You used to know exactly what to expect when walking into a dive bar—sticky floors, cheap beer, greasy food, and a jukebox stuck in the ‘80s. But times are changing, even for the humble dive. Ray’s NYC is leading the charge with its upscale take on the dive bar experience. Open since 2019, Ray’s has all the familiar trappings of a dive, but with a twist. Craft cocktails made from small-batch spirits and a menu featuring high-quality bar snacks and shareable plates elevate the experience. At Ray’s, you can get a shot and a beer, but you can also get a mezcal Negroni and duck confit nachos. Owner Ray Angry is reinventing what it means to be a dive, proving you can maintain a casual, laid-back vibe while also prioritizing quality ingredients and innovative recipes. The upscale dive bar is having a moment, and Ray’s NYC is showing us the future.
The Evolution of the Dive Bar: From Grungy to Upscale
These days, dive bars are getting a major facelift. Gone are the days of dim lighting, sticky floors, and bartenders who barely acknowledge you. The modern dive bar is all about craft cocktails, upscale pub grub, and an atmosphere as stylish as any trendy nightclub.
Dive bars used to be a place to get cheap drinks, catch the game, and avoid pretension. Now, many are transforming into destinations for those seeking expertly made cocktails and high-quality bar snacks in a laid-back space. Forward-thinking owners are revamping these watering holes by replacing dingy decor with stylish minimalism, hiring bartenders skilled in the art of mixology, and adding full kitchens turning out gourmet burgers, tacos, and shareable plates.
The result is a new generation of upscale dive bars appealing to patrons wanting an unpretentious vibe with elevated offerings. At Ray’s NYC, for example, you’ll find classic cocktails, craft beers, and bar bites like truffle fries and pork belly sliders. The space is stylish yet cozy with leather banquettes, exposed brick walls, and mood lighting. It has the relaxed feel of a neighborhood dive but with a menu and ambiance to satisfy the most discerning tastes.
This transformation of the dive bar into a destination for craft cocktails and culinary creativity shows how much the bar and nightlife scene has evolved. The upscale dive bar is a place where you can get an expertly made Negroni or Aperol Spritz and gourmet pub fare in a space as comfortable as your living room. It seems the dive bar just got a lot more enticing.
Ray’s NYC: Bringing a High-End Dive Bar Experience to the Lower East Side
When you walk into Ray’s NYC, you’ll instantly feel like you’ve discovered a hidden gem. With its dark wood paneling, leather banquet seating, and kitschy wall art, Ray’s has all the makings of a classic dive bar. But this stylish watering hole located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side offers so much more.
Ray’s is the brainchild of Golden Age Hospitality's Jon Neidich, Taavo Somer, and Justin Theroux. These nightlife impresarios wanted to recreate the cozy, lived-in feel of a neighborhood dive bar but elevate the experience. The result is Ray’s NYC, a high-end dive bar where you can get craft cocktails and upscale bar snacks in a laid-back space.
When you belly up to the bar, you’ll find a thoughtful drink menu featuring expertly made classics like negronis and old fashioneds as well as unique house creations. If you’re feeling peckish, you can’t go wrong with options like duck confit tacos, truffle fries, or a gourmet burger.
With its unpretentious vibe, quality drinks, and upmarket pub grub, Ray’s NYC is redefining what a dive bar can be. So next time you’re in the mood to get away from the glitz and glam of the city, head to Ray’s for an elevated dive bar experience you won’t soon forget. This stylish and cozy watering hole is perfect for intimate conversations, casual dates, or just catching up with friends in low-key luxury.
Craft Cocktails in a Casual Setting: The Best of Both Worlds
Casual Yet Sophisticated
Ray’s NYC and other upscale dive bars are reinventing the neighborhood watering hole experience. They offer craft cocktails and high-quality bar snacks in a laid-back setting. You get the best of both worlds—exceptional drinks and fare without the pretension.
- Ray’s NYC is a great example. They serve craft cocktails made from artisanal spirits and fresh ingredients, yet the vibe is casual and unpretentious. Sit at the bar or grab a booth and enjoy cocktails like the “Smoke ‘Em if You Got ‘Em” with mezcal, green chartreuse, lime and grapefruit. Pair it with truffle fries, duck confit sliders or other upscale bar snacks.
- In Seattle, bars like The Upstairs and Hazlewood are creating unique cocktails in a casual, neighborhood setting. The Upstairs offers a chill space to enjoy drinks like the bourbon-based “Penicillin” or the vodka and elderflower “St. Germain.” Hazlewood has a similar laid-back feel with cocktails made from local craft spirits and a menu of high-quality bar fare.
