The term "dive bar" gets tossed around mighty liberally these days… what once signified a den of strong drink and ill repute for blue-collar schlubs these days has become a blanket term for any old place with tallboy/shot combos and dusty floors. The term's straight-up been co-opted, with regular taverns getting mislabeled and many joints even designating themselves as "dives," as if some chumps decided to open up a Chuck Bukowski theme park.
Chuck Bukowski certainly wouldn't drink a $12 craft cocktail (sike, dude would drink gas if somebody else was buying). And he'd certainly be able to spot a fake dive bar a mile away. We're not saying to be like Bukowski. But if you're in a "dive bar" and observe any of the following, it might just be an imposter.
The word "dive" is in the joint's name
If a place is actually calling itself a dive by name, that's a surefire sign that some hipster who's never been in a real hole wanted to open a bar, but didn't want to invest in a vacuum or nice lights. Lots of ferns, though. There's always money for ferns.
The lighting's great
Most light should be provided by slightly broken neon signs, not something weird like an Edison bulb or, ugh, a window.
There's a great beer selection
If you order a microbrew, it should be a shot of beer to chase down some cheap whiskey. Otherwise, the taps should be "regular" and "light."
There's a cocktail menu
Ordering cocktails with names other than "on the rocks," "and Coke," and "just gimme the bottle" should result in you being ridiculed by the entire joint. Also, a real dive doesn't serve doubles, because singles are triples.
The TVs are flat-screens
If the TV doesn't weigh 40lbs, flicker, and require industrial-strength metal to semi-safely be elevated above eye level, it has no place in a real dive bar. Also, low-def TVs are acceptable light sources in the absence of windows.
The bartender is extremely welcoming
Barkeeps at a true dive bar are generally inconvenienced by your presence, mainly because it means they have to come in from the smoke break they've been on since 1971.
You feel comfortable walking to the bathroom without looking over your shoulder
If you don't feel slightly threatened by ominous stares once or twice, or at least get the urge to feel your back pocket to make sure your wallet is still there, you've seriously mistaken the status of this bar.
There's no craggy old man telling a story that makes zero sense…
… or making vaguely threatening predictions about the future, like some demonic soothsayer who might explode when exposed to open flame.
There's a Wi-Fi code
Conversely, if you ask the bartender, "What’s the Wi-Fi code?" and aren’t immediately told to leave, this might as well be the Ritz.
It's selling souvenir sweatshirts
A fake dive bar sells $40 hoodies with the joint's name on it. At a real dive bar, $40 will cover your tab for the next week, plus give you full access to whatever you want to take from the lost and found.
Nobody stares you down when you enter
The record scratch when you enter isn't necessary (and, let's be honest, the record player's been broken since '83). But what is necessary is that everybody in the joint immediately goes silent and leers at you. They're most likely going to tell you you're not allowed to sit in "Bill's seat" either, despite Bill not being anywhere to be found.
There's a top shelf
Whiskey is whiskey. Rum is rum. The only thing on the top shelf should be the urn containing Bill's ashes.
The decorations on the walls match
Random bric-a-brac -- beer signs, ripped and outdated posters, half a broken-off knife -- on the walls should be expected. Matching shit that looks like it came from Etsy should be burned.
The glassware matches
The glassware should be a bunch of mismatched, chip-laden junk either from Goodwill or stolen from the fancy bar down the street. Stemware should refer to the bartender's complaint that her leg hurts from standing around all day, not any of the glasses in the bar.
There is no duct tape on the booths
No tears, no fear of getting tetanus from a rusty spring in a booth… no dive.
There's a full food menu
Maybe some fried food is acceptable, we suppose. But if there's a sandwich that isn't a Hot Pocket, this place is full of shit.
The vending machine in the bathroom sells animal balloons
I mean, this is a place for adults. Why would it be selling animal balloons in the bathroom? And why are they all covered in studs and lotion?! What kind of giraffe would be covered… oh. Oh no. Maybe this is a dive bar.
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