Restaurants have suffered greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of them have gone out of business for good.
Bars have had it even worse, though. Restaurants tend to be larger than bars and are more likely to have outdoor seating areas, making it easier for them to abide by social distancing rules.
Bars are another story. They’re usually smaller than restaurants and by definition are arranged so that people sit side by side. The whole point of bars is close-up camaraderie. They’re places to hang out, meet people, get raucous with friends. And, of course, they are a place to drink — and alcohol is known for lowering inhibitions, making it less likely that patrons will observe safety protocols. For all these reasons, bars have often remained closed even as states allowed restaurants to resume serving.
There are many kinds of bars, of course, but the ones that seem to define “bar” most vividly are those known as dive bars.
Dive bars used to be notoriously disreputable, dirty, and possibly dangerous — the kinds of places where strangers weren’t welcome. Today, though, the term is used increasingly to mean simply a bar with character, someplace not too fancy, an establishment with a personality of its own — maybe a little ill-kempt but rarely worrisomely unclean or in any way threatening.
Here are some attributes common to most dive bars: A neighborhood clientele; graffiti on the walls (or, at the very least, on the restroom walls); an old-school jukebox (extra points if it takes quarters or dollar bills), tuned a little too loud; at least one pool table; and furnishings repaired with duct tape.
Dive bars aren’t known for their wine lists or fancy cocktails. They usually serve beer in cans (especially PBR — Pabst Blue Ribbon) as well as in bottles (taps are optional), and they have bartenders who are either really friendly or really surly — nothing in between. And the drinks are cheap, especially at happy hour. (These are the best happy hour spots in every state.)
A few caveats: Some dive bars still permit smoking. Many are cash-only (though probably have an in-house ATM). And with only occasional exceptions, they’re not places where you’d want to eat anything fancier than a bag of chips or a microwaved pizza.