The beerchaser’s tour of Portland pubs is now several months old and I have visited five different bars in alphabetical order (because of the number of venues in Portland, I am trying to initially visit one from each letter of the alphabet):
- Brooklyn Park Pub
- Coalition Brewing Co. Pub
- Gladstone Street Tavern
- Joe’s Cellar
- Yukon Tavern
My wife visited two of the above bars with me. She loved the Coalition Brewing Co. Pub and would definitely return. Her reaction to the other tavern, which she did not want me to name, was not favorable. After we left, she said, “Beerchaser” (she agreed to call me that, but only when we were going to bars) “Why do you go to places like that? It’s grungy and just a dive bar.”
This resulted in some philosophical reflection. Since all bars serve beer they are inherently good. Thus, when a bar is good it’s fantastic, and even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. After pondering and doing some research, I concluded that I would not rate the pubs I visited, but I would put them in a few categories including dive bars, neighborhood pubs and others.
What is a “Dive Bar”??
I loved the bar that she “dinged” and explained to her that “grungy” didn’t matter and I considered the term “dive bar” to be a term of art. It’s the experience — not how scrubbed or unblemished the environment. The escapist-trash novel I was reading at the time conveyed this concept perfectly, although the author was describing old Jewish delis in the city of Miami, the analogy fit:
” (He) remembered bygone places….sticky and shopworn institutions that were last refurbished when The Honeymooners was live on television, where the food was plentiful but never really outstanding. The experience was the draw. ……There was a strange comfort in knowing that perhaps it was a long-dead relative who left that stuffed cabbage leaf wedged beneath your booth.” (Afraid of the Dark – a novel by James Grippando – page 249)
Another faultless description is drawn from Seattle’s Best Dive Bars:
“Some dives have vomit-caked toilet seats in the bathroom; others have cracked vinyl booths in the barroom. Some have nicotine-stained murals dating back to the Depression; others have drink prices that seemingly haven’t wavered since then……..But really, no collection of characteristics can be melded to truly define what makes a bar a dive…..The term ‘dive’ is bestowed with a spoonful of love….What they have in common aren’t so much attributes, but a state of mind — you just know one when you see one.” (Seattle’s Best Dive Bars by Mike Seely – pages 9-10)
Willamette Week’s past Bar Guides have been a great resource and also capture the essence of the dive bar phenomenon, “Like saints, dive bars should always be guilty until proven innocent — they always stagger on the precipice of becoming popular and thus ruined.” (Willamette Week 2010 – “One Hundred Favorite Bars”)
Well, after a lot of thought and downing a Dos Equis Amber, (“Don’t Ever be Thirsty, My Friend”) I concluded that both the Yukon and Joe’s Cellar fit at least my perception of dive bars. What do you think?