THE DRINK NATION IS A FREE RESOURCE FOR FINDING EVERYTHING AWESOME ABOUT DRINKING IN YOUR LOCATION
San Diego Trip Giveaway Header

What Makes a Dive Bar a Dive Bar? 14 Clues to Look For

by Tim Gonzalez on Jan 10, 2013 in Culture
What Makes a Dive Bar a Dive Bar? 14 Clues to Look For

The dive bar has long been a staple of the American drinking scene, but what makes a dive a dive? In  a nutshell, it’s a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall whose only saving grace is cheap booze, and plenty of it. Recently, there’s been a trend of places trying to achieve that “dive bar feel” with lighting and decor, but they’re missing what it really takes. Here’s how to spot the fakes and zero in on the real deal.

You're not in a dive bar if...

1)…You pay more than $5 for a beer. You go to a dive bar for cheap beer and specials, and if anything costs more than a fiver, they’re doing it wrong.

2)...There’s not at least one person who’s obviously been sitting at the bar since 11 AM. The guy who looks like he woke up at the place and hasn’t left? The mascot. 

3)...Credit cards are accepted. “Cash Only” is the official motto of the dive bar.

4)...There’s a food menu. A dive doesn’t have space for a kitchen. If you’re hungry, look for bags of chips and dirty water dogs. 

5)...The bartender asks what kind of whiskey you want. The default is whatever’s in the well, and you’ll get that unless you plead otherwise.

6)...The bartender flirts with you. Their job is to provide you with alcohol and be paid for it. They don’t care if you like them or not.

7)...The bartender asks you “What’s the matter?” Dive bars aren’t places to be noticed. They’re for blending into a crowd and being alone.

8)...There’s a different crowd every weekend. Dive bars rely on regulars who visit as part of their daily routine. (Exception to the previous rule: if you’re a regular, the ‘tender will notice when you’re feeling down.)

9)...The alarm on the emergency exit is functional. It likely broke the last time the place caught on fire, and the health inspector is probably a regular.

10)...Your feet don’t stick to the floor. Real dives have a carefully curated layer of muck on the ground, a totally unique fruit of years of hard partying (and its after effects).

11)...The lights are bright enough to read by. That doesn’t stop the skinny performance-artist regular from having his nose perpetually buried in a book of poems, however.

12)...The layer of dirt on the jukebox is less than a quarter-inch thick.  And it’s definitely not a dive if Justin Bieber’s on the playlist. 

13)...You’re asked to pay a cover charge. Cover charges are for clubs and charity events. A dive is neither, though collections may be taken up to help regulars through hard times.

14)...There’s a line to get in. If a fight starts, there might be a line to get out, but that’s it.

Photo via Flickr user weeklydig

Recent Articles
Home Bar Project Below Features

Feedback

How are we doing? Tell us what you like or don't like and how we can improve. We would love to hear your thoughts!

*Name:
*E-mail:
*Suggestions:
 
311 Releasing an Amber Ale with Rock Brothers and Nebraska Brewing

311 Releasing an Amber Ale with Rock Brothers and Nebraska Brewing

311 is diving into the craft beer world and releasing an amber ale with the help of Rock Brothers Brewing and ...read more ›

by Ryan Hudak Mar 2, 2015
House of Cards Season 3 Features $750,000 Solid Gold Bottle of Vodka: Is It Real?
by Swabreen Bakr Mar 2, 2015
The Porchlight is (Almost) On

The Porchlight is (Almost) On

Danny Meyer's Porchlight is set to open March 2 and boasts some delicious and creative cocktails. ...read more ›

by Seanan Forbes Feb 27, 2015
SPONSORED
Perennial Funding - rectangle
Top 20 Drinking Quotes of All Time

Top 20 Drinking Quotes of All Time

Writers and musicians have a long, storied history with alcohol, and that intimacy with the bottle shows through in the memorable lines these artists ...read more ›

by Jenny An Sep 3, 2013
Creep Out All Your Friends with a Fake Baby Filled with Booze
by Ryan Hudak Feb 26, 2015
Move Over Cat Cafes, London is Getting an Owl Bar

Move Over Cat Cafes, London is Getting an Owl Bar

Soho, London is getting an owl bar pop-up, and it might be the best thing ever. ...read more ›

by Kate Monzo Feb 26, 2015
Home Bar Project: How to Make a Sands Cocktail

Home Bar Project: How to Make a Sands Cocktail

Have you ever dreamed of having an amazing home bar, filled with bottles you actually use and the tools you need to execute a finely crafted cocktail?...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Feb 24, 2015
Get a Sneak Peek at the New Breckenridge Brewery in Littleton

Get a Sneak Peek at the New Breckenridge Brewery in Littleton

Drink Denver got a sneak peek of the new Breckenridge Brewery taking shape in Littleton. ...read more ›

by Carrie Dow Feb 24, 2015
Where to Get the Most Booze for Your Buck: NYC's Best Bottomless Brunches

Where to Get the Most Booze for Your Buck: NYC's Best Bottomless Brunches

Is there anything better than enjoying a good, cheap bottomless brunch?...read more ›

by Jessica Klein Feb 23, 2015
Benedict Cumberbatch Whips Out Flask at The Oscars
by The Drink Nation Feb 23, 2015
SPONSORED
Read The Drink Nation Anywhere You Are
View all Articles

Sign up to get weekly drinking news, bar reviews, events and more sent directly to your inbox!

Close