Dive bars are special places. To some, they may even be holy. But what defines a dive bar? Is it the hole in the wall where the floors are always sticky? Is it the place where everybody knows your name? They can be both, but they can also be more. Dive bars are places where you go when you want to forget about life for a while. Dive bars are where you wind up when you want to watch the game, complain about your new ex while downing shot after shot of plastic handle whiskey, or have an afternoon to kill with your three best drinking buddies and nowhere to go. They are solace-givers that won’t empty your wallet.
Dive bars, basically, are the best bars on the planet. They attend to every type of consumer and bring people together in weird ways. Are they perfect? Sweet Jesus, no, but that is also part of their charm. A dive bar can’t be a perfect bar. There need to be imperfections and inconsistencies in order to be a dive bar. Without them, you’ve just got a normal bar and we all know there are plenty of those in the world.
Never been to a dive bar? Only been once or twice? Here are six reasons why you need to invest the time and effort in finding your favorite dive bar. With National Dive Bar Day coming up on July 7, there’s no time like the present!
You can wear whatever you want.
Dive bars don’t have dress codes. You don’t have to worry about having a suit jacket with you or making sure your shirt is pressed. T-shirt and shorts because it’s hot as hell out? Fine, whatever. Are you going to order your beer yet? Drinking is chief priority No. 1 at dive bars. Yes, you need to actually be wearing clothes, but usually, that’s where the dress code ends.
You’ll probably make a new best friend.
Upon entering a dive bar, you will immediately recognize who the regulars are. You’ll know they’re the regulars because they may or may not stare you down for entering their sacred space without permission. This could be unnerving at first, but stand your ground. Get your beer and your shot. Then another. Eventually, these locals will probably try and talk to you — fresh blood is always good for conversation. Soon, you’ll be clinking bottlenecks and sharing life stories with the person who, just an hour before, looked like they were going to murder you if you even though about ordering an Old Fashioned.
Even if you don’t make a new best friend, you’re going to meet some interesting people.
Dive bars are places that people go, sometimes, to be alone. We’ve done it plenty of times. No one talks to you and you’re able to just drink yourself into oblivion before shuffling home. While there, though, you’ll notice that dive bars are great for people watching. Without interacting, you’ll still be able to hear all about how Joe at the end of the bar once got in a fight with his brother over the power sander and that’s how his brother ended up without an ear. Or, you’ll learn that Mary is on the hunt for a husband for her 30-year-old daughter just so she can get her out of the house and turn the room into her own personal casino (she’s got a lead on a used slot machine already).
Your bartender has probably seen some shit (and will tell you about it if you’re nice).
Dive bars collect interesting people (see above). These people, inevitably, will do or say some interesting things at times. You will surely be able to learn some of these stories while there, but you will never be there as often as the bartender. Bartenders are the eyes and ears of dive bars. If you become friendly enough with them, they’ll tell you stories. Weird, crazy stories. Stories that would only be true if they took place in a dive bar. Which they did. So drink’ em in. It’s like dinner theater, but with a ton more beer and no dinner (unless you include the bowl of pretzels.)
You won’t break the bank.
When going to a dive bar, you know in advance that you won’t have to take out a second mortgage to have more than a round or two of drinks. Hell, if you go at the right time (read: happy hour) or if you’re friendly enough with the bartender, a Jackson will get you at least four or five rounds deep. You don’t go to a dive bar looking for Pappy — you go because the PBR comes in a 24-ounce can and the beer specials that were left over from the most recent holiday are only a $1 a bottle. If your dive bar doesn’t have PBR or its regional equivalent in both bottles and on draught, leave immediately.
You won’t see anyone Instagramming their drinks.
We are guilty of this, we fully admit, but when we’re Instagramming our drinks, it’s at cocktail bars where the drinks look like they’ve come straight out of Willy Wonka’s laboratory (or the drink has an eyeball in it). At a dive bar, there is literally no reason to Instagram one’s drink. It’s a beer. Or a beer and a shot. Or maybe it’s just a double pour of whiskey with some ice. No matter what it is, it is not photo-worthy.
You can play Buck Hunter unironically.
Not just Buck Hunter — if you look hard enough, you’ll probably be able to find plenty of games in dive bars around the country. Are you into that bar-top game that has strip poker and block breaker on it? Great, take the seat and break out the quarters. We’d warn against having a naked woman show up on the screen, but you’re in a dive bar — that is not even close to the most lurid thing that’s happened there. The only downside to these games is you may have to wait because there are sure to be plenty of people waiting to do some drinking and hunting.
Have we convinced you yet? If we have, where are your favorite dive bars?
Article originally published June 19, 2018. Updated June 21, 2019.