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Feb 22, 2018
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Drink This Weekend Edition: An ode to a dive bar

February 14th 03:02pm, 2014



“Dive bar.” I didn’t even know there was such a term until my mid-20s when I lived near Dive Bar in New York City. This sleek Upper West Side haunt featured a lengthy menu, including seven salads, a growler program and more than 20 wines by the glass.

While I knew Dive Bar was a blasphemous misnomer, I didn’t actually know how to define a real dive bar  because, as it turns out, that was all I knew. Prior to my time in NYC, I had spent most of my drinking years in Kirksville, Mo. There, what I thought were just bars, most people would consider dives.

Since Kirksville – and 10 years of being legal drinking age – I’ve frequented plenty of bars, from the pinnacle of swanky to the epitome of trashy. But whether you call it nostalgia, rose-tinted glasses, or the amazing early-20s ability to never get hangovers, Kirksville bars (and, consequently, dive bars in general), will always have my heart.

Here, my catalog of why I love dive bars, compiled with the help of some seasoned friends. On this commercialized day of love, add your own odes as we celebrate what we truly adore.

The smell. Tomes could be written about that aroma, and the description still wouldn’t get it quite right, but I’ll try: a perfect blend of spilled Schlitz, vomit, fried food (even when the bar doesn’t serve food), cigarette butts, Southern Comfort and a hamster cage.

The hallowed walls. There are outlines where art or memorabilia used to hang because of cigarette smoke stains.

• Speaking of cigarettes, the laws, or lack thereof. Somehow there is smoking, even if the city or town abolished smoking two decades ago.

The hours. The bar opens before the grocery store and is populated by a crowd of regulars who bring the bartender breakfast.

The regulars. They make the bar. They also make fun of those who call themselves regulars.

The wine list. There isn’t one. There are only three wine options, none are written down, and all taste like vinegar.

The lighting. No matter the time of day, it’s dim enough so that even if there was a wine list, you couldn’t read it.

The karaoke. There is no schedule as to when it happens, but you can always count on at least one couple slow dancing when it does.

The jukebox. It’s the real-deal – none of that digital crap. Under the sticky, cloudy glass, there are also mixes available for play created by the bar’s owner and staff.

The random animals. Maybe it’s a dog, or a cat or bird on a shoulder. Or if you’re in Kirksville, it just might be a horse drinking his own pitcher of beer.

The bartender. There is no stereotype. He might be a 90-year-old gunslinger; she might be a 22-year-old hottie. Either way, they’ll probably wait until a commercial to get you a drink. Unless the TV is playing porn.

The stuff. There’s a weird collection of objects on or behind the bar, all of which have stories, most of which are bullshit.

The bathrooms. Even if they have doors, your friend can still talk to you while she’s in there and you’re at the bar.

The popcorn. Nobody knows or cares if it’s free.

The knowledge. The bartender knows who wants to keep his old ice in his next drink because it’s been marinating in Canadian whiskey all afternoon.

The taps. They haven’t been cleaned, ever. Perhaps part of the smell?

The drinks. Stiff is an understatement. There also are no actual instruments to measure a pour.

And lastly, this bar, wherever it’s located, isn’t trying to be a dive bar. And that’s why we love it the most.



By Julie Cohen

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