El Paso has tons to offer in the realm of dive bars and when we refer to dive bars, we’re not talking about a place that you’re going to walk into and feel a thick air with get out of here vibes, we’re talking about hole in the wall type places with tons of character and more importantly, characters. As the dive bars that they are, not all of them will have a full service bar. A lot of these places are beer and wine only types. On that note, take it from us: don’t order the wine, stick to beer.
There are a few cardinal set of laws to consider before you embark on this dive bar journey and rule number one is: carry cash. Some of these places don’t accept credit cards and more importantly, you don’t want to cheat yourself out of a bonus tasty treat from the slew of street food vendors that rotate through these bars. If you’re adventurous when it comes to food, and I’m not saying that strange things will walk through the door or anything like that, I’m saying that these are treats made by someone’s mom in her kitchen and she may or may not have a health permit, the odds of eating one of the best tortas, burritos or gorditas are high in these establishments and it is your duty to give it a shot. Another rule of thumb: if it’s not food or live music from a trio of musicos, don’t buy it. This is about having an experience, and do you really need that battery operated LED flashlight or a rose? (Note: the rose will undoubtedly be offered to you some time during the night by a nice man in a tuxedo top with camera in tow who may or may not ride in on a bicycle).
While there are dive bars throughout the city, when diving in El Paso, it’s best to stick to the central part of town. As the oldest, most established part of the city, central El Paso is host to beautiful casitas built in the early 1900s and some of the best architecture in the city. As such, these dives that have down home feeling that can only come from being around forever; they’ve got that broken in, greased up feeling that only comes with time and a rotating door of party people of yesteryear.
Pershing Inn The Pershing Inn, known as the PI to insiders, is enchanting in the El Paso way; it pulls no stops and patrons love it for what it is—a good old-fashioned neighborhood bar with no signs of changing. It’s got a cool vintage feel so comforting that it makes you feel like it’s your little secret, only it so happens that the PI is everyone’s little secret.
While this bar is home to many regulars, it gladly accepts new faces. You won’t have that “NEW YORK CITY!!!” affect on the natives when you enter the PI’s red door. As the PI has regained traction with a younger crowd (and by younger we mean old kickball players that stop in to drink after a game), the PI recently opened its back yard for business and although it’s not written in stone, the bar is generally split like this: regulars and neighborhood locals in the main bar, new patrons that don’t necessarily care about the charm, in the back yard. Both demos get along famously and this unwritten formula works. If you like your bartender to be older with a raspy voice and a friendly smile, go to the front. If you prefer your bartender to be scantily clad, go to the back yard. Simple as that.
Pershing Inn, 2909 Pershing Drive. Hours: 12p to 12a M-Sun. Full bar service, credit cards accepted.
Chicken Coop Located in the same building as the once glamorous Stagecoach Motor Hotel that was a regular stop for road tripping Americans of the 1950’s, The Chicken Coop is a homey, locals only bar run by a mother-daughter team that is known to cook up some happy hour goodies. While you won’t feel hostility when you enter the door, you’ll know right away that they know that you’ve never set foot in the place. But never fear, the surefire way to win this crowd over goes like this: Walk straight to the jukebox, look for Disc 08, Track 01 and play the tejano version of the Bowie High School fight song. Oh yes, you are officially in Bowie Bears territory and this is their bar. If all goes according to plan, the entire bar will break into a sing along and there you are, the unofficial hero of the night. Do not divert from this system. It’s a guaranteed winner. While you’re at the juke, pay heed to the homemade mixes, you can’t pay for the El Paso style oldies education that this juke holds. Sunny and the Sunliners, check. Brenton Wood, check. Mary Wells, check. There’s even an entire disc dedicated to animal songs, you are in a Chicken Coop after all. This is one of those beer and wine only joints where logic goes out the window when it comes to figuring out your pay as you drink tab. $8 for 5 beers is par for the course. Oh, and don’t bother asking for an IPA. This is Bud and Bud Light town and you’re here for the experience.