- Homestead Kitchen & Cocktails in Seattle is another example of exceptional fare in a warm, unpretentious setting. They serve craft cocktails, local wines and ciders along with a menu of homemade pastas, wood-fired pizzas and other dishes made from locally-sourced ingredients. The vibe is rustic yet refined.
Dive bars 2.0 offer the appeal of a casual, neighborhood spot but with craft cocktails, local beers and a menu that rivals any upscale restaurant. They embody the Pacific Northwest ethos of high quality, locally-sourced fare in an unpretentious setting. Pull up a bar stool or slide into a booth and enjoy the best of both worlds.
Elevated Bar Food to Match the Drinks
Elevated Bar Snacks
The craft cocktail renaissance has inspired bar owners to create menus featuring high-quality bar snacks and small plates to match their artisanal drinks. At Ray’s, you’ll find bar food that’s a few notches above typical greasy pub fare.
- House-made guacamole and tortilla chips: Avocados, lime, cilantro, and serrano peppers are mashed together and served with warm tortilla chips for dipping. The creamy guac is a perfect pairing for a zesty Paloma or Lime Margarita.
- Kimchi beef sliders: Ground beef patties are topped with spicy kimchi, sriracha mayonnaise, and pickles on mini buns. The blend of savory, spicy, and tangy flavors stands up well to a Negroni or Boulevardier.
- Truffle parmesan fries: Thin cut fries are tossed in truffle oil, parmesan cheese, and fresh herbs. An upscale take on a bar classic, these fries pair nicely with a crisp dry gin martini.
- Charcuterie board: An assortment of cured meats like prosciutto, soppressata, and chorizo along with a selection of artisanal cheeses, olives, nuts and a fig jam. This shareable snack board goes well with almost any craft cocktail, especially those with bitter or herbal notes.
By offering high-quality bar snacks and small plates made in-house with fresh, seasonal ingredients, Ray’s and other upscale dive bars are giving patrons more reasons to stick around for another round. Elevated bar food, along with craft cocktails and stylish yet cozy decor, have transformed the dive bar into a destination for a full night out. The days of peanuts and pretzels are long gone.
FAQs: What Makes an Upscale Dive Bar?
An upscale dive bar has all the charm of a regular dive bar but with some added perks. It’s a place where you can feel comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, but the drinks and bar snacks are a step above.
- It has regulars. An upscale dive bar still attracts a devoted set of locals. The bartenders know the regulars by name and have their drink ready when they walk in.
- There’s an activity. Many upscale dive bars have a well-used pool table, dart board, or arcade games. It gives patrons an easy way to socialize and compete with each other.
- The drinks are craft. While beer and a shot are still options, the bar offers craft cocktails made with premium spirits and fresh ingredients. The bartenders are attentive and can make recommendations based on your tastes.
- The food is a step up. If there’s a menu, it will feature high-quality bar snacks like duck confit nachos, truffle fries, or gourmet burgers. The options are still casual but made with care.
Some other signs of an upscale dive bar:
• Dim lighting and an unpretentious vibe.
• Knowledgeable staff that make you feel like a regular.
• A great jukebox or playlist. Music is an important part of the ambiance.
• Special events like whiskey tastings or guest bartenders.
• Reasonable prices. While a step up from a regular dive bar, an upscale dive is still affordable.
An upscale dive bar manages to blend familiar comfort with an elevated experience. It has the welcoming feel of an old favorite bar and the craftsmanship of a stylish cocktail lounge. The combination creates a space with wide appeal that you can visit often without getting bored. No wonder the upscale dive bar is on the rise.
So there you have it, the story of how Ray’s NYC helped pioneer the upscale dive bar trend that’s sweeping across cities. While the gritty, no-frills dive bars of old certainly have their place, it’s nice to belly up to a bar where the drinks are thoughtfully made and the food is actually edible. Ray’s has shown us that you can maintain the casual, laid-back vibe of a dive bar while raising the standards of quality. The concept has caught on like wildfire, with upscale dives popping up all over. Next time you’re looking to grab a drink in a place with character, give your local upscale dive a try. The drinks may cost a buck or two more, but your taste buds and stomach will thank you for it the next morning. Here’s to the rise of a new generation of dive bars where you can get a craft cocktail and a lobster roll under the same roof. Cheers!