Saturday, March 9, 2013

Dive Bars and You: A guide to getting the most out of your drinking experience

Since the late 1970s and early 80s, theme bars with catchy gimmicks started showing up all over the US and Canada.  Discos trying to emulate New York’s Studio 54 or 2001 Odyssey, the dance club from Saturday Night Fever, seemed to show up in every major metropolitan area of North America.  Then, there were the cowboy bars modeled after Gilley’s from the film Urban Cowboy, the “fern bars,” complete with over-stuffed sofas, live plants and real paintings hanging on the walls, and even bars built as knock-offs of the bar from the television show Cheers.  A few years ago, Retro-themed bars became the hot ticket.  After a fifty-year hiatus from being cool, Tiki lounges and bowling alley bars fell back into favor with the drinking public.  Today, we can find nightclubs with bars made of ice, rooftop nightclubs, and bars inspired by NASCAR, log cabins, ships, and the NBA.

Recently, the lowbrow trend of young urban hipsters drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and Lucky Lager has given way to the Dive Bar-themed bar.  Yep.  It's like a dentist who buys a Harley and dresses up in leathers and rides around on the weekends.  It’s fun to pretend, but it’s not the real thing   Apparently, the young Pabst-swilling posers think that drinking shitty beer is cool, but they’re not quite adventurous enough to spend time in a real dive bar.  So they spend time in a fake one. You know, to look cool.

Generally, real dive bars meet the same criteria.  They aren’t part of a corporate chain or franchise, they primarily serve domestic beer, drinks are cheep, there's no dress code, there's a TV with the volume set on mute, and the employees don't wear uniforms.  They’re dark, have no windows, and most of the furniture is pretty beat up.  It’s also rare to find one which accepts credit cards, but common to find one with an ATM machine located somewhere inside. Other criteria may include some sort of jukebox, video games located somewhere in or on bar, at least one employee with a mullet, cheap local beer specific to region ( i.e. Lone Star, Iron City, PBR), a pool table, at least one female (or male) undergarment hanging behind the bar or from the ceiling; and some form of taxidermy mounted proudly on the wall.

So, if you are ready to experience a real dive bar, here are some guidelines which will enhance your experience:

  1. Take a friend.  Not a date, but a friend.
  2. Eat something first. The drinks at a dive bar tend to be stronger than your run-of-the-mill nightclub.  So, if you are planning on a full night (or afternoon, as the case may be) of drinking, you will want to start with a full stomach.  Most true dive bars do not have food, unless you consider bags of peanuts or bowls of pretzels real food.  If they do have a kitchen, there's a good chance that you may get questionable meat or weird fish.  And then again, they may have some delicious fried chicken strips or some tacos available.  Either way, don't chance it.  Eat something before you head out.
  3. Choose the bar carefully.  You want to find an authentic dive bar, so don't pick one with "Dive Bar" in the name.  It will not be the real thing.  A line of people waiting to get in is another sure sign that you're in the wrong place.  If you stick to blue collar neighborhoods, you're looking in the right place.
  4. Sit at the bar.  It's where the action is.  Most dive bars don't have regular cocktail waitresses on duty, so even if you're sitting at a table or booth, you'll find yourself stepping up to the bar to order each new round.  Save yourself the trouble and just find a good barstool and stay there.
  5. Be respectful.  If it's your first time in the place, you're not a regular. So don't try to act like one. The bottom line is, you don't know these people and they don't know you. The regular patrons might not take kindly to a stranger coming into their favorite watering hole and acting like an asshole. It’s a real place with real people who may decide to kick your ass if you deserve it. Try not to deserve it.
  6. Don’t start with shots. Stick to beer and cocktails or you will find the night will not last long. Besides that, downing too many shots too soon will make you more likely to become an asshole. (See number 5)
  7. Play a game. A dive bar will usually have a pool table, dart board, or a shuffleboard table. Evenif all of these options are available to you, and you are very proficient at one of these games, it is recommended that you start with dice. They will, most likely, have dice cups available for use. Ask the bartender. If you don't know how to play dice games, go online and search for the rules of two or three games. Boss Dice and Liars Dice are two of the most popular games. Learn them. There are two reasons for this recommendation: First, playing dice doesn't require you to leave your seat at the bar. Second, if you decide to play pool, for example, chances are that you will have to play the winner of the last game. That can be a tough situation. Without knowing your opponent, you have no idea if he'll be a sore loser. Get to know the general temperament of the bar before you decide to put yourself in a situation where you may end up with a kicked ass.
  8. Generally, you should bet money on everything, because everything is more interesting when you have some sort of wager on the line. But, until you get to know your new bar-mates, it's not a good idea. If you do decide to bet on a game of, say shuffleboard, keep the wager small. No more than a dollar per person playing. But, don't hustle anyone that you don't know and never bet on a trivial matter. In other words, if someone says "The Rockford Files first aired in 1972," and you're sure it started in 1974, don't bet them that you are right - even if you are positive that you are right.  It only makes you a dickhead.
  9. Don't forget to tip the bartender as you go.
  10. If the bar has a band, never request a song. If the bar has karaoke, don't sing.

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