Oregon Tavern Age: Dive Bar Disquisition

Let me take a break from chronicling Oregon Age Tavern life and dive into a disquisition on the phrase “dive bar” that I hope will offer some clarity on the subject as crystal clear as a shot of well vodka from the gun or making out with someone under a mountain waterfall.

Many OTA joints embrace dive bar status with pride. A few take considerable umbrage. Some are utterly indifferent to the semantics of it all.

What defines a dive bar? Perhaps it’s like US Supreme Court Justice’s Potter Stewart’s famous non-definition of pornography: “I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it.” Who decides a definition of a dive bar? Surely not a magazine writer visiting for the first time and writing up fluff. Is there a difference between an urban dive bar, say in Portland (if there are any left) and a coastal one, say in Coos Bay?

These are important questions for dive bar scholars to ponder, if there is such an academic field. (I think there is.)

I think about my forthcoming Oregon Tavern Age book, now over 45,000 words in length, scheduled for a winter release, but I keep adding to it, and I wonder has anyone ever written a book about a region’s dive bar culture. Doubtful. There is no money in this editorial venture, but many rich rewards in storytelling, and occasionally, free beer and fresh crab at Super Bowl parties or wakes.

I occasionally spot tourists in OTA country and I don’t begrudge their presence. On the contrary, I welcome their presence. One visit to OTA country can change a person’s entire perspective on many matters of American cultural life. One merely has to listen and observe and perhaps even participate in conversation.

I have a few rules of thumb for recognizing OTA country. There will be a framed and faded photograph of a dead dog or dead human behind the bar. There will be a typo on the food menu or drink special board. Someone will know who Roy Orbison is. There will be at least one jar of pickled grotesqueries. It opens at 9:00 in the morning.

One last thing; if you here a protracted conversation about stouts or IPAs, you are not in OTA country. If you hear a conversation about putting on a roof with a crushing hangover, you are.