A Novice’s Guide to Dive Bars and Dive Bar Cocktails

Dive bar cocktails

These days many people frequent upscale establishments. Bars and restaurants with names that combine two words seem to be everywhere. Gastropubs and microbreweries are all the rage!

Some folks are partial to places with a more “down to earth” ambiance. These are the people who are dive bar regulars.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a dive bar is a well-worn, unglamorous bar, often serving a cheap, simple selection of drinks to a regular clientele.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes an establishment a dive bar.

Sometimes You Want to Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name

If you don’t know the lyrics to theme song from the TV show Cheers, you might be too young to know what a dive bar is.

The first thing you should know is that the word dive is not used in a positive way to describe a bar. It is frequently used to refer to any night club or lounge that lacks valet parking and a cover charge.

Regulars playing pool in a dive bar.

Does that mean that all dive bars are bad? Not at all!

According to T.S. Flynn, calling a regular bar a ‘dive’ is an insult… to dive bars!

What is a Dive Bar?

A good dive bar is a microcosm of the local community, like a church or a family. The bartender is the local pastor who hears everyone’s confessions. The patrons are like family members – some you talk to, some you ignore.

A dive bar is where disagreements occur and are settled, where friends socialize, and couples enjoy each other’s company.

Dive Bars Are a Local Treasure

A dive bar has character, shaped by decades of patronage. The posters or graffiti that line the walls are part of the local literature. Wooden or vinyl bar stools, chairs, and tables are sculpted by its many patrons and layered with a hodgepodge of textures, tastes, flavors, and nostalgia.

Even the jukebox, a relic from the distant past, stands as a repository for the soundtrack of the community, creating an ambiance to make lasting memories.

5 Dive Bar Cocktails You Can Order Anywhere

Now that you have a better sense of what a dive bar is, let’s talk about the drinks they serve.

The bartenders who work at dive bars are not the bottle-tossing, free-pouring, drink-igniting part-time models you find in posh establishments. Their mastery of mixology tends to be intensely focused on achieving the perfect angle to pop the tops off bottles of beer with minimal effort.

The cocktails they make are limited to ingredients they have on hand – which is dictated entirely by the locals.

Neon cocktail sign

The bottom line? A dive bar is not a good place to order fancy cocktails. Just stick to the basics!

Here are 5 cocktails any bartender should be able to make.

1) Cuba Libre

The Cuba Libre is an easy drink to make so if the bartender gives you a confused look, recite this line from memory: “rum and coke with a splash of lime”. This phrase contains all the ingredients needed to make the drink, as well as their order in the mixture.

It is also easy to adjust the flavor to your liking. Want it sweeter? Add coke. Want it to hit harder? Add rum.

2) Gin & Tonic

This is another easy cocktail to make with all of the ingredients in its name. A shot of gin over ice, then top up the glass with tonic water. Use a fresh lime to garnish and you’re all set to enjoy a refreshing, citrusy classic cocktail. Want to make it interesting? Swap out the tonic for some Sprite.

Many drinks follow this formula. Rum and coke, scotch and soda, vodka and cranberry – and the list goes on. Simply say the ingredients and any self-respecting bartender can make your drink!

3) Bloody Mary

A classic Bloody Mary is made with tomato juice, vodka, and a few spices. Starting with these basic ingredients, a dive bar can embellish it with their own creative choices. Some places serve the drink with a stalk of celery, others choose a more exotic ingredient like shrimp!

When you think about it, a Bloody Mary sounds downright healthy… like salad in a glass!

4) The Greyhound

The greyhound is another two-ingredient cocktail made by mixing grapefruit juice with vodka. It makes little impact if the bartender messes up the ratio for this one as most of the time you’ll still end up with a great tasting drink.

Even if the bartender uses gin or tequila instead of vodka, it’ll taste just as good!

5) Old Fashioned

The old fashioned is a classic cocktail in every sense.

First, ask the bartender if they have a bourbon. If they do, then you can ask for an old fashioned as the other ingredients are mainstays in any bar.

Four parts bourbon, two dashes of bitters, a cube of sugar, and one part water, served on the rocks. If you know these ingredients by heart, you can enjoy this cocktail anywhere!

Now It’s Your Turn!

Armed with this knowledge, it’s time for you to find a local dive bar to explore.

Just look for an establishment that looks like its seen better days. Go in, pull up a bar stool, and order a classic dive bar cocktail!

Engage the bartender in a little light conversation and enjoy the camaraderie. Who knows… you might become a regular!

By Michael

Chief mixologist and cocktail enthusiast at Swizzle Club.