Dive bars. Every town has them. These are the places that locals come to when they want to be accepted as they are, in the company of friends.
The term “dive bar” shouldn’t be taken as a derogatory description, rather it is bestowed as a badge of honor.
The place might need a new coat of paint or maybe the barstools might be a bit wobbly or, if there are comfy chairs, reupholstering. But more often than not, what we’re calling a dive is really just one of those places that you can walk into after work — lose the jacket and tie — and feel at ease.
So, what are the qualities of a good dive bar?
▪ Must open for happy hour, preferably also open late night
▪ Must have a good group of regulars — the more colorful, the better
▪ Games should be traditional — pool table, darts, maybe foosball. Trivia nights, without getting too rowdy, are acceptable.
▪ Food is basic, but usually available. Burgers and dogs are great — actually, the better the food, the closer you get to losing “dive” status.
▪ Lighting is on the low side. Dim but not dark — you shouldn’t have to grope around to find your drink.
▪ Music may be present, usually via jukebox. Local live bands, not too loud, are perfect.
Given these parameters, here’s a short but ever growing list of our favorite dive bars in the Columbia area.
Uncle Louie’s. Wedged in between Pearlz and The Oyster Bar in the Vista, Uncle Louie’s is a traditional dive bar. Keep yourself entertained with pool tables, dart board, some electronic games and a jukebox. Drinks are cheap. This is the stripped down, no-nonsense, come-on-in-and-have-a-good-time bar that others wish they could be. 1125 Park St., (803) 933-9833; Open Monday-Friday 4 p.m.-2 a.m., Saturday 7 p.m.-2 a.m., closed Sunday
Nightcaps. Where to go when all the other bars are closed that’s close(r) to home — if home is in Shandon. You can spend time nibbling on bar food, hitting cue balls across the pool table or hanging out in the outdoor area in the back. It’s THE place to cheer on the Lady Gamecocks as they race toward a National Championship. 2722 Devine St., (803) 771-6575. Open Sunday-Friday 3 p.m.-4 a.m., Saturday 3 p.m.-2 a.m.
State Street Pub. A private club in West Columbia, known for inexpensive beverages. Just a short drive across the river from The Vista, but without Vista prices. Find a pool table, jukebox and trivia nights ... dance if you want to dance ... or not. Open to the public for live music events on Saturdays. 136 State St., West Columbia, (803) 796-2006; Open Monday-Friday 4 p.m.-4 a.m., Saturday 6 p.m-2 a.m. and Sunday 4 p.m.-2 a.m.
Taneyhill’s Group Therapy. The original dive bar in Five Points, Group has a history of being the hangout spot for just about everybody — politicians, athletes, bikers and college students — since 1978. Purchased in 2016 by former USC Gamecock quarterback Steve Taneyhill, the bar has tidied up just a bit but is still the go-to place in the area. Be advised that USC frats and sororities have begun a “Friday After Class” event starting at 5 p.m. on Fridays and stay until late in the evening. The Greeks are easy to pick out in a crowd because they’ve taken the extra effort to coordinate their clothing. 2107 Greene St., (803) 256-1203; Open (according to their Facebook page) Tuesday-Saturday 4 p.m.-2 a.m., Sunday 1 p.m.-2 a.m., closed Monday.
Foxfield Bar. Tucked a block off Rosewood Dr., the bar can be easy to miss. Foxfield is a standalone building, somewhat unusual for our characterization of a dive bar. The minute the weather turns warm is the perfect time to take advantage of Foxfield’s outdoor space. The kitchen specializes in sandwiches and salads, chicken curry, and shrimp and grits. Live music on the weekends. 406 Howard St., (803) 728-0420. Open Monday-Saturday, 4 p.m.-2 a.m.
The Whig. Sneak over after work for some of the best food you’ll ever find in a bar. Seriously. The smoked gouda mac n cheese is out of this world. And the chipotle pimento cheese fries (with bacon and jalapenos added, of course) are kinda a meal in itself. Despite the fine food, The Whig maintains a dive status by ticking off the boxes of (1) low lighting, (2) cool music + jukebox, (3) the regulars — some of whom are also instigators of change for good in Columbia, (4) happy hour, (5) “interesting” decor, and (6) you might take an actual dive getting into the bar — The Whig is at basement level of 1200 Main, so be careful on the stairs! (803) 931-8852; Open Sunday-Thursday 4 p.m.-midnight, Friday and Saturday 4 p.m.-1 a.m. thewhig.org