What A Dive Bar Actually Means

There's a bar on a street corner in practically every city in America that meets the bill. It's probably the area's hot spot, but heading inside, you might not think it's anything special. Here you have most likely found the neighborhood dive bar, an entity that Urban Dictionary defines as "a well-worn, unglamorous bar, often serving a cheap, simple selection of drinks to a regular clientele." The definition expands to describe a dive bar as "anything from a comfortable-but-basic neighborhood pub to the nastiest swill-slinging hole." Experts on city bars and authors alike have pondered what exactly makes a bar a dive, and some have come up with some unique answers.

Jesse Valenciana, a writer for The Takeout, says it's all about the vibe. First of all, there's nothing special about the interior, which may not be particularly well-maintained or even clean. The wall decorations are a tribute to items collected over time, and, as Valenciana succinctly describes, "Dive bars, like your favorite pair of jeans, are perfectly worn in and just a bit dirty." Brad Thomas Parsons for VinePair says a dive bar, which Parsons describes as "dank, dirty, and (occasionally) dangerous," is "sticky in some places and the decor hasn't changed in 30 years." Valenciana goes on to state that dive bars are often neighborhood institutions where "everybody knows your name," or is eager to meet you, and the drinks are often the cheapest they come.

A dive bar is a special place without trying to be

Eater's Knoefel Longest presents an interesting theory defining what a dive bar actually is. Longest says it all comes down to one word –effort — in that "your true dive bar is not really making one." Dive bars are sparse when it comes to employees, who are most often some of the most authentic and honest people you'll ever meet, they stock easy-to-serve beers and spirits, and only spend as much money as is necessary to keep the doors open and the lights on.

A CBS Sunday Morning segment featured on YouTube took at look two Chicago dive bars, Rossi's and Simon's Tavern, to provide examples and illustrations of what exactly makes a dive a dive. The segment describes Rossi's as a quintessential neighborhood bar with a "heavy steel door" and "slit windows." The video states "It doesn't look all that inviting from the outside, and that's fine with [the] proprietor."

Perhaps what makes a dive bar is the people. Over at Simon's Tavern, owner Scott Martin notes the bar has been an institution in the city for 81 years, serving a variety of people and collecting their stories within its walls. "I've seen people who have celebrated great things in life: love, friendships that have happened right here at the bar. Some people who have been down or unhappy and you've been able to help pick people back up, so it's an important place," Martin says.