Our Take

Are Dive Bars Going Extinct?

Dylan Jesse
Written by Dylan Jesse

An article from earlier today (yesterday? what day is this?) on the San Francisco Examiner’s website caught my attention since it echoed something that I think we have all felt: hoity-toity cocktail bars seem to be killing off good ol’ American dives. Just as the craft beer revolution has gained more and more market share of beer sales and produced more and more insufferable pedants explaining “IBUs” and “dry hopping” when no one asked, there seems to have been a recent trend toward posh cocktail joints. The word “mixology” is one that bears a particularly offensive kind of pseudo-sophistry, and its rise into common parlance goes hand-in-hand with the recent shift in American drinking culture. I blame the youth. I really do. (And if you haven’t read it, FKR gives us a compelling and damn accurate perspective on mixology here. And if you had to click that link, get a damn MDM subscription already, you skinflint. You have much to learn and we’re here to teach you.)

However, the SFE article linked above does hit a little close to home. Personally, shortly after I left Pittsburgh a few years back, my local, Fanattics (the misspelling was intentional due to legal issues), was bought out and replaced by a gastro-pub only a few short months after my departure. One cannot help but wonder if they had to close without my patronage, but it was just another example of a small, locals-only kind of joint that faded into obscurity only to be replaced by something that appeals to that certain kind of cretin that orders fair-trade mustache wax from ironically named Etsy accounts.

We love our local dives with a depth and attachment that, should we happen to have children, they will never know. Hell, I spent enough time at my Pittsburgh local that I was asked to write the damn web copy, and then they closed. Its closure felt personal. It hurt. And it’s happening everywhere, it seems.

And this is where this editorial is going, I think (it’s been a long, unforgiving bottle of Weller). Although it’s damn easy to identify a place as a gastro-pub or a prohibition-era throwback cocktail bar or a horse-themed beer bong emporium, the definition of a “dive bar” remains in flux. Unsurprisingly, Wikipedia is useless  in resolving it. Is it just a neighborhood bar? How sticky does everything in it have to be? Is just one on-premises stabbing enough, or does there have to be a history of them? Seriously, I can’t answer these questions, so please help me out in the comments.

But wait! THIS is where this editorial is going, I promise. Bars are changing, and we’ve all seen it. There’s a slow, expensive wind blowing into our towns and ousting the tiny joints that have quietly and dutifully taken so many of our finest dollars while they graced us with an unassuming, nonjudgmental place to shuffle off the baggage that saddles us during the day so that we may take a quick trip to the land of lubricious ambitions.

Where once we had a place to grab a pint for a buck, they’ve swooped in and offered us a cocktail made from a “hand-selected variety of locally sourced organic ingredients crafted into a unique alco-culinary experience” that runs about the cost of five 40s of Old E. It feels like we are losing ground to both early 20-somethings who ride fixed gear bikes on principle as well as MBA flunkies-turned-day-traders. The thought alone should make you shudder.

But the Brutal Hammer doesn’t want to resort to scare mongering–we speak many fine truths. And I feel like some field reporting is necessary. If you’ve read this far, you’re committed enough to give your perspective on this matter. I hereby deputize you all honorary Hammers (don’t get cocky), and you should let us know what’s happening on your end. Are dive bars, however you define them, disappearing near you? For that matter, how do you define a “dive bar?” And how do we preserve these delicate, beautiful creatures?

About the author

Dylan Jesse

Dylan Jesse

Dylan is a freelance writer and general itinerant who now lives in what may very well be a some kind of hippie commune, but which has an official beer sponsor (thanks, Montucky Cold Snacks!). He has many thoughts on what you can do with your flavored vodkas, and none of them include drinking. He occasionally accosts ducks in public places, so please do not be alarmed if you see him doing this. They know what they did.

They know.

If you know of any breaking news or troubling rumors that should be brought to the unfocused attention of the drinking masses, write him a letter and include a SASE to [email protected]

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  • In larger cities, the “local dives” are being replaced by Yuppie joints or going over to the Spanish-speaking immigrants. In smaller towns, there seem to be plenty. One of many reasons that I, apparently like you, have moved to smaller towns.

    • I wonder about the future of good ol’ dives viz a viz the growth of cities and the rising popularity of cocktail culture again. You and I have seen the same thing: in bigger cities there are bound to be a greater number of yobbos with more money than sense, and where there is money there will be people looking to cash in on it. I’m going to call it the Jon Taffer Principle: treating a bar as just another business that cares about gimmicks and profits more than filling an actual need. Where I better at maths, I’d say there could be a model of the JTP that shows the relationship between population, development, and the death rate of dive bars. But if it can’t be divided by ounces or milliliters, it’s beyond me.

  • in the uk we don’t have dive bars as such..we do however have pubs…boozers we call them.. and they are dropping like flies. either to become a new block of flats or only slightly less cruelly to linger on as chain pubs which put more importance on serving food than pouring drinks.

    • Chain joints are a special kind of miserable. I currently live outside of Bozeman, Montana, which has a statute on the books that any chain business (I think they define it as any business that has more than three locations) cannot operate within the limits of downtown. So we have shitty chain restaurants, but they’re forced to set up shop closer to the highway and away from downtown itself (which isn’t big to begin with), so we have a safe haven for dives and home-grown bars. And it helps that Montana has the third highest number of bars per capita of any of the States. I do, however, like that you call them boozers. It’s a beautiful and honest name for a beautiful and honest kind of establishment.