Make the Most of Your Local Dive Bar

The odds are pretty good there is a dive bar somewhere within a reasonable distance of your residence (if you live in Boston it is a virtual certainty, even in the tony neighborhoods). They are easy to spot: few windows, low lighting, music and conversation, no line at the door or cover charge.

Some people find them intimidating, but this need not be the case. If you approach your local dive bar with the proper attitude and expectations, it can actually be a fun place to unwind, hang out and enjoy conversation and drinks without inhaling hairspray or being blinded by the shine of spray tans and whitened teeth. Following are a few basic suggestions to help you make the most of your local dive bar.

Don’t ‘Slum It’

The biggest mistake anyone going to a dive bar can make is going there on a “slumming” mission, or to gawk at what they think are a collection of inferior people. The crowd at a dive bar is a lot smarter and more perceptive than you may think. Firstly, dive bars are notorious magnets for writers, musicians, artists, academics, intellectuals, and other highly intelligent people who for one reason or another do not find the “regular” world to their liking. They may be slackers, but they are not stupid. They’re probably smarter than you are, and if you have Ivy League credentials they just may also (again, this is especially true in Boston, which is a magnet for Ivy Leaguers who don’t join their dad’s law firm).

In addition, dive bars typically attract many people who may not have fancy college degrees, but have the capability to do things like build a house from the foundation up, disassemble and reassemble a car engine, or install a plumbing system. These are tasks that take a considerable amount of brains as well as brawn. So if you go in slumming, expect to get treated like an “untouchable.”

Don’t Complain about the Jukebox

Jukeboxes at dive bars are usually pretty diverse, containing a mix of classic rock, alternative/punk, blues, country, folk/traditional, pretty much anything that you wouldn’t hear at a dance club. If you prefer dance club music that’s OK, but don’t ask the bartender why the juke doesn’t have the latest joint from Rihanna or Ke$ha. Just don’t.

It is Impossible to Simultaneously Prepare for Peace and War

Most people who hang out at dives want a casual, relaxed place they can unwind and be themselves. Fighting is the last thing on their minds (I’m distinguishing “dives” from “buckets of blood” here, if someone tries to start a fight with you within five minutes of walking in, you’re in a bucket of blood and should probably leave). So if you go in with a relaxed, friendly attitude, you should have no problems. That said, dive regulars are also usually pretty intolerant of attitudes and B.S. So if you strut in looking for a fight, you’ll probably find it. Unless you’re pretty big and/or tough, you’ll probably lose it, too.

Speak Your Mind if You’re Smart

Conversations at dive bars are usually fairly freewheeling and open. I’m talking general conversations including several people here; if two people are huddled in a corner they probably don’t want you nosing in. But if a bunch of people are talking football (sports and politics usually dominate the general discussion) and you have something intelligent to contribute, it’s OK to respectfully join in. It’s even OK to disagree, as long as it’s something more thought out than “No, actually that team sucks.”

Get to Know the ‘Mayor’

The last piece of advice is for those of you who visit your local dive bar and are impressed enough to want to return. Dive bars function like small communities, and like any community they have their own political structure, headed by a person I’ll call “the mayor.”

The mayor is not necessarily a person of great importance outside the tavern doors, but inside he (since part of the position requires spending at least five nights a week consuming a lot of alcohol on premises, generally it’s held by a male) receives respect and admiration for his outgoing personality and genuine love for the bar and the people who work and hang out there.

Ultimately the mayor will decide who gets acceptance as a regular and who is permanently relegated to outsider status. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) kiss his ass, but once you identify him, make a point of getting to know him. Like any politician, the mayor is always ready to make new friends and loves answering questions about the virtues of his community and its citizens. Buying the mayor an occasional drink is not required, but certainly doesn’t hurt.

So there are a few brief tips on how to maximize the enjoyment your local dive bar has to offer. And if you do make a social faux pas, usually paying for a round of beers or the bartender’s choice on the jukebox will smooth over any hurt feelings. When someone buys you a beer, consider yourself at home.

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