Yelp's Best Dive Bars
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What are you going to be for Halloween this year?
You guys. At least wait till October. Have I let you down yet? No. I have not. The Halloween Costume Breakdown will surely come.
In my day, a “dive bar” was a real shithole place to drink, peopled with alcoholics, old men with no teeth, and pretty much the fringe of society. Today’s establishments advertise that they are dive bars, and they’re proud of it, thank you very much. Unlike the dive bars of my day, they’re peopled with nicely dressed, nicely paid millennials. What happened?
— Dave S, Normal Heights
I’m gonna blame Yelp, but let me get around to it gradually.
I took this opportunity to brush up on “history” by rewatching Barfly, which depicts exactly the kind of seedy dive bars you’re talking about, and which also possibly sets the stage for the inevitable glorification of the dive bar. You sum it up cleanly when you call out establishments for “advertising” themselves as dives. Your classic dive bar, the kind of a place where a young Charles Bukowski would go to drink himself silly and fight the bartender, earns the moniker “dive” one blood stain at a time; drop by drop of spilled cheap beer; and only after absorbing, like ripped naugahyde absorbs a stain, the stories and lives of a motley cast of sods, lushes, bums, and fearless youths with either something or nothing to prove. Dive bars aren’t built in a day; they’re built one rough night at a time.
Then you have your “dives.” These are the kind of places where respectable people congregate, but which have embraced a kind of faux seediness in hopes of capitalizing on the destitute allure of a dingy, old school watering hole. People who have never been anywhere near rock bottom take a distinctly rosy view of true dives, and wish to live the romantic life of the pitiful alcoholic without actually having to choose between rent and Black Velvet. You can always tell a “dive” apart from a true hole in the ground by its Yelp reviews. Any place with five Yelp stars and a parade of enthusiastic college students proclaiming it “OMG! Best dive in the city!!” may well be a perfectly delightful place to chug a Sculpin and absolutely house some Sriracha buffalo wings, but I guarantee you it ain’t no shithole.
In the end, like the old Groucho Marx joke, the only true dive is one that would resent the title, or, more appropriately, the person using it. I blame Yelpers, more than Yelp itself (no suing the borderline penniless hipster, Yelp, ok?), for abusing an otherwise perfectly pejorative term. In closing, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite real Yelp reviews of all time, a kind of perverse tribute to a true dive:
“The most vile bar within a hundred miles. When people aren’t doing heroin outside there’s women being screamed at by men on the curb. This is a shit stain on north park and no one enjoys its presence.”
RIP, Tobacco Rhoda’s. You truly sucked.