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 bar with inexpensive drinks, which may feature dim lighting, shabby or dated decor, neon beer signs, packaged beer sales, cash-only service, and a local clientele.[1] The precise definition of a dive bar is something on which people rarely agree, 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 not-so-tidy bathroom is a signature feature of a dive bar. This bathroom is at Guthrie's Alley Cat in Bakersfield, California.

Once considered a derogatory term, dive bar is now a coveted badge of honor bestowed by aficionados looking for authenticity in such establishments.[4] Devotees may describe a bar as "very divey" or "not divey" and compose rating scales of "divey-ness".[5] 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."[4]: 13  Author Todd Dayton offers the following: "Dives [dive bars] are like pornography: hard to define but you know it when you see it".[6] As to what distinguishes a dive bar from an ordinary bar, Dayton says:

"For me, the ideal dive bar is run by a beefy guy named Jay, where the aroma of yesterday's beer still hangs in the air, and your request 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."[6]

Dive bars adhere to a minimal level of 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.[5]: 3  They often don't serve food beyond pretzels and snacks.[5] "Fran's East Side", a Nashville dive bar, sells pork rinds, popcorn, peanuts and microwaved corn dogs ($1) and smoking is allowed.[7] The hand-written menu is taped to the refrigerator.[7] True dive bars are "cash only" and would not have computerized registers.[1] Bathrooms in dive bars are notoriously shabby and may have a shower curtain stall. The owner or one of his family members is often working the bar. Dive bars usually have a clientele from all walks of life, including some old 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.[3]: 1  Rick Dobbs, author of a 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 c 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. Retrieved 4 July 2020.
  3. ^ a b c 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. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b Rodgers, D. Patrick (10 December 2018). "Fran's Eastside Is the Best Dive Bar in Nashville". vice.com. Vice edai. Retrieved 27 July 2020.

Further reading[edit]