As someone who performs in a classic rock band, I have spent a good amount of time in dive bars and I have to say, I kinda love them. If the idea of going to a slightly seedy neighborhood bar worries you, you’ve probably been misled by Hollywood. In reality, they're just another place in any given community where people gather, hang out, meet other people and take a break from the daily grind. And drink, of course.
I doubt there's anyone who knows that better than Scooter J. He’s an acquaintance of mine who has been on a quest since 2006 to drink in as many bars as possible. I’d almost forgotten about his bar project, but it popped up in Google search results today when I was looking up a place where my band is performing next month.
My dad has always been a dive bar connoisseur as well. Usually he has two or three regular places where he goes with his friends. Right now, one of those is in downtown Kansas City and it may be the ultimate dive I’ve ever experienced. He and his buddies are clearly regulars as evidenced by the fact that on my last visit, more than one upcoming event posted on the bulletin board by the front door referenced them by name.
It’s the kind of place that has small plaques set into the bar to indicate long-time patrons’ customary spots. Oh, and there’s a big liquor bottle on a shelf over the bar filled with some kind of sandy substance. My dad pointed to a photo of a man on the wall and said, “See that bottle? That’s him. He used to be a regular here and when he died, he was cremated and they put his ashes up there.”
The bar where my band played last weekend is developing a nice neighborhood crowd. As soon as we arrived, various regulars started coming up and chatting. One guy latched on to some friends of mine and visited our table repeatedly as we had our pre-show dinner. By the time the night was over, the band was teasing me about how many new "boyfriends" I had among the many guys who kept coming up to gush over how much they enjoyed the show.
The bar itself can be its own character. We once played a place so small that they had to tip the pool table on its side to make room for the band to set up. We were still so much in the way of the staff that they wound their way through the band members on "stage" every time they needed to get back and forth from the bar to the storeroom or kitchen. It's probably a good thing the fire marshal didn't choose that time to stop by.
A few weeks ago, we were playing at another bar with a tipped pool table as a backdrop and in the middle of a song, the large, translucent plastic lens from one of the fluorescent ceiling fixtures fell down onto the drum kit. Without missing a beat, our drummer flung it aside and kept going. We have video of that somewhere; I need to get a copy. That’s the same bar where we tripped the breakers twice during setup before we decided to forego having lights behind the band.
A lot of times the word “dive” seems unnecessarily harsh. I’m aware that some of my more well-heeled and conservative friends probably don’t get out to working class drinking establishments much, but a lot of times what they call a dive is just a bar as far as I’m concerned. It may not be fancy, but it fulfills its purpose.
Even the many biker bars my band tends to play have seemed non-threatening in every way. Honestly, I’ve seen a lot more bar fights in "fancier" bars over the years. Yes, a lot of people are drunk, but other patrons tend to step in if someone looks as though they might stumble into the band or otherwise do something disruptive.
After looking up the latest dive bar where my band is booked, I feel nothing but pleasant anticipation for another show. Apparently the owners are really nice, and I think we'll have fun. What more can you ask for?