"The first dive bar you go into is the definition of a dive bar, and everyone goes into a different dive bar first"
The Fingers interview (as a pod!) with @PicturesofDives' Brandon Hinke about cheap drinks, community, and much more
Programming note: Thanks to everyone who joined me, Jessica Infante (Brewbound) and Kate Bernot (Good Beer Hunting/Craft Beer & Brewing) on Clubhouse the other week. We’re doing another edition of BEER BYLINERS this Wednesday (5/12) at 7pm EST on ***Twitter Spaces*** to talk about the beer industry’s latest headlines, trends, and whatever else comes up. Follow me (@dinfontay) and mark your calendars. See you there!
There was a dive bar by the old Thrillist offices in Soho called Milady’s. It closed in 2014 and everyone was pretty bummed about it, but as the New York Times pointed out in its eulogy of the joint, the neighborhood had long since turned into “a high-priced outdoor shopping mall.” How’s a lovely, unremarkable little corner bar like Milady’s supposed to make rent selling $2 Genny Creams when there’s a Prada flagship up the block and most of the people who live nearby are too rich and tasteless to deign drink in such a hole in the wall? It’s not supposed to, is how.
This line from the NYT piece, a dispatch from Milady’s last night in business, always stuck with me:
Some patrons dropped in briefly to genuflect and then left. Others vowed to stay until closing time at 4 a.m. Where they would go afterward, or tomorrow, or next week, was anybody’s guess.
Anybody’s guess indeed. Things have not been great for America’s dive bars in the intervening seven years since Milady’s closed, and the pandemic has of course not helped matters. There are a dozen reasons why dive bars are in distress all over the country, but they all ultimately point back to a simple capitalist reality lurking beneath the surface of that NYT line. Dive bars just aren’t built to survive in an economic system like ours that prioritizes profits and property over people. This is particularly true when those people are the type that would rather drink $3 boilermakers than “participate” in the “job market” in order to make enough scratch to shop at the Prada flagship.
If you consider dive bars vital threads in the social fabric of American civic life (I mostly do), then their “uncertain future” (as Conde Nast Traveler diplomatically phrased it in August 2020) poses a threat to that fabric. Because: where do those people go when their neighborhood joint closes? There simply aren’t that many free or nearly-free third places where any- and everyone can get a little drunk and temporarily ignore the relentless anxieties of the American experience. A good dive bar is all that and more to its neighborhood: a place where people can go and just be. It’s a vision of spirited (booze pun!) egalitarianism worth documenting and celebrating even if—especially if—it’s not “optimized” for the meat-grinder of late capitalism.
Which brings me to the subject of this edition: Brandon Hinke, the amateur archivist behind the wonderful Twitter/Instagram account @PicturesofDives. The account, which Hinke started on a whim during the early months of the pandemic, has since become a go-to repository for user-submitted photos of beloved dive bars (both still-operating, and since-closed) across two continents.
“Maybe we wouldn't love [dive bars] as much if there were more community centers or more public spaces,” Hinke speculated recently in an interview with Fingers. But: “every aspect of our lives has just been absolutely atomized, and we're all kind of stuck in our own places. That was true before COVID hit, but it became so apparent and so obvious. I think this romanticism of dives comes out of that.”
I think so, too. I spoke with Hinke in April about Pictures of Dives — how and why he started the account, the folly of trying to explicitly define what constitutes of a dive bar, and the role these institutions play in people’s lives after sifting through thousands of their stories and photos of the bars they love. The interview is about a month old (sorry it took me awhile to edit it, I’m slammed and also bad at editing podcasts!) but it still holds up. You can listen to it as a podcast via the player above, or on the site right here. If you like it, let me know what you think:
A big factor in the disappearance of dive bars is gentrification/displacement and the attendant rent-raises that accompany those forces. A few months back I interviewed an expert about the role craft breweries play in gentrifying the neighborhoods they enter, check that out right here.
For more reading on how and why gentrification happens, I highly recommend How To Kill a City by P.E. Moskowitz. I wrote a Fingers mini-review of the book here; you can buy it via the Fingers Reading Room here.
This is the first time I’m publishing an interview without a transcription. Are you OK with that, or do you prefer reading to listening? Please let me know in the comments, or simply by replying to this email. The reason I didn’t include a transcription is because they take awhile to produce; I use an A.I. transcription service, which works OK if you just want a sense of the conversation, but really requires another pass from a human ear to be fully accurate. If enough readers want a transcription, I’ll figure out a way to keep doing those, otherwise maybe we’ll just keep these as podcasts moving forward. HELP ME DECIDE!