09/11/2013 05:05 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2013

13 Signs You're in a Dive Bar

We may only be halfway through September, but already October beckons, along with thoughts of the beery excesses of Oktoberfest. With that in mind, I took myself to a local tavern -- in the interest of research, mind you! I definitely needed a refresher course. It's been years since my bar days and suburbia seeps into your soul like warm Pabst into cracked Naugahyde. You don't even notice it until one night you find yourself in an actual dive bar blurting out the kind of clueless drivel that never would have entered your brain much less exited your mouth back when you knew how to roll in a dive bar.

But more about that later.

In an effort to save you (and my future self) from humiliation, I called my friend Squid, who knows dives for a check list. I recommend you print it out and carry it with you if it's been more than five years since your last bar crawl:


  1. Beer. Lots of it. And not any of that fancy microbrew stuff, neither.
  2. Harleys. Lots of them.
  3. An excess of gaudy neon, preferably for brands of beer that are no longer available.
  4. Those strings of triangular flags hung up around the top of the walls for a sporting event from at least 3 years ago. If the flags have Tibetan prayers on them, you are NOT -- I repeat -- NOT in a dive.
  5. Either no door or a door that won't latch on the bathroom stall, so ya gotta hold the door closed with one leg while ya go.
  6. The toilet seat does not fit the toilet it's bolted to.
  7. The owner of the bar is also in some sort of service business, such as plumbing, HVAC repair, or metal fabrication.
  8. There's a stuffed animal head of some kind on a wall, preferably with a baseball/cowboy hat on and sunglasses. Extra dive-ness if it's a Jackalope.
  9. If the floor isn't sticky it's because the layer of peanut shells is finally thick enough.
  10. The jukebox contains the Georgia Satellites, Bob Segar, Lynnard Skynnard, Molly Hatchet, Allman Brothers, Kid Rock, Hank Williams Jr., or Nazareth.
  11. People fight over mat drinks. (Mat drink: An alcoholic beverage consisting of everything that slopped onto the bartender's mat poured into a glass at the end of the night.)
  12. There's a pay phone.
  13. Happy Hour starts at 9 A.M.

So, I'm in this dive, right? And even though I'm trying to be cool and all, I just couldn't stop the burbs from rolling out of my mouth like a Toyota Prius heading to lacrosse practice. The barmaid comes over to our slab of peeling Formica and asks in a hoarse, barmaid baritone what we want to drink. I shoulda ordered beer. Wasn't that what I was there for? But no. Suburbia hijacked my mouth. And it wanted wine. And that's when the words just slipped out:

"Do you have a house red?"

She looked at me blankly for about a week before the light finally flickered on, "Oh, you mean wine?"

Realizing my error, I wanted to slide under the table, but... ewww. I just nodded.

She grabbed a menu and peered at it, mouthing the words and squinting. Then she found it.

"We have a car-bo-nay."

"Fine," I said, "I'll have that."

I shoulda asked for the mat drink.

What would you add to the dive check list?