquitous Golden Tee machine in the corner, but on any given Saturday night, it becomes the backdrop for some no-name guitar player. Plumbers, drywallers, recent college grads, businessmen and the ragtag staff commingle in the smoky haze. (Herein lies a key attribute of the Dive Bar: smoke.) While I wish it wasn't so smoky -- a quick 30-minute visit renders your clothes unwearable the next day -- the day it becomes "no smoking" is the day it loses its dive bar status.

-- Jim McCracken, Arlington

At the Tune Inn (331 1/2 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, 202-543-2725) on Capitol Hill, you can taste, touch, smell, see and hear the grease used in cooking the burgers. While you're waiting for your order, ratty, stuffed animal heads stare down at you from their wall mounts. An odd place for a job interview maybe, but in the early 1980s, I was a naive young woman who didn't question the congressman's assistant who suggested we meet there at happy hour to talk about a possible staff job. After all, it was my neighborhood dive, too. They knew me there.

Soon, I realized it was no office job the guy was offering. As I listened to his slick come-on from the other side of the table, I watched a roach climb across the back of the red-leather booth we sat in. It made an awkward leap onto the guy's over-stuffed shoulder padding and settled against his suit collar, its antennae twitching a clear "uh-uh" signal at me for the rest of the interview.

-- Glen Finland, McLean


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