Let me guess -- your favorite bar is a shitty little dive. The barstools are worn down, the carpet smells a little too funky, and a can of watery beer paired with a shot of questionable whiskey sells for just $5. The bartenders have all been working there for 100 years. If you're a regular at a drinking establishment like this, you enjoy going somewhere with cheap booze and where everyone knows your name. Everyone seems to love dive bars.
Except for me.
Do I just not get the charm of a place with cigarette burns on the tables and vomit stains in the carpet? It could be that, or… maybe dive bars just suck. Before you try to break a bottle of cheap whiskey over my head, hear me out.
Character is overrated
Once upon a time, I frequented a dive bar in Brooklyn every Sunday afternoon because it was the only place near my apartment that had the football package. Most people would say it had "character." I'd order cheap bottles of imported beer and scream at the TV with a bunch of old guys. The second the early-afternoon games ended at 4:15pm, I bolted as fast as I could. The smoking ban was in effect for years by that point, but it still smelled like the thousands of Camel cigarettes the regulars smoked in 1975.
This is what passes for a bar with character nowadays. Foggy glasses that look like they haven't seen a dishwasher in a while. The smell of stale cigarette smoke no amount of bleach could ever erase. If a brand-new bar opened and had all these same features, people would be horrified. You'd never go there. "It's a shithole," people would say. But if the bar's been around since the '70s, it gets a pass. "It's a shithole," people say, just in a different tone. "And it's my favorite dive."
The booze sucks too
Not only is the atmosphere subpar, the booze selection, the whole reason you come to a bar, is subpar too. Here's what you can order at a dive: once-great American beer brands since revived by billionaire entrepreneurs who only care about profits and not quality. And two-ingredient cocktails with bottom-shelf booze. If there's one thing that's great about living in America, it's the staggering amount of delicious craft beer and liquor that's available to us.
While, yes, the drinks at dive bars are cheap, there are other ways to purchase affordable alcohol that also happens to actually be good. You can buy a six-pack of craft beer for $10 -- that's just $1.67 a bottle. I'd rather drink a $2 bottle of craft beer in the alleyway behind a dive bar than a $3 can of crappy light beer in a dive bar. The ambience in the alley is pretty similar to what's in a dive, and it's cheaper to drink there.
It's not fun to drink at a dive bar unless you are a regular
Plus dive bars are only really amazing if it’s your dive bar. It's fun to be a regular somewhere. You walk in, and people are happy to see you. The bartender knows what you want to drink before you open your mouth, and because you have a good rapport, they throw you free drinks every now and then.
There's nothing wrong with that. Most of these types of bars don't treat anyone nicely who hasn't put in the time to drink there. These bars' proprietors realize that most of the people who keep the lights on at the dive have been going there forever, and to roll out the (dingy) red carpet for anyone else is a waste of time. They know who butters their bread. And since drinks are just a few bucks, you get what you pay for.
The bathrooms are serious hellholes
Going to the bathroom in a dive bar is one of the more disgusting experiences you can have as a person in the modern world. Don't expect to find any of these things in a dive bar bathroom: paper towels, doors on the bathroom stalls, soap, water… and sometimes not even a working sink. What you will find is plenty graffiti! So while your hands might remain unwashed, and your shoes soaked, at least your eyes will have something fun to look at!
Dive bars are only cool because there aren't that many of them
Thanks to capitalism, once proudly gritty cities like New York and San Francisco now only have storefronts affordable for banks, big-box retailers, or sports bars that sell expensive hot wings (and also happen to be billion-dollar enterprises). Where there used to be a dive in basically every neighborhood, there is now an ATM kiosk. And unfortunately ATM does not stand for Alcohol Teller Machine.
Sure, dive bars still exist, but they're not as common as they used to be, and that makes them even more worthy of your attention and affection. That Econ 101 class in college I actually stayed awake in taught me that scarcity can be very good for business. If there were a dive on every corner, would we even care? Would we fetishize its aesthetic, and the old guys still hanging out at the bar? Probably not.
Despite all that, it's your right to love something shitty
I fully accept that some people love horrible things that I hate -- Kid Rock, karaoke, and doing karaoke of Kid Rock's "Bawitdaba." But it's when people try to justify their love of dive bars by saying they have character, or because the booze is cheap, or that the people who work there are just the best, that I just have to shake my head. Dive bars suck for those exact reasons. You can find me at a shiny new bar instead, with friendly bartenders and an ambience not created by neglect -- with a good craft beer in hand.
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