You can hop into a dive bar in Toledo, Calcutta, Juarez, or New York and immediately be struck by the place's charm and character, the latter of which is usually defined by the actual characters who reside within.
But if you look at dive bars with eyes that aren't glazed over with whiskey, you'll realize that nearly every dive has its own unique, storied, and just-dirty-enough variation on these universal elements, whether it's the random-ass antiques, the explosive drinks, or good ol' Big Jim, who seemingly teleports from one dive to the next without lifting a finger. Here are the essential elements of every dive.
Beautifully incendiary drinks
That's seriously just a glass of whiskey with a splash of Coke on top.
The memorial stool/plaque
Dedicated to a regular who may or may not have died in this very spot, every proper dive has a designated seat for the dude's who's drinking at the big dive in the sky right now.
No newfangled touchscreen crap, either. It's gotta be loaded with CDs or records. And most of them are Merle Haggard and NWA.
Old TVs showing super-random sports
The bar has neither upgraded its TVs nor its Sunday Ticket-having-ness, but if you want to watch college tennis, curling, or a pro-am gold tournament featuring Diane Keaton, and you do, you've found your spot.
Old-school beer signs
Sadly, they're not selling Red Dog anymore. But that doesn't mean we can't look back at the glory days… just don't look too long. Too much neon-gazing and you'll have to peel your contacts off with pliers.
Want to turn a table full of cougars into rabid lionesses? Buy them a round of Jell-O shots, which bring out the sorority girl in even the stodgiest barfly. And they're, like, a nickel for a dozen.
A severly limited tap selection, but a well-curated tallboy selection
Ask for those tallboys, and they'll hand you the aluminum equivalent of a wine list.
The guy who has never left
His name's Big Jim or something, and he opens and closes the bar every day. You never actually see him pay for his drinks, but you definitely notice when he falls asleep for an hour.
Whether it's video poker or Erotic Photo Hunt, we're gonna recommend washing your hands after you're done playing. Especially if it's Erotic Photo Hunt.
A giant wrap-around bar
The gigantic horseshoe bar manages to take up 70% of the floor plan, and also guarantees you'll lock eyes with everybody in the building at some point, whether it's the silver fox with the Long Island or the grizzled old dude with the thousand-yard stare.
Nobody knows why these fedora-sporting, tight-pantsed weirdos started coming into this bar, but we'd imagine it's ironic. Also, because of the cheap drinks. They love Snapchatting Photo Hunt.
Peanuts expire after about six months. Just remember that.
Inverted liquor prices
The Old Crow's on the top shelf
and costs $6. Something actually decent is on the bottom, covered in dust, and for some reason costs $3. Get a triple.
The butt bucket
Because you can't smoke inside anymore (though we'd bet if you lick the table you'll get a nicotine buzz from the decades of residue), every dive now has a rusty tin bucket outside. Naturally, most of the butts are scattered around it rather than in it.
You can either risk wrath by bumming one, assemble a makeshift Marlboro out of the butts outside, or buy an individual one from the bar, which'll have a collection based on whatever was left behind over the weekend.
We may have failed health class, but we're pretty sure the $.75 Pandora's Box studded c-dome isn't gonna do a great job of preventing STDs when you use it in the parking lot.
You can learn a lot by looking at the bathroom wall of a dive: what number to call for a good time. Racial slurs for races you didn't know existed. What time to get in the stall so you can meet Cam Neely. One thing you can't learn: the actual color of the wall.
Old holiday decorations
Welcome to the magical place where it's Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, and Valentine's Day every day!
Random fake antiques
We're not exactly sure why there is a bust of Frederic Chopin on a shelf with a toy tractor, an old bugle, and some vintage Playboy
mags, but we're all for it.
There's just something exciting about ordering a round of three shots and getting one in a Welch's jelly jar, one in a gravy boat, and one in an actual shot glass.
Andy Kryza is Thrillist's National Eat/Drink Senior Editor, and has proudly lived vegetable-free since 2001. Follow his adventures/slow decline via Twitter at @apkryza.