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What is a Dive Bar? An Overview of Dives and Dive Bars
Dive Bars, Defined
Having stumbled into one on a Friday night, I found myself wondering this. As it happens, dive bars, also known as dives, are the low-down American interpretation of the local pub. Typically locally owned, relatively small, and highly informal, dive bars are a place to go to unwind and heave a booze-filled sigh of relief at the end of a long day.
Apparently, the term "Dive Bar" used denote an illegal, often basement-bound, drinking establishment or venue of a shady nature back in the 1880s. Over the years, this definition has lost its accuracy, as one is hard-pressed to find a dive with people smoking opium and the like, however it still holds some clout. Of all the different types of bars in the world, dive bars would surely have a higher likelihood of something shady going down- if not on the premises itself, presumably somewhere nearby.
The etymology of dive bars is shaky at best. One might deduce that the term refers to the original basement locations of these establishments- how one would essentially have do 'dive' underground as one enters. Some also assert that dive bars got their name from those who dove under bars when something havy cavy went down, such as, one may safely assume, a bar fight.
Dive bars are a singularly American invention- something of a nascent version of the old English/German/Irish pub one might encounter on the other side of the Atlantic. Some dives are even formally titled as pubs (e.g. its outside sign might read "Irish Pub") however their lack of geographically moored tradition and cultural pride usually turns the internal atmosphere into something decidedly more American in nature- something with less tradition and more neon; less wood paneling and more kitsch.
Things to Do in Dives
One would first and foremost come to a dive bar to drink. One may expect to find a decent assortment of beers on tap, as well as many other alcoholic alternatives, from cocktails to jello shots.
Because dives are also decidedly informal in nature, one can also expect to relax a bit. Freed as they are from high-end cultural pretenses, patrons of dive bars are free to take a load off, drop the charade of fast-paced modern life, and simply stare off into space (or watch a sports game) in silence. Conversation is welcome, though don't expect to get a ton in. Loud noise aside, this isn't exactly the place to analyze Proust.
Dive Bar Games
For extra amusement, dive bars often offer games. They give patrons something to do when all the seats are taken and conversation gets dull.
Common offerings include...
- Pinball machines
- Video games (mostly of the vintage variety)
Dive Bar Entertainment and Snacks
Aside from enjoying the company of your friends (usually other locals who have come to unwind, or chums with whom you have arrived), you may have the privilege of listening to music, either at the whim of the night's owner and/or manager, or presented by the tastes of those around you, via the graces of a jukebox.
Dives may also offer live music from time to time, usually in the form of a local band or musical artist, who, if not paid, at least gets free booze for the night. If seeing live music at a dive bar, ear plugs are recommended, especially if one expects repeated exposure to such environments and would like to avoid the indignity of hearing aids or deafness in middle or old age.
One might also find diversion from snacks located about the bar. While dive bars are rarely known for serving food (unless beer may be considered a food, and veritably, I think it should be), they do often offer candy dispensers or other salty, fatty snacks such as peanuts or cashews.
The sanitation of these dispensers leaves the more germ-phobic members of society more than a little disconcerted, but assuming that one would be enjoying the available snacks along with copious doses of alcohol, there is not too much cause for concern.
Dive Bar Aesthetics
Even if one is not particularly interested in drinking and winding down, one might find dives to be wonderful, aesthetically fascinating venues.
As mentioned above, dive bars are unmoored from the decoration of more historically-based establishments in other countries, giving them freedom to exhibit some characteristically American decorations.
In addition to the aforementioned pool and foosball tables, old arcade games, and pinball machines, one might enjoy gazing at the neon signs mounted at various points along the walls. These signs, most frequently advertising beverages available for sale, have an artistry warranting hours of discussion, and cast fascinating hues upon drinkers, walls, furniture, floors, and drinks alike.
Other advertisement-centric signage, both in the form of additional lighting (e.g. a nascar pool lamp) or posters (e.g. novelty plates or other wall mounted curiosities) will leave you visually stimulated for the entirety of your visit, be it for five minutes or five hours.
For More Information...
- Diners, Drive-ins and Dives : Guy Fieri : Food Network
This show has brought dive bars back into many peoples' consciousness, and has given dive bars a little comeback!
- Dive bar - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Wikipedia Article on Dive Bars
- Dive Bars in Napa, CA
One would think that since Napa, CA is at the heart of Wine Country finding a dive bar would be an easy task. Unfortunately, it's not. At one point in Napa's history there were many bars and each part...
Dives in the Media, and Future Trends
In the midst of 2007, dive bars saw a spike in popularity that can be easily attributed to the airing of Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which brought much of the 'cool' back to dive bars, which had not seen much of a heyday since the 1950s.
Of course, dive bars have made prominent, recent appearances in pop culture long before the Food Network show- Moe's Tavern, a classic dive, may be considered a prime example.
Nevertheless, dives are significantly more popular today than they were in the early '00s and the '90s before them. Perhaps this growth in popularity can be correlated with increased interest in small indulgences and nostalgia for older times brought on by the current economic climate and the complexity of our modern age.
At any rate, dive bars are well worth visiting. Between the drink, the company, and the atmosphere, you shall find no dearth of fascinating details.