Let Us Be Thankful for the Dive Bar, Now More Than Ever

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Who doesn't adore a dive bar? That go-to place for clandestine conversations, alcohol of the basic sort, and marginally acceptable bathroom facilities, where you can go unshowered and in a hoodie, or after 16 straight hours of work, or whatever. It's open early, too early, just in case. The clientele is always interesting, in the most interesting of ways. Maybe this bar smells ... not bad, but strange, like some combination of cleaning supplies and old mops and the sweat of yesterday's most boisterous patrons and a pair of shoes left in a corner and long forgotten. You feel this bar, even its smell, is yours, and it, you imagine, feels some kinship with you. They know your name there, mostly because you put down your credit card all too often, if they take credit cards. Regular customers are appreciated with buybacks. The wine is not great; fine, just fine, maybe it comes in tiny little airplane sized bottles. The beer is better, the whiskey better still. The bathrooms are grimy and graffitied and drafty, but if you vomit in one probably no one will notice or even think twice (or so I've heard). Maybe you spilled an entire glass of wine on a friend's pants there once and used the hand-dryer in that bathroom—it's surprisingly powerful for such an unassuming piece of machinery—to dry them, as he stood there in boxers. This, too, was not looked askance.

In Park Slope, there is a bar like this. (There are bars like this everywhere, you need only identify the one or two right for you, and then go to them, and repeat). This particular bar is called Jackie's Fifth Amendment, and by all appearances, it seems to be a dive of the highest caliber (people have called it "hell's waiting room"). Despite the lack of a marketing campaign, Jackie's is in the news because, as Leslie Albrecht reports for DNAinfo, it either ironically or earnestly wants to secede from the overall neighborhood of Park Slope. Even though threats to secede seem mostly an on- and offline way to stomp one's foot, seceding is pretty hot right now, what with the petitions from various states where people want to secede from the U.S. making news, and the East Williamsburg residents petitioning to secede from Williamsburg. In the case of Jackie's Fifth Amendment, the request for secession has some deeper meaning. If Park Slope cannot appreciate its dive bars, should dive bars divide from Park Slope? Albrecht writes, 

The petition, first reported by F'd in Park Slope, aims to collect 25,000 signatures in support of Jackie's bid for freedom from a neighborhood whose residents seem increasingly dismissive of the bar's humble charms, said bartender Rebecca McCarthy....

The petition reads: "Due to the changing nature of the neighborhood and the fact that we are beginning to take offense when potential customers come into the bar, look around them with disdain, and leave, immediately, we the people of Jackie's 5th Amendment at 404 5th Avenue request the permission of the United States Government to peacefully secede from Park Slope and become our own neighborhood, to be tentatively known as 'Brooklyn.'"

This seems the start of a slippery slope, real or imagined. As Brooklyn becomes more and more "mixology"-focused, with artisanal mayo stores lining every block, are dive bars threatened not only in Park Slope but in all the gentrifying parts of the nabe? (Nabe is probably not a dive bar word, I'll acknowledge. But still!) This is worrisome: "'The neighborhood is changing,' McCarthy said. 'People walk in and they're like, Oh no, not this. We don’t even have vermouth. We couldn’t make martinis if we tried.'" Strollers are also forbidden at the bar, and a woman was kicked out for complaining that the jukebox was "hurting her baby's ears." 

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Dive bars are not pretentious; in fact, they are the opposite. There is nothing particularly fancy about them or even trying to be fancy. Fancy is not in their vocab, though they'd never say "vocab." They do what bars do: serve drinks in low light, with passing attention to decor, sometimes begrudgingly or with a certain amount of sass. There is no food, though you can order it in, if you deign to eat there. They get crowded sometimes, and are empty other times. In one of these bars I left a notebook once. Several days later when I realized it was missing I went back to reclaim it and it was still there, thank goodness, stashed behind the bar where it would have stayed, I imagine, for years until I returned. The same has happened with credit cards. There are no velvet ropes, no high-end cocktails, no bartenders in old-fashioned new-fashioned vests and fedoras shaking special-blended cocktails with classically trained maneuvers. No bouncers, no ladies in cages, no Cosmos, no lists of VIPs, no bottle service, very little pushing and shoving and posturing. Thank God. These are just, plain and simply, bars, there to do what bars do: provide you with a stool, a drink, a bit of casual conversation. No need for publicity. If you build a dive bar, the people will come, and if they don't, that's OK, too—which means seceding doesn't seem very dive-y. Who would have thought a dive bar would care?

Secession trends notwithstanding, this is a good time to remember why we are thankful for dive bars. There's something about sitting in a dark, cozy, grimy, smelly bar sipping some white wine that's probably gone off and making conversation with the regulars that's far more rewarding than getting comped Crystal after you make your way to the front of the VIP line with your stiletto-clad pals, or, sipping pretentiously shaken mint juleps with fresh mint grown and hand-plucked from the top of an urban rooftop garden. It's not, actually, that we can't have nice things. It's that sometimes the nicest things are not "nice" at all. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.