Barfly’s protagonist, Henry Chinaski (Mickey Rourke), is a poet who spends most of his time drinking in a pair of Los Angeles dives -- The Golden Horn and The Kenmore -- alternately toasting, insulting, and fighting prostitutes, scammers, bartenders, and tremor-stricken lushes. The film is an exegesis of the symbiotic relationship between dives and their customers. It's not a life for the timid or the clean, but Bukowski captures the dark charm of the down-and-out, and Chinaski is an antihero for the ages.
The film was well received by critics and it became a cult hit. Whether drawn to the humanity and humor or the horror and depravity, people liked Barfly. With notable exceptions during Prohibition and the Beatnik era, dive bars had never before appeared on popular culture's radar. When they had appeared in print or on film, dives were settings in pulp novels and noir thrillers. Thanks largely to the popularity of writers like Bukowski, and films like Barfly and David Lynch's Blue Velvet, it became cool in the mid-'80s to celebrate low culture. Young drinkers made a hobby of dipping into dives for a real-life glimpse of the down-and-out. We called it slumming. That many of the drinking establishments weren't dives mattered little. The experience was the point, the search for the authentic, not the obvious. We raised cheap glasses of yellow tap beer and aped Chinaski, "To all my friends!" and Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), "Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!"