A couple of years ago, local writer and twitter superstar Luke O’Niel wrote Boston’s Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in Beantown, a handy and funny guidebook to finding the best worst bars in my city. It’s a good read. It was published two years ago, however, and quite a few of the places he mentions have disappeared, often replaced by places that serve great appletinis.
Are dive bars truly an endangered species? Will the neighborhood dive go the same way as the local video store, travel agent, or bookstore? Will there be no place I can go get a drink without showering first, at ten thirty in the morning, without judgement?
Apparently this is a real trend, even the New York Times says so. I still occasionally hear people talk about how they love dive bars. I guess there is some appeal to the idea of drinking in some gritty, out of the way, hole-in-the-wall joint, it brings a sense of adventure, but maybe people like the idea of drinking in a dive bar better than actually drinking at one.
Today, however, I come to praise the dive bar, not bury it.
Here, in no particular order, are some great things about dive bars:
Cash only – There is now an entire generation that has a hard time with the concept of cash only. I find that amusing. If you are too much of a d-bag to stop at an ATM before you come in, you probably don’t belong here anyway.
Weird Animal Head – The weirder the better. Finding a spot with a jackelope is like hitting the jackpot. Ideally, said head would be wearing a hat.
Too Much Neon – Nothing and nobody looks good under a neon light, which is kind of the point. You probably don’t want to see the place with good lighting.
Year-round Christmas Lights – Perhaps intended to keep the degenerates inside in a jolly mood. Besides, why take them down when you just have to put them up again in eleven months?
A Bartender That Can Kill You – It’s quite unlikely that the bartender will kill you. I’m just saying the bartender can kill you. Let’s hope it never comes to that.
Sociable People at the Bar – If you wanted to drink quietly, you should have stayed home. Of course, many will be crazy or unintelligible, but they are also social.
Jukebox – There has to be a jukebox. Put on a boy band if you never want to be welcomed there again.
A Colorful History – some patron who has been sitting at the bar since the 70’s will joyfully recount an old murder in the back alley, or the guy with the pinky ring that hasn’t been around in a while. Best not to ask too many questions.
A Bathroom that Makes You Think Twice – How bad to you need to go? What’s your true bladder capacity? Maybe it’s dirty, maybe you have to jiggle the toilet, maybe it’s down a dingy stairwell in an even dingier basement, but no one uses the bathroom at a dive bar unless they really have to.
A List of Banned Patrons – Despite my negligible character, I have never been banned from a dive bar. I have, however, been in dive bars many times where someone has walked in and been told they were banned. Again, not a time where you want to ask too many questions.
Keno – Because everybody loves Keno! Especially degenerate day drinkers with no particular place to be for the next few hours. Or days. It’s all good.
Bar Pets – A bar with a cat roaming around is a good sign, as they keep less desirable creatures away. Mice? It happens. Rats are kind enough to keep to themselves. As to the other tiny patrons, eh, what are you gonna do?
So grab a pocketful of cash and head down to your local dive bar. They will be happy to see you. Or they won’t care either way. Trust me, you will miss the place when it’s gone.