The cruel fact is that there just aren’t enough bars in the world, so you can’t always pick and choose where you go for a drink. A dive is generally a place where you’ll feel more of a need to wipe your feet as you leave than you did on the way in. Some sure giveaways that you are, in fact, in a dive are the dead animals mounted on the walls, a pool table in worse shape than a hillbilly’s front yard, a jar of pickled eggs on the bar, mullets and black eyes. And if you somehow manage to get past the Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque décor, here are a few helpful hints on how to get by in a dive.
Keep it Simple
Don’t order a martini unless you want a glass of lukewarm, bottom-shelf vodka and an olive that looks like it survived the last ice age. In fact, avoid drinks that require any sort of fruit or garnish. Ordering wine is just asking for a fight. At dive bars, even the ice may be suspect depending on the local drinking water. Stick to plain-and-simple domestic beer and whiskey. The good news is that the last time I checked, these two staples contain alcohol (completely overcome with the spirit of investigative journalism, I actually checked out this fact last night… all by myself!).
I have been in bathrooms so squalid that I interrupt the stream of my pee so that germs and other critters can’t swim like salmon, upstream, into my pride and joy. You are a lot safer just doing your business in the parking lot – no one will notice, I promise. On a further anthropological note, some of the best graffiti I have ever read was found in dive bar toilets – sort of ironic when you consider that about the only thing the customers read in these places are arrest warrants and eviction notices.
Se Habla Baseball
Unless you are intentionally seeking to alienate yourself, you will want to interact with the local wildlife. A safe lingua franca of all dive bars is baseball. Talking about sports is sort of the Esperanto of knuckleheads, a sub-group I claim as one of my own. Just say a few kind words about the team the locals support and you will have friends for life, or until closing time – whichever comes first. Even if I were miles behind enemy lines in a dive bar in the Bronx, I think I could find a few good things to say about… gulp (this is difficult for me)… the Yankees.
My first dive bar was a place called the 101 Club. I guess that stood for Dive Bars 101 and was a required course at my university. It was as crappy as any bar I have ever seen; sort of like a rough Mexican cantina… just without the good food. The jukebox had the worst music ever collected in one place. One night, I pumped in about $5 worth of quarters and looked for the worst songs I could find. It happened to be Paper Roses by Marie Osmond, so I played the B side 30 times and went back to playing pool. After the miserable little tune had played about six times, I looked around to see how this was registering with the other patrons. None of them even seemed to notice the awful music or that it had repeated half a dozen times. I suppose the only point I am trying to make here is that dive bar frequenters are different from you and me. They are a tougher breed. They fight our wars, install our cable TV and their children will beat up your kids. Next time you are in a dive, show your appreciation and buy them a round of drinks. It may save your life.
By JOHN SCHECK