What officially defines a “dive bar?” The term was first used to describe the sort of basement drinking establishment where patrons would literally dive down into the subterranean retreat. These days, it’s used to describe a category of drinking holes that are traditionally less flashy, maybe even a little shabby, and frequented by local clientele.

Other defining elements can include a jukebox with selections that haven’t changed since the Clinton administration, primary lighting derived from neon beer signs, walls covered with garish art or dollar bills signed by patrons, and perhaps a more forgiving attitude toward the presence of dogs in the bar.

Dive bars are fearless in their customs and rules, with traditions not to be quibbled by newcomers. Cash only? Use the ATM in that dark corner. Looking for a local craft beer selection? Just sit back and enjoy your longneck PBR, friend. These are the spots where an intention of “two beers and home by 10 p.m.” can quickly turn into “10 beers and home by 2 a.m.” But most of all, dive bars are about community, and Mississippi is blessed with an abundance of both friendly people and great dive bars. Here are some of our favorites.

Mississippi Moonshine Tavern

18272 28th St., Long Beach, MS 39560
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. 

Long Beach is a shorefront town that attracts visitors to experience coastal life, but locals also sometimes need a place to hide out. That’s where Mississippi Moonshine Tavern comes in. Selling cans of beer by the bucket and storing jello shooters in a small fridge behind the bar, it’s a prototypical dive. Regulars ring the U-shaped bar to bend an elbow while waiting their turn at the pool table, and the tile floors make cleanup more manageable if a beer falls off the table’s edge during a particularly challenging shot. (Seriously, don’t put your beer cans on the pool table!)

Pool table at Mississippi Moonshine Tavern
Mississippi Moonshine Tavern ticks all the boxes of a classic dive. Image: Facebook

Boone Dox

820 Township Rd., Gulfport, MS 39507 • (228) 731-3407
Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

This convivial tavern features long tables for patrons to gather around — friends or people who haven’t met yet but will soon be friends. Darts and billiards are the leading entertainment options, but Boone Dox occasionally hosts live music acts. Where’s the stage, you might ask? Help me move these bar stools out of the way so the guitar player can plug in his amplifier. Just be careful with your backstroke while you’re shooting pool, or you’re liable to mess up his song by hitting his guitar. It’s the perfect tiny dive bar setup.

Woman sitting on bar at BooneDox, a Mississippi bar
If you’re nice, they might even let you sit on the bar at Boone Dox. Image: Instagram/@ashleytrivino

Red’s BBlues Club

398 Sunflower Ave., Clarksdale, MS 38614 • (662) 627-3166
Hours: Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight; Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; closed Sunday through Tuesday

A juke joint is a subset of dive bars made famous in the Mississippi Delta region. While the name implies music from a jukebox, often the entertainment comes from live music acts that provide the background for dancing and frolicking. Clarksdale is known as the birthplace of the blues, and Red’s Blues Club is exactly what you’re thinking of when you imagine the ultimate juke joint. You might see Red himself, holding court in the corner of the small single room while legendary blues artists perform stripped-down primal roots music. The garish interior of the former music store is part of the atmosphere, and the fact that there are cans of bug spray on the bar lets you know that you’re in a legit juke joint!

Man playing music at Red's Lounge in Mississippi
Bring cash for your drinks and the tip bucket at Red’s Blues Club. Image: Chris Chamberlain

Martin’s Downtown

214 State St., Jackson, MS 39201 • (601) 354-9712
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to midnight

Martin’s is a little larger than your average dive bar, but as a gathering spot for downtown residents of Mississippi’s capital for more than 50 years, it fits the bill nicely. It’s also unusual that you can feed your soul and your belly at Martin’s, thanks to a short pub grub menu. The bartender may also be your server and food runner, so be patient because there are many people to take care of. Appearing on the stage at Martin’s has become a rite of passage for regional bands, the sign that they are really on their way to the top. The exposed brick and beams of the interior make it seem like they aren’t quite finished building the place, but it’s looked like that for years.

