Dive bar

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The Merrimaker in Los Osos, California, United States

A dive bar is typically a small, unglamorous, eclectic, old-style drinking establishment with inexpensive drinks; it may feature dim lighting, shabby or dated decor, neon beer signs, packaged beer sales, cash-only service, and local clientele.[1] The precise definition of a dive bar is rarely agreed on, and is the subject of spirited debates.[2] The term dive was first used in the press in the U.S. in 1880s to describe disreputable places that were often in basements into which one "dives below".[3]: 1  A dive bar may also be known as "brown bars" or "brown pubs" in parts of Western Europe and Northern Europe, for example bruine kroegen in the Netherlands,[4] and brun bar or brun pub in Norway.[5][6][7]


Once considered a pejorative term, "dive bar" has more recently become a badge of distinction from patrons who seek authenticity in such establishments.[8] Devotees may describe a bar as "very divey" or "not divey" and compose rating scales of "divey-ness".[9] One such devotee is Steve Vensen, founder of a California group called the DBC (Dive Bar Conoisseurs) who says, "Every dive bar is like a snowflake: diverse and unique. . . you always get local subculture and every time is an adventure."[8]: 13  Author Todd Dayton offers the following: "Dives [dive bars] are like pornography: hard to define but you know it when you see it".[10] As to what distinguishes a dive bar from an ordinary bar, Dayton stated in 2004:

For me, the ideal dive bar is run by a beefy guy named Frank, where the aroma of yesterday's beer still hangs in the air, and your quest for clean bathrooms (or toilet paper, for that matter) will go eternally unanswered. A bottle of Bud costs two bucks, a shot of Jack, $3, and Pabst Blue Ribbon is served in a can. The sign outside says Steaks, Dinners, Cocktails— but there hasn't been any food served since FDR was president. The prevailing decorative elements are red Naugahyde, wood-toned Formica, and cinder blocks.[10]

Dive bars adhere to the minimal effort needed to provide guests with drinks; i.e., they typically do not advertise, provide parking, or have fancy signage.[2] Dive bars are not known for their food.[9]: 3  They often do not serve food beyond pretzels and snacks.[9] For example, in 2018 a visitor to a well-known Nashville dive bar reported seeing a hand-written menu taped to the refrigerator, listing only pork rinds, popcorn, peanuts, and microwaved corn dogs (US $1).[11] Bathrooms in dive bars are notoriously shabby and may have a shower curtain instead of a door on the toilet stall. Authentic dive bars are usually "cash only" establishments, and would probably not feature computerized registers. The owner or a family member of theirs is often working the bar. Dive bars usually have a clientele from all walks of life, including some locals who have been drinking there for decades.[1]

During the COVID-19 pandemic of the early 2020s, U.S. cities closed down bars and food service establishments, and many dive bar owners made repairs and cleaned up while they were closed down. Rick Dobbs, author of the 2019 book Local Spirit: Neighborhood Bars of Orleans Parish, said, "A dive can absolutely be cleaned up but still be a dive... it's the character and spirit of the space that counts".[3]: 1 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Vivanco, Leonor (19 December 2008). "Divers' Education". No. Red-eye Chicago Magazine. Chicago Tribune. p. 8. Retrieved 4 July 2020.
  2. ^ a b Longest, Knoefel (23 October 2014). "What We Talk About When We Talk About Dive Bars". bostoneater.com. Vox Media. Archived from the original on 4 July 2020. Retrieved 4 July 2020.
  3. ^ a b Garbarino, Steve (20 July 2020). "Beer and a Shot of Hand Sanitizer: Dive Bars Try Cleaning Up". Vol. 276, no. 13. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 28 May 2021.
  4. ^ Boztas, Senay (4 June 2023). "Brown, grimy… and historic: the battle to save Amsterdam's old bars". the Guardian. Archived from the original on 11 June 2023. Retrieved 11 June 2023.
  5. ^ Nordbø, Harald (11 February 2022). "Ut på byen? Her er din guide til 20 av Oslos bruneste puber". VartOslo (in Norwegian Bokmål). Archived from the original on 13 July 2023. Retrieved 13 July 2023.
  6. ^ Lindbaek, Gudmund (6 April 2014). "Brun bar med grønne miks-varianter". King Goya (in Norwegian Bokmål). Archived from the original on 13 July 2023. Retrieved 13 July 2023.
  7. ^ Isdal, Helge Tollan; Tilrem, Martin; Stenshagen, Victoria Lillejord (26 February 2023). "Jakten på Trondheims bruneste pub". Underdusken.no (in Norwegian Bokmål). Archived from the original on 13 July 2023. Retrieved 13 July 2023.
  8. ^ a b Marshall, John (24 November 2009). "Dive Bar Connoisseurs". Vol. 115, no. 41. The Herald (Dubois County, Indiana. Associated Press. p. 13. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  9. ^ a b c Mitchell, Wendy (2003). New York City's Best Dive Bars:Drinking and Diving in the Five Boroughs. New York: Ig. p. 3. ISBN 0-9703125-3-9. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  10. ^ a b Dayton, Todd (2004). San Francisco's Best Dive Bars. New York: Ig Pub. p. 4. ISBN 0-9703125-8-X. Retrieved 4 July 2020.
  11. ^ Rodgers, D. Patrick (10 December 2018). "Fran's Eastside Is the Best Dive Bar in Nashville". vice.com. Vice edai. Archived from the original on 27 July 2020. Retrieved 27 July 2020.

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