30 April 2011

The Dive Manifesto

Recently I had the unfortunate opportunity to drive across Nebraska with my family.  No disrespect to Nebraska, of course.  Between the country and western on the radio we heard an advertisement for a local bar that proudly listed a $3.50 beer bong as one of its Wednesday night specials.  My wife turned to me and said 'Wow, that place sounds like quite the dive'.  Initially I agreed.  What kind of self respecting awesome establishment outside of Daytona Beach offers up beer bongs?  After pondering this for a bit, though, and I-80 in Nebraska is kind enough to offer lots of opportunity to ponder (State of Nebraska Motto Idea:  Nebraska: Land of Too Much Time on Your Hands), I changed my mind.  Does the sale of beer bongs alone make a place a dive?  What really does constitute a dive?

According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, a dive is a 'shabby or disreputable establishment (as a bar or nightclub)'.  That leaves quite a lot up to interpretation, and doesn't quite scratch the surface of what can be a complicated categorization.  I've had many a time when someone said to me, 'This place is a pretty good dive', only to have me not agree due to some disqualifying factor.

To follow is a completely unscientific (to be fair, a scientific study of dives would be missing the point completely) review of what many long nights on the backstreets of Denver have taught me about dives, which will hopefully shed some light on a dark topic.  This will be split up into three acts:  Act I - Some things I know to be true; Act II - Some clues to look for; and Act III - The vast gray areas.  Here we go!

Act I.  Some things I know to be true:
1.  Dives are not limited to drinking establishments.  Sorry Merri, it's just not so.  As I have portrayed in my blog, you can find equally diveish environs at a restaurant, or anywhere else (fleabags, no doubt) for that matter.
2.  Serving Pabst Blue Ribbon is not a requirement.  Several sites or blogs online will have you believe that having PBR makes an establishment's case for being a dive.  PBR being the poster beer for Fro-Dives all over this great land disqualifies it completely from having anything to do with real dives.
C.  Just as you cannot open a factory to crank out classic cars or worn out leather sofas that suck you in to their broken-in comfort, a dive cannot be created.  Dives are like luxury goods - the story and the pedigree matters.  Have you heard of Dive on Fifteenth?  Of course you haven't - it was a brand spanking new 'dive' that closed after about 3 months of troubled and confused life.  Serving PBR in a can and providing a foosball table dost not a dive bar make.
4.  If it's got 'dive' in the name, it's not.
5.  If it has won some sort of award for being a great dive, it's probably not.  Real dives don't want awards, much less win them.  Though The PS Lounge is an exception that helps prove the rule.

Dive food doesn't have to be dodgy.  But it should find its way onto yellowing photograph menus.
Act II.  Some things to look for as clues.  Each not enough to make a place a dive on its own, but each certainly helps:
-No credit!  Cash only!
-Trough urinals.
-Bullshit on tv.
-Crappy wood paneling.
-That one odd dude, sitting by himself, getting smashed.
-A wall menu consisting of photographs of the food that someone's uncle took in 1985.  Asian restaurants are the real pioneers in this area.

Act III.  The gray area:
-Bad food.  Pure opinion.  While I may think that the steaks at Elways suck, that doesn't make the place a dive.  Crown Burger is a little dive of a hamburger joint, and it serves up a tasty burger with delicious, yet mysterious, special sauce.
-Good music/jukebox. 
-A little filth.
-Unfriendly:  Could be.  Wolf's Motor Inn was a fairly ominous joint.  Definitely doesn't have to be.  See Mr. A's, Denver's Friendliest Lounge.
-Hipsters.  Hipsters deserve their own discussion, so I won't give a detailed analysis of why they suck and why they are cool.  Just be on the lookout, and don't jump to conclusions.

So what's a dive?  In the end, there isn't really a scorecard you can tally up to qualify a place as a dive or not.  Maybe that's why the term gets bandied about so frivolously as it does.  Hopefully, however, this piece will help give things a little perspective.  Perhaps you can just put dives down as places you go when you want something different;  a different feel, a different time, a different crowd... you name it.

Anything I missed?  Discuss.

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