In a new article on Eater, Matthew Sedacca ask what happened to that great American institution the dive bar—those unpretentious, occasionally dingy places where people from all walks of life can get a cheap beer, shoot the shit, and not feel judged.
The short answer is gentrification. Dive bars, and many of their patrons, are being priced out of neighborhoods, in not only places like New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, but also such seemingly affordable towns as Nashville and Cleveland.
They can’t cover the rent on a two dollar bottle of beer—it comes down to that,” explains Johnathan Miller of MillerSamuel, a New York-based real estate firm. “Unfortunately, depending on your perspective, the replacement, as a generic statement, is something that is more expensive for many of the locals nearby. It’s a part of this general gentrification process. It correlates with the decrease of affordable housing in the city.
What’s replaced them is a sort of Disneyland facsimile of a dive bar. At first glance, they look the same, but the grime is artfully placed and the menus have premium spirits and craft beer.
These faux-dive bars, where imbibers have the option of sipping on a $6 Lagunitas draft, can easily deceive transplants and tourists looking for a real down-and-out drinking experience. From a visual appraisal, they have the cliché signs: neon Budweiser signs, an LCD electronic jukebox on the wall, and maybe some specials for $2 PBRs. But Jeremiah Moss, author of the blog “Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York,” describes them as harbingers of fabricated cookie-cutter sameness that derives from the neo-liberal, winner-take-all mindset permeating cities (see: yuppies shrieking with glee at the opening of an artisanal coffee shop, cocktail lounges playing Top 40 hits, kitschy diners serving $13 alcoholic milkshakes).
Although the article spends time discussing the history of the term dive bar, ultimately deciding that “you know it when you see it,” Moss assures you that these new establishments are not it: “It’s not gonna stink, and it’s not gonna have the age, it’s not gonna have the history, and it’s gonna have cutesy cocktails called ‘The Skidrow,’ or something,” says Moss.
The Skidrow. Seriously. Gross. But not in that perfect dive bar sort of way.