Is there a (common) single word for an old-fashioned, non-modern, simple, dirty, untidy bar/place ?

A noun would be preferable.


There is an informal British term:

spit-and-sawdust Used to describe an old-fashioned or simple pub or bar, of a type whose floor was originally covered with sawdust.

First of all:

  • Is this word only used as an adjective? Can it be used as a noun?
  • Is it a common word? Can it be used for places other than pubs/bars?


  • Is there any AmE equivalent of this word? or a common word both in BrE and AmE?
  • Can we say that "shabby" is an equivalent?

10 Answers 10


The usual term for no-frills bars or pubs in America is dive bar. Many people simply call such a bar a dive. They are not all shabby or run-down, but many are.

  • +1, As an Australian I'd definitely describe such a place as a dive.
    – etheranger
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 6:12
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    Also common to British English from my own experiences. I've visited many dives.
    – Michael
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 10:34
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    I don't mind dive used here, but dive bars are not old fashioned. That is why I went with saloon or honky-tonk. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 14:15
  • I agree that if the qualification of "old-fashioned"/"non-modern" is required that "saloon" or "honky-tonk" fits better. If it's only simple/dirty/untidy, then "dive" is more appropriate.
    – Doktor J
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 16:01
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    Depends on what you mean by old-fashioned, I guess. If it makes you think 19th century, then saloon might be better. If it makes you think 20th century, then dive is more common. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 16:13

I think the most common term in America for this is saloon. In westerns the cowboys would be drinking at the saloon. Surely its floors weren't better than sawdust.

Saloon usage can vary between Old Western to your corner pub that is a little old fashioned, to a retro microbrewery. It is still very common in the Midwest US to open a bar with the name Saloon in it - or refer to your bar as a saloon. Some are dirtier than others obviously, and the type you are pointing at would normally be found in rural areas or in the South. Fort Worth has a famous section of town called the Stockyards that has pretty much exactly what you are describing and they go by saloon or honky-tonk.

However I do remember a phrase from my youth in the south - a honky-tonk. My grandma actually ran a honky-tonk. Pizza place by day and bar/concert place at night. Half of the flooring was concrete though. Other half was dirt/straw.

a cheap or disreputable bar, club, or dance hall, typically where country music is played. "country bands at highway honky-tonks"

A great example (of a rather large honky-tonk) was Gilley's, seen on the movie Urban Cowboy. Not all honky-tonks had a bull but it wasn't uncommon.

enter image description here

Also via Patrick (see comments) I missed probably the best example I have seen so far via Blues Brothers clip of Bob's Country Bunker.

enter image description here

  • 1
    That's the first term that came to my mind too, but I think the OP may be talking about dives. I'm not familiar enough with the British term to say. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 3:40
  • 4
    Saloon also has the strongest connotation of "old-fashioned". The OP also mentions AmE; in AmE, old-fashioned is nearly synonymous with the 'old west'. Saloon can have strong connotations for the old west, to the point of a listener imagining a hitching post, horse trough and the half-size swinging double doors on the front. If you're describing a bar in an even partly rural area in North America, Saloon is the way to go. +1
    – Patrick M
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 14:55
  • @PatrickM Agreed, for some values of old fashioned. If you mean more like Baby Boom old fashioned, then those connotations of saloon would be problematic. But +1 anyway because this might be exactly what the OP was looking for. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 16:42
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    @BraddSzonye The thing is almost everyone knows -- thanks to westerns -- what a saloon is. We even refer to US saloons as "saloons" in France. However, the meaning of "dive" might sound more obscure to nonnative speakers.
    – Elian
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 17:50
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    Other examples of honky-tonks in film: Bob's Country Bunker. They've got both kinds of music: country and western!
    – Patrick M
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 18:30

Consider "dump," "roadhouse", and 'juke (house/joint)."

roadhouse: a tavern located on a road outside of a town or city.

juke house: Southern US: a cheap roadhouse.

  • You like quantity over quality! Keep roadhouse and dump the rest. Roadhouse is a great term here and is very close to a honky-tonk. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 15:54
  • @RyeɃreḁd Oke Dokey, RB. I'm taking your word for it. :-)
    – Elian
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 16:09
  • I'm in France next week. If I make it on here I will surely be drunk. What is the word for roadhouse in French? Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 16:10
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    +1, but most "Roadhouses" now-a-days have more peanut shells on the ground than spit and sawdust. Still a similar vibe though. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 17:01
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    @NourishedGourmet Yes, I'd equate those with a more dingey atmosphere. A roadhouse in the traditional sense definitely falls in line with what OP is asking for (just ask Patrick Swayze) but in today's age, they are usually family friendly theme restaurants... A juke joint on the other hand is still a place where "good 'ol boys" hang out. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 17:11

The most common term used in Arizona would be "dive" bar. Some have sawdust or peanut shells on the ground, others do not. In general a dive bar tends to be low key, less pricey, and dark. You can use the slang version, as "dive" to be a noun or you can simply refer to it as a "dive" (adjective) "bar" (noun). Another relevant term related to dive bar is a honkytonk, which is a noun and would err on the side of more western themed saloons and down south America.

