What Constitutes a "Dive Bar"?

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There's actually a lot of debate as to what defines a dive bar. For instance, I know some people who consider any place that isn't primarily a night club or a wine/martini bar to be a dive bar.

Our definition, however, is more strict. While subject to interpretation on an individual basis, our main criteria are as follows:

  1. It cannot be a national or regional chain. A small local chain is acceptable in some instances.

  2. Primarily a beer or hard liquor bar. Martini bars and wine bars just won't do.

  3. A standard pour of domestic beer must be under $4, and is preferably $2 or less. Quite a few charge only a buck.

  4. Absolutely no high-end menu! Ideally any available food should be chips and pretzels or the like. If there is a menu, it should be fried foods, pizza, tacos, and/or burgers. Fish & chips and cheap steaks are ok if the bar meets the other criteria.
  5. At least 2 of the following must also be true:

    1. A dilapidated, worn, or plain exterior or interior decor. This must be genuine, not designed to appear this way.

    2. The maximum selection of beer on tap should not exceed the standard domestics + up to 4 specialty beers.

    3. Should feature a pool table, darts, a MegaTouch machine, Silver Strike, or a claw machine.

    4. The men's room should either be a tiny 1-man cubicle, have a trough (preferably filled with ice), or it should have more fixtures than the amount of space in the room can physically accomodate having in use all at the same time.

Finally, there is the subjective rule, the one we use when a place is too close to call:

  • Would the average person off the street be scared or nervous about going in?

If we think they would, then it's probably a dive.


Give us some examples of bars that bend these rules.

I know some people who call Harry's Country Club a dive bar. But under our rules it is not. It violates rule 3, rule 4.2, rule 4.4, and possibly rule 4.1.

I really want to consider The Velvet Dog to be a dive as it fits in nearly every way, but the high percentage of martinis served there violates rule 2. Until I go there and see more beers than martinis on the tables, I can't list it as a dive.

On the flip side, Flying Saucer actually would qualify as a dive, but only on Monday Nights when they have the $2.75 pints, if not for the fact that they are a national chain.

Another interesting definition-bender is Paci's in North Kansas City. It's more of an upscale place, with a huge selection of specialty bottled beers. Not the type of place I'd really call a dive off-hand. But it qualifies under rules 1, 2, 3, 4.2, 4.4, and possibly 4.3 as well.

The Flying Saucer is a nation chain. It cannot be considered a dive bar per rule #1.

Here's another list of bars that someone apparently thinks are dive bars that are NOT dive bars:


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This page contains a single entry by Scooter published on June 13, 2008 5:07 PM.

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