What Are The Essential Features Of A Dive Bar? People Shared What A Watering Hole Must Have To Qualify

dive bar license plates on ceiling

Pixabay / ThreeMilesPerHour


Like many of you, I’ve spent more hours inside of dive bars than I could ever keep track of. I’m not sure what it says about me but I’m definitely a Dive Bar Guy™ when it comes to choosing a bar. I am down to party at places like Tao or Club E11EVEN a few times a year but night after night, I’m choosing a dive bar.

I don’t think I can define one specific quality that every dive bar must have in order to fully be considered a dive bar outside of the lighting. For me, even if it’s the sunniest day of the year it needs to look like 2am when I walk into that bar in the middle of the afternoon. Blackout shades on the windows or no windows at all. If there’s enough sunlight in there so I can see the damage left from the night before that wasn’t cleaned up yet then it’s not a dive bar, in my humble opinion.

I was scrolling through Twitter this weekend and came across a friend sharing this thread from @picturesofdives, a Twitter account devoted to sharing pictures of dive bars. They asked followers what is ‘the one thing’ a bar has to have in order to truly be considered a dive.

Obviously, this answer is different for everyone but taking in totality it begins to paint a pretty clear picture of what constitutes a dive bar. Here are the best responses:

Meaning the Buds/Millers of the world and whatever regional (Genessee or Keystone Light) beers are available:

Even if you can’t smoke inside I need to see an ashtray in there so I know the bartender is smoking after hours when the doors are locked but nobody’s kicked out yet.

If you see this sign you know you’re in the right place.

This is the right answer.

There was a bar in the Upper East Side named ‘American Trash’ that used to sell ‘bottle service’ where they’d literally sell us a bottle of vodka for like $100 and me and the roommates would just go to town. So I’m not convinced this ‘expensive’ rule is universal.

The jukebox also needs to have some horrible music options that the owner chose fully aware that nobody likes their music or wants to hear their crap.

And the t-shirts for sale need to be stained yellow from nicotine.

Cash only is a good option:

Another feature I considered was some sort of unspoken social contract from the locals where they order a certain way or act a certain way with the surly bartender who loses their mind when someone new walks in and asks what they have on the menu.

Weird foods are a must-have. Pickled anything. Chips for dirt cheap. A free popcorn machine that’s never been cleaned before.

Poor construction is also a pretty crucial element. If the interior space was impeccable to begin with then there’s a solid chance it wouldn’t have become a dive bar.

Like I said up at the top, a true dive bar isn’t defined by one single aspect. It’s the perfect harmony of all of these elements and a few wild cards that make a dive bar special. I need complete darkness in the middle of the day, bathrooms that haven’t been cleaned in six months, a bartender who has a limp that they won’t get checked out, some sort of dead/stuffed animal on the wall, a framed photograph of a regular who passed away at some point, ashtrays, no food for sale outside of pickled items in jars and bags of chips, and the list goes on and on.

You can click through on any of those tweets above to see the full Twitter thread and add your two cents, you can also find me on Twitter at @casspa anytime.