When it comes to drinking in a place where misdemeanor crimes are often committed outside in the alley and criminals feel free to plot felonies atop “Rockford Files” pinball machines, nothing beats a dive bar.

Poll college students and young professionals on their political beliefs and philosophies and you’re sure to get a wide range of preferences, from socialist to libertarian to Aristotle to Homer (Simpson, not the other guy). But the one thing they’ll almost all agree on is that there’s no better place to enjoy an adult beverage than a dive.

Why do people love dive bars? What makes them the social glue that binds a generation? And why does every one of these bars have a giant Pabst sign the size of Sammy Sosa’s head? Does anyone actually drink Pabst? Or are they now solely a neon-sign manufacturing company?

I headed down to my local dive bar for answers. And for chicken wings. But mainly for answers, delicious hot and spicy answers with sides of ranch dressing and celery.

My local dive is a sports bar.

This is an important distinction because dive bars tend to come in three varieties: sports, townie and biker. If you see a local middle school sports pennant tacked on the wall, you’re in a sports dive. If tourists and/or college students are not welcome, you’re in a townie dive. If the bar has tire marks on the ceiling, you’re in a biker dive.

There are other variations, but these are the main three and they share a host of commonalities.

For instance, all dives smell the same. This is the smell: What if a Camel cigarette drank Budweiser all day, ate nothing but jalapeno poppers, picked a fight with the bouncer and was stomped Joe Pesci “Goodfellas”-style, after which point he was left to die? That’s the smell–the drunken cigarette of death smell.

And dive bars always have pseudo-creepy names like “The Cat’s Eye” or “The Smiling Skull” or “The Ominous Gall Bladder.” All with the same subtext: stay away.

The clientele? In spite of such precarious nomenclature, I’ve found there’s a certain type of woman who swears by these bars. You’ve met her. She always says, “Me? I ONLY go to dives.” But what she’s really saying is, “I have a phony marketing job, my nails are fake and this isn’t my natural hair color, but my love of dive bars makes me authentic.”

Funny, but as much as she professes to love dives, you never see her type there . Or any type, really. That’s because the proper male to female ratio in a dive bar is approximately 12:1. The only excuse for a tighter ratio is if several of the male patrons are jailed simultaneously.

A grim picture? Perhaps. But perhaps I’m being a tad harsh. In the grand scheme of things, dive bars are not the unhappiest places in the world. On my list of Most Depressing Places to Drink Legally In Public, dive bars would rank fourth, behind bowling alley bar, mall bar and airport bar.

Nonetheless, why does Young America love dive bars? Why do we while away the hours in places where you can carve your name in the wall, where fistfights are commonplace and where there is more illicit activity in the bathroom on one Tuesday morning than on your average season of “The Sopranos?”

I’m not sure, but I think it probably has something to do with how much we all just plain miss public high school.

Originally published by Scripps-Howard.

Photo by weeklydig.

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