"Which is worse? The wolf who cries before eating the lamb or the wolf who does not."— Leo Tolstoy

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A "Dive Bar" By Any Other Name . . .

As a general rule, if a bar has a sign outside that brags that it is listed as one of the Best Dive Bars by the Village Voice you can be sure it is not a dive bar.

A dive bar is not a renovated lower east side factory frequented by hipsters.with a bad attitude. That is a surly hipster bar. A dive bar is not a comfortable working-class bar with cheap drinks. That is a neighborhood bar.

The critical question of the real meaning of "dive bar" consumed Yelpers in this online exchange.   Some have suggested that a "dive bar" is a sliding scale continuum that can be applied to a variety of drinking establishment.   That is, one man's country club is another man's dive bar.

In my opinion, the one distinguishing factor that separates dive bars from "neighborhood" bars  is an element of danger that is barely hidden beneath a veneer of disreputable characters, cheap booze and shoddy surroundings.  Danger of disease from the asbestos falling from the ceiling, or in the use of a fetid bathroom, or the  danger of being shot, stabbed, beaten or robbed.  Most people who frequent dive bars don't use the word "fetid."  

When I first arrived in Phoenix in the 1980's there were still a number of downtown bars that could legitimately be described as hard core dive bars.  All of these bars have been gentrified into oblivion. In its heyday, Kings could pose a hazard for vehicles on Central Avenue as fights would spill out into the roadway.   I was driving up Central one evening when I saw three people standing in a circle around a large object in the middle of the roadway right in front of Kings.. It turned out that the large object was a morbidly obese woman who was lying on top of a small skinny man. She was acting as a human shield trying to protect him from three other men who who were trying to kick the crap out of the smaller man.  Another bar in downtown Phoenix was owned by a bi-polar gentleman with a bad temper and a proclivity for wearing "wife beater" t-shirts, sporting a meticulously waxed handlebar mustache and keeping a double barreled shot gun under the bar that he would display to people who pissed him off.

My friend Barry Graham and I once walked into a bar in New York City's East Village and were greeted by a bartender displaying fresh track marks on his arms who immediately accused us of being undercover cops.  It must have been Barry's black see-through socks that gave us away.   That was a dive bar.




  1. I swear I've been considering growing a handlebar moustache and waxing it.

  2. Dive bar, hell. That looks like the bathroom from The Grill (RIP) in Tucson.

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