Find happy hours and drink specials anywhere you are

What Makes a Dive Bar a Dive Bar? 14 Clues to Look For

by Tim Gonzalez on Jan 10, 2013 in Culture
What Makes a Dive Bar a Dive Bar? 14 Clues to Look For

The dive bar has long been a staple of the American drinking scene, but what makes a dive a dive? In  a nutshell, it’s a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall whose only saving grace is cheap booze, and plenty of it. Recently, there’s been a trend of places trying to achieve that “dive bar feel” with lighting and decor, but they’re missing what it really takes. Here’s how to spot the fakes and zero in on the real deal.

You're not in a dive bar if...

1)…You pay more than $5 for a beer. You go to a dive bar for cheap beer and specials, and if anything costs more than a fiver, they’re doing it wrong.

2)...There’s not at least one person who’s obviously been sitting at the bar since 11 AM. The guy who looks like he woke up at the place and hasn’t left? The mascot. 

3)...Credit cards are accepted. “Cash Only” is the official motto of the dive bar.

4)...There’s a food menu. A dive doesn’t have space for a kitchen. If you’re hungry, look for bags of chips and dirty water dogs. 

5)...The bartender asks what kind of whiskey you want. The default is whatever’s in the well, and you’ll get that unless you plead otherwise.

6)...The bartender flirts with you. Their job is to provide you with alcohol and be paid for it. They don’t care if you like them or not.

7)...The bartender asks you “What’s the matter?” Dive bars aren’t places to be noticed. They’re for blending into a crowd and being alone.

8)...There’s a different crowd every weekend. Dive bars rely on regulars who visit as part of their daily routine. (Exception to the previous rule: if you’re a regular, the ‘tender will notice when you’re feeling down.)

9)...The alarm on the emergency exit is functional. It likely broke the last time the place caught on fire, and the health inspector is probably a regular.

10)...Your feet don’t stick to the floor. Real dives have a carefully curated layer of muck on the ground, a totally unique fruit of years of hard partying (and its after effects).

11)...The lights are bright enough to read by. That doesn’t stop the skinny performance-artist regular from having his nose perpetually buried in a book of poems, however.

12)...The layer of dirt on the jukebox is less than a quarter-inch thick.  And it’s definitely not a dive if Justin Bieber’s on the playlist. 

13)...You’re asked to pay a cover charge. Cover charges are for clubs and charity events. A dive is neither, though collections may be taken up to help regulars through hard times.

14)...There’s a line to get in. If a fight starts, there might be a line to get out, but that’s it.

Photo via Flickr user weeklydig

Recent Articles
spacer
Home Bar Project Below Features

Feedback

How are we doing? Tell us what you like or don't like and how we can improve. We would love to hear your thoughts!

*Name:
*E-mail:
*Suggestions:
 
The Shark Week Drinking Game

The Shark Week Drinking Game

This year, one of cable TV's longest-running programs celebrates its 28th anniversary. Enjoy it to the fullest with this handy game. Shark Week starts...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Jul 2, 2015
Where to Celebrate Independence Day in Washington, DC

Where to Celebrate Independence Day in Washington, DC

There's nothing quite like celebrating the Fourth of July in the nation's capial. ...read more ›

by Lanna Nguyen Jun 26, 2015
The Struggle Is Real When This Reporter Attempts to Run Her First Beer Mile
by The Drink Nation Jun 22, 2015
SPONSORED
Find happy hours and drink specials anywhere you are
D.C.'s Best Speakeasies and Hidden Bars

D.C.'s Best Speakeasies and Hidden Bars

Reservations required or not, you're sure to feel the prohibition era vibes at these hidden DC bars. ...read more ›

by Lanna Nguyen Jun 18, 2015
Inflatable Irish Pub Is the Bouncy Castle of Your Dreams

Inflatable Irish Pub Is the Bouncy Castle of Your Dreams

You can now rent an inflatable Irish pub complete with wolfhounds and shepherd's pie. ...read more ›

by Ryan Hudak Jun 18, 2015
The Drink Nation Father's Day Gift Guide 2015

The Drink Nation Father's Day Gift Guide 2015

Don't just settle for getting your dad another tie or mug. Get him a gift he'll really appreciate this year....read more ›

by The Drink Nation Jun 16, 2015
BrewDog Announces Plans to Build a Brewery in Ohio

BrewDog Announces Plans to Build a Brewery in Ohio

World renown Scottish brewery, BrewDog, announced preliminary plans for a 100,000 square foot brewery in Columbus, Ohio. ...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Jun 15, 2015
Where to Find DC's Best Boozy Milkshakes and Frozen Drinks

Where to Find DC's Best Boozy Milkshakes and Frozen Drinks

Your favorite childhood summertime treats just got so much more appealing. ...read more ›

by Lanna Nguyen Jun 12, 2015
Best Washington, D.C. Brunch Drink Specials

Best Washington, D.C. Brunch Drink Specials

Whether you're trying to get the best of a hangover or simply celebrating the weekend with a bout of day drinking, these bars with breakfast sipping s...read more ›

by Drink DC Feb 10, 2014
Craft Brewery Stands in Budweiser's Way of Trademarking Brewed the Hard Way

Craft Brewery Stands in Budweiser's Way of Trademarking "Brewed the Hard Way"

Budweiser is trying to trademark "Brewed the Hard Way", but a craft brewery might have beaten them to it....read more ›

by Ryan Hudak Jun 12, 2015
SPONSORED
View all Articles

Sign up to get weekly drinking news, bar reviews, events and more sent directly to your inbox!

Close