Musician performing on stage at Martin's Downtown, a Mississippi dive bar
Appearing on the stage at Martin’s signifies that you’ve “made it.” Image: Instagram/@zachperson

Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern

410 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Dr. E., Starkville, MS 39759 • (662) 324-7001
Hours: Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday, 3 p.m. to midnight; Thursday through Saturday, 3 p.m. to 1 a.m.; closed Tuesday

From the slightly sagging ceiling to the small rhomboid stage cut out of the wall to host small groups and open mic nights, there aren’t a lot of straight lines at Dave’s, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern is a Golden Triangle fixture, promising “continuing education since 1995” to a generation of Mississippi State students and Starkville residents. True to its name, Dave’s is a dim place with red rope lights wrapped around posts providing much of the illumination and all of what passes as “decor.” That’s OK, though. Dave’s Dark Horse is the favorite if you’re looking for good, affordable food, strong drinks, and excellent happy hour deals.

Interior of Dave's Dark Horse Tavern in Mississippi
Pull up a bar stool and make a new friend at Dave’s! Image: Facebook
Band playing at Dave's Dark Horse Tavern in Mississippi
The bands are right in the middle of the action at Dave’s. Image: Facebook

Gil’s Fish Camp Bayou Bar

1024 Legion Ln., Ocean Springs, MS 39564 • (228) 818-5445
Hours: Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Despite being named “Mississippi’s Best Dive Bar” by a national website, this little hole-in-the-wall on Fort Bayou is short on pretentiousness and long on atmosphere. In addition to waterfront views and crawfish boils (when they’re in season,) Gil’s specializes in cheap beers so cold they’ll freeze your glass, and their version of a boozy adult milkshake, the Bushwacker, will put you on island time any hour of the day. They even offer drive-through service so you can pick up a daiquiri to-go, but then you’d miss out on the company of the genial regulars posted up at the tiny bar. Like tossing a coin over your shoulder into Rome’s Trevi Fountain, signing your name on a dollar and pinning it to the wall means that you’ll probably return someday soon.

Sailfish decor at Gil's Fish Camp Bayou Bar, a Mississippi bar
It is called a fish camp, after all, so you’d expect to sit under a sailfish. Image: Instagram/@codyneat

The Mermaid Dive Bar

709 Howard Ave., Biloxi, MS 39530 • (228) 207-2878
Hours: Daily, 6 p.m. to 4 a.m.

The Mermaid is a different kind of “dive” bar … as in diving undersea. Sure, it checks many of the boxes of your pedestrian tavern: drinks served in mason jars, music from a jukebox, low lighting, darts, and pool, but it takes the diving theme even further. At different times during most evenings, mermaids and mermen dressed in aquatic garb jump up on the small stage to lounge in a giant martini glass. You’ll leave believing in the myth!

A skeleton on stage at the Mermaid Dive Bar
Most of the mermen are more attractive than this guy! Image: Instagram/@lightningmatty

Blue Front Cafe

107 W Railroad Ave., Bentonia, MS 39040 • (662) 528-1900
Hours: Daily, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Another iconic juke joint and dive bar, Blue Front Cafe has earned a spot on the Mississippi Blues Trail for its role in the development of the “Bentonia Blues” style of music since it opened way back in 1948, and it’s the oldest juke joint in the state that’s still in operation. Modern blues rockers The Black Keys paid homage to the legendary bar by featuring it in videos and album covers, and patrons can enjoy a cold beer and live blues just about every night of the week. When the crowds get big, or the Blue Front is staging a festival, the music pushes out to the front porch, where it wafts across the cotton fields of the Delta.

Front of Blue Front Cafe, a Mississippi bar
So many famous blues legends have entered through this door or played on this porch through the decades. Image: Facebook

The Ugly Pirate

144 Demontluzin Ave Suite F, Bay St Louis, MS 39520 • (228) 467-2682
Hours: Wednesday and Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m; Friday, 4 p.m. to midnight; Saturday, noon to midnight; Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.; closed Monday and Tuesday

This tiny nautical-themed bar only has a few bar stools and a couple of tables, but that just means that regulars hang out shoulder-to-shoulder amongst the riot of pirate memorabilia and tiki-inspired decor. For such a small bar, The Ugly Pirate offers a surprising variety of craft beers on tap, and they’ve been known to block off a couple of parking spots in the lot to set up an impromptu stage for bands. Also, don’t miss out on the Friday night turtle races. Place your bets!

Behind the bar at The Ugly Pirate
This is pretty much the entire bar at The Ugly Pirate. So be ready to squeeze in. Image: Instagram/@codyneat
Interior of The Ugly Pirate bar in Mississippi
They really lean into the nautical theme at The Ugly Pirate. Image: Instagram/@codyneat

This article was made possible by Visit Mississippi


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About the Author
Chris Chamberlain