Park Inn El Paso has a long-lived love for all things baseball and located across the street from our first baseball venue, Washington Park, the Park Inn is a baseball-themed hole in the wall that grandpas love to frequent. The Park Inn also happens to be the holy grail of street food vendors. If a lady with a tray full of tortas comes through the door, buy one and dig in.
If a man walks in with a big red cooler on his shoulder and offers you a burrito or a gordita, do it. Again, we’re in beer and wine territory here and if you thought the pickings were slim at the Chicken Coop, the 32oz mugs of Natty Light at the Park Inn, will not cease to amaze. Here’s the deal, we all know that the best way to drink Natural Light is super ice cold, and a 32oz mug of Natty Light means you drink fast before you can’t stand it anymore. This bar is probably 20ft x 16ft and somehow they manage to get it all in. Old school bar with stools, tables with chairs, pool table in the middle, jukebox, TV and a live musical trio to play songs on demand—for a fee, of course. Unassuming and warm, the Park Inn feels like your granddad’s sweater.
Bowie Feathers Bowie Feathers is a no frills rock and roll bar. You know the kind-flat black paint, scruffy bearded big guy at the door, bartenders with tattoos, and a stair case. I mention the stair case because it’s the only way in (unwritten protocol for rock and roll dives throughout the country).
Like other rock and roll bars, it’s kind of hidden and once you’re in the doors you’re home. There are a few marked differences that are not signature to most rock and roll bars. For one, the bathrooms are spotless and while the décor is minimal, you can tell that a lot of thought went into it. Huge stencil art portraits of musicians on plywood such as Ian Mackaye, Bjork and Buddy Holly adorn the walls and frenetic brass tube chandeliers hang from the ceilings. This is a place that can accommodate beer snobs, whiskey drinkers and Miller Light lovers all at the same time. While it’s a rock and roll bar with a carefully curated playlist that any music lover will appreciate, it’s still the kind of place where you can have a conversation with friends. This is the kind of bar that doesn’t require its patrons to be music snobs or mustached hipsters--there’s no secret handshake at the door. It should be noted that Bowie Feathers is an upstairs bar located in the historic Alhambra Theatre, El Paso’s first air-conditioned theater that came to be during the golden age of cinema. The main building currently serves as Bowie Feathers’ sister and live music venue, Tricky Falls. While Tricky Falls is only open when there’s a live show, Bowie Feathers is open six days a week.
The Tap You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you came to El Paso and didn’t make a stop at The Tap. The Tap is an El Paso mainstay that sports the best sign in lights in all of downtown. Home to the most diverse crowd in this town—recently released prisoners from the nearby county jail, politicians and judges, touring bands and a general mixture of melee loving hipsters and hippie midwives, The Tap fits all of us like a glove. Black and red with mirrors and portraits of Aztec princesses in distress on the walls, The Tap is also home to the best nachos in town. Here’s the lowdown on how this works. The Tap is two businesses rolled into one, so your tab for your food is going to be separate from the tab for your drinks. This also means that should you choose to try the nachos (they have a full menu, but don’t bother with it, go straight to the nachos) you will have two waitresses tending to you. While they’re not entirely rude, you don’t want to ask your bar maid for something food related, it annoys them and there’s no point in aggravating the lady that will be serving up your drinks. Now on to nachos: There are several variations and if you’re a meat eater, it’s best to order half and half nachos. That is, half [shredded] beef and half chicken. It’s also important that you specify that you’d like chile, tomato and onion (or chile, tomate y cebolla—the ultimate Mexican trilogy) on your nachos. This is important because sometimes they see a non local and assume that you can’t handle the heat—for the record, they’re not that hot and besides, you can always pick the jalapeno off. Vegetarians need not fear, order the nachos with beans and trilogy and your experience will be just as good. Kitchen closes at 10p, sometimes earlier. Bottom line: go to The Tap.