Category Archives: Modern Drunkard

Dive Bars: 10 Quintessential Quirks

The classic dive bar is dying. Alas, there are still a few of these fine establishments around for barflies and the curious to enjoy. Dive bars share traits that set them apart, and dare I say above other watering holes.

1. Moody Ambience

The dive bar is often a dark, dank, windowless affair. From the outside you’ll have no idea what lay in wait until you push open that door. If it’s your first venture in, the regulars may scowl as you look around, and you’ll wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into (gone but not forgotten, Tennessee Bar & Grill.)

2. Unique Decor

Neon beer signs are classic decor for these bars. Most dives don’t get fancy with interior design, preferring to decorate with oddities and meaningful mementos. Special touches might include a plaque mounted above Old Jimmy’s favourite urinal’ (still in my heart, Le Sportif.)

3. Devoted Regulars

Who wants to go out to a fancy restaurant, line up, and sit in a room full of strangers? Dive bars welcome regulars of all ages who have specific drinking times. You know who you’re going to see in the morning, early afternoon, late afternoon, and early to late evening. Ah… predictability at it’s best (cheers, Harry’s.) Having your beer on the table before you sit down says – you’ve made it!

4. Cool Bartenders

The classic dive will have wait staff and bartenders with extreme personalities. There’s the ones who listen to you rant and rave while offering advice, and there’s the equally charming curmudgeons who after twenty years (these folk are loyal), still haven’t cracked a smile. Dive bartenders don’t take shit. They’ve seen it all and are not afraid to bar a customer, even a reg for bad behaviour. Note: you have to do something pretty awful to get the boot.

5. Cheap Booze

This lends itself to a wide variety of clientele – from the down-on-their-luck imbibers to this-is-my-last-two-bucks regs. Don’t expect fancy cocktails like chocolate ocelots or gwailo flutes. Domestic pints and basic liquor are the staples. Quarts (thank you, Dominion Tavern) and frosty juice glasses are a nice touch.

6. Tasty Treats

A real dive bar doesn’t have a kitchen, but it may have a giant jar of pickled eggs or pig’s feet on offer. Maybe a chip truck next door or a strip club upstairs that delivers cheeseburgers and fries (thanks again, Dominion Tavern.) A spectacular dive will have a freezer full of McCain Deep ‘n’ Delicious cakes ready to pull out for regulars’ birthdays (shout out to Georgia from the Duke of Connaught.)

7. Antique Jukebox

Every good dive bar has an old juke with a large selection (country to classic rock to punk to metal) that aims to please or piss off. An added touch… you pick a song, and it plays the wrong one. This technical surprise only adds to the charm. Some dives will book live bands – nothing like taking a spin on the floor to a cover of “Brown Eyed Girl” (sweet memories, Lockmaster Tavern.)

8. Pool Table

Great dives will own a beat up coin-operated pool table. You may not be able to find a straight cue or one with a good tip, but it’s there to play. And if you’re lucky, you’ll witness a guy at the end of the night dancing on the table with his pants around his ankles or a bar fight where cue balls are being hurled across the room (tip to the Duke.)

9. Back Alley 

The smokers’ haven. This is where you make the great escape when needed, or slink in when you don’t want to be noticed returning for a little hair of the dog (good times, Beverly Tavern.)

10. Threat of Closure

This is worrisome for the devoted regulars who have not only poured their life’s savings into a bar but who also depend on their home away from home for social stability (miss you, Crazy Horse Lounge.) The big guys are always looking to buy out dives to turn them into fandangle spots that resemble every other craptastic bar in the vicinity. Dive owners struggle to pay rent and with the old man (ladies included) perma-regs dying off, so do their profits.