On urbandictionary.com dive bar is defined as:

    Dive bar: 

    A well-worn, unglamorous bar, often serving a cheap, simple selection of drinks to a regular clientele. 

   The term can describe anything from a comfortable-but-basic neighborhood pub to the nastiest swill-slinging hole. 

    You don't need to dress up; we're just going to the dive bar down the street. 

    Man, that place is such a dive bar... Don't go in unless you plan to burn your clothes afterwards. 

    by Ella Kushan August 07, 2005



The term "hole in the wall" also comes to mind. I think this is regional though, and different places have different terms for this. I've been told that in Puerto Rico they call it a "bad dead bar", which I kinda like...

  • 1
    In the UK that's a phrase for an ATM :) Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 13:18
  • I don't think it's uncommon, and in fact I would think it's more common than some of the other answers here. Wikipedia and urban dictionary agree that I'm not crazy! :p Commented Apr 19, 2014 at 14:20

Groggery is a low-class tavern (not necessarily dirty) but an informal, albeit archaic term: groggery /grog"euh ree/, n., pl. groggeries. a slightly disreputable barroom.

  • 1
    Have never seen this used in contemporary AmE (probably seen it in written 19th century stuff). Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 17:45
  • I admit I have felt groggy a few times groggy 1770, "drunk," from GROG (Cf. grog) + -Y (Cf. -y) (2). Non-alcoholic meaning "shaky, tottering" is from 1832, originally from the fight ring. Related: Groggily; grogginess. etymology.enacademic.com/17456/groggy
    – Third News
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 5:03

Greasy spoon a term which according to Wikipedia has also been adopted in the US. It was originally used to describe those cheap, nasty-looking cafès that were often present on high streets in working class areas or dotted along motorways, frequented mainly by tramps, and lorry/truck drivers. These cafès usually served traditional English breakfast and piping hot tea in chipped cups or mugs. As for its name, let's say hygiene was not included in the menu, traces of grease would often be visible on cutlery, glasses and tabletops.

enter image description here

Greasy spoon is a colloquial term for a small, cheap restaurant or diner that most typically specializes in fried foods. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term originated in the United Kingdom, and is now used in various English-speaking countries.

The name "greasy spoon" is a reference to the typically high fat, high calorie menu items such as eggs and bacon. The term has been used to refer to a "small cheap restaurant" since 1925.

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    This works well for a restaurant but not a bar. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 6:52
  • @BraddSzonye the OP also said "place" :) Greasy spoon, according to Wiki, is well-known in the States too, whereas I've never heard of a dive until today.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 6:57
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    That's what I meant, it's good for a place but only if they primarily serve food. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 7:00
  • The Regency Café in your picture is rather smart in an art deco style, with a wider menu and fresher food than most greasy spoons.
    – Henry
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 21:23
  • Oops, @Henry, and yet this photo was taken from the greasy spoon Wikipedia link. If I had known that Yelp had voted it as being one of the top five restaurants, I might not have posted it. But top five, in all of London? Seems far fetched to me, nevermind, the cafè has a retro feel to it, and it is undeniably cheap looking.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 21:33

I’m pretty sure English lacks a single word that connotes both “dirty” and “old-fashioned.”

“Saloon” is the word for the bars of the American frontier, as commonly seen in westerns. A saloon can be fancy and upscale, or cheap and dirty.

“Dive” is a word (one among many, but the one I feel is most common) for a cheap, dirty bar. Dives are not necessarily old-fashioned, though very often dives feel old since everything is cheap, run-down, thoroughly used and rarely replaced or upgraded.

A saloon can easily be a dive, but it need not be, and a dive could be a saloon, but it very well may not be.

People do say “dive bar,” using “dive” as an adjective, which you might extend to “dive saloon,” but I don’t think I’ve ever heard the phrase used. That said, I think most readers will immediately understand the meaning of the phrase.

  • Actually I meant old looking by saying old-fashioned. Dives are usually old looking places. But thanks for the elaboration.
    – ermanen
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 14:40

hole in the wall maybe - or drinking hole according to: http://www.dict.cc/deutsch-englisch/Spelunke.html

The German word for this is Spelunke by the way.


With apologies to the Rhythm Aces then the Amazing Rhythm Aces (and the many who followed singing "Third Rate Romance"), how about "low-rent rendezvous?"

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