In Sioux Falls, we have some pretty fancy places to grab a fruity Daiquiri or one of those hip craft beers, but sometimes what we really want is a good, strong, cheap, Jack and Coke.  You won't find any beer snobs at Sioux Falls dive bars. You're there for the unapologetic atmosphere and bargain booze.

To be designated a dive bar the establishment needs to have 7 things.

  1. The Smell. A dive bar doesn’t smell like the Yankee Candle Store, it smells like a basement in an old house. A musty, old cigarette smoke smell. You get a good whiff when you walk in, but it fades away quickly. It's not really a bad thing. It's part of the allure.
  2. Character - There is nothing fancy in a dive bar, except maybe the latest digital jukebox. The walls are adorned with beer signs and other alcohol-related kitsch. There’s probably a dart board, a pool table and a few video lottery machines.
  3. The Laid Back Bartender - This person isn’t Tom Cruise in Cocktail. This guy or gal doesn’t need the “flair.” All they need is a gift of gab and a genuine personality. And, if you’re a regular, they’ll know exactly what drink to make the second you belly up to the bar
  4. Cheap, strong drinks and great happy hour specials.
  5. The Bathrooms - It’s up to you if you want to use them or hold it. But, you need to at least check them out. The bathrooms in a dive bar will always give you a good laugh, whether it’s the “artwork” on the wall or the cramped size. Most don’t even have a mirror. Trust me, no one cares what you look like at a dive bar.
  6. The Reputation - All dive bars are known for something. Whether it’s the strongest drinks, the patriarch (or matriarch) of the bar, the worst location, or sometimes the best food. Many dive bars don't even have kitchens, so you'll have to nibble on pickled eggs, an assortment of chips from a small hanging display or some popcorn from a well-seasoned popcorn popper.
  7. The Regulars - Every neighborhood dive bar has its loyal clientele. They’re friends, not just customers.

We set out to find the best dive bars in Sioux Falls. We started with a bar owned by Andrea Lenz. Andrea - or Andy as her bar patrons know her - has owned The Top Hat for 10 years.  The bar has been located in downtown Sioux Falls at 508 S. 1st Avenue since 1954.

One Friday night after work, my friends Dusti, Christy and I ventured downtown to start our dive bar tour.

James was the bartender at the Top Hat that night. He told us about the happy hour specials and we ordered a pizza. The Top Hat doesn't have a kitchen, but they do have a pizza oven. Their pizza of choice: Rosken's Pizza from Critter's Bar in Crooks. Some of the best pizza you'll put in your mouth. It's made with a thin crust, lots of cheese and a variety of toppings to choose from. Three beers, 1 mixed drink, 2 pops and a pizza only came to 20 bucks. THAT is why we love dive bars.

Check out our gallery of photos for a tour of one of Sioux Falls' best dive bars - The Top Hat.

Our dive bar tour continues next week when we visit Jono's.

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