< back to Blog home
Sarah Ward

Dive Bar History: 4 Unique Dive Bar History Details

Table of Contents
Thank you! Check your inbox for details.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

To fully appreciate the place dive bars have in the bar business industry, it’s important to understand dive bar history. Dive bars are a unique business model in the industry. Some examples of their singular ability to ride the line between seedy and satisfying include:

  • While on the seedier side, dive bars have no problems with customer retention from their provided customer experience. Customer satisfaction at dive bars is consistently at a high level. Folks go into dive bars knowing they won’t meet with their regular restaurant bartender, and they’re happy with the situation they walk into.
  • Dive bars maintain a good menu, with killer dive bar food options. Wherever you walk into a dive bar, in the U.S. or around the world, you can expect some quality comfort food. There are even themed dive bars with very specific menus.

The business intelligence of dive bar businesses shows up in their ability to stay consistent, cater to customers, and maintain their place in the bar industry. Dive bar history shows this ability to adapt and remain time and again, as quirky, vital pieces of the bar industry.

binwise demo request

An Overview of Dive Bar History

The history of dive bars is, in many ways, as old as the history of all bars. Dive bars, as a concept of cheap, easy spaces, have been around for ages. The phrase itself turned up in July of 1871, in a New York Herald article. In the article they mentioned “decorated dives” in reference to bars where one could get a cheap, good drink.

Dive bars started out as a purely American statement of the bar industry. It’s suggested that they started out in Buffalo, New York. This statement is difficult to nail down with any degree of certainty. 

4 Interesting Facts of Dive Bar History

The history of dive bars covers quick ground from the 1800s onward. It spans around the world. Throughout their history, you can see how dive bars became a critical piece of the bar industry. We’ve sectioned off four interesting facts of dive bar history, for digestible chunks of information about these resilient businesses.

4. The Start of the Term “Dive Bar”

The term “dive bar” started out in the 1800s. We mentioned the reference in the New York Herald from 1871. Later on, it appeared in 1882, then in an 1883 edition of Harper’s Magazine. In that instance, the reference was made to “opium-smoking dives.” In 1886 the term came up in direct reference to a bar. 

In that 1886 mention, it was specified that a dive bar was so called because it was in the lower part of a building. Dive bars were, and often still are, in the basements of larger buildings. They were places where you quite literally had to dive down through the entrance.

3. The Change of Perception of Dive Bars

Dive bars were never, and will never be, the type of place to use fancy bar glassware. As they became more common through the late 1800s, however, they did start to become a place where more people would spend time.

Revolution Demo Request

2. The Oldest Known Dive Bar

We dove into articles about the oldest dive bars in search of an answer. Ultimately, we found that there isn’t one dive bar that holds the title. There are too many and frankly, the first dive bars weren’t too loud about their existence. There are records of divey spaces, however, dating from the 1800s and early 1900s.

1. The Popularity of Dive Bars

The popularity of dive bars didn’t take long to take hold. From serving drinks every bartender should know to the chill bar setup of a dive bar, they offer everything a less-than-discerning customer could want. Folks who visit dive bars know exactly what they can expect. The relaxed vibes are the reason the popularity of dive bars has continued to grow through the years.

"Key Takeaway: The history of dive bars covers quick ground from the 1800s onward. It spans around the world. Throughout their history, you can see how dive bars became a critical piece of the bar industry."

Frequently Asked Questions About the History of Dive Bars

Dive bar history is a topic that brings about a variety of questions online. When we dove into these frequently asked questions, we found quite the mix. There are questions about the dive bar names. Some crop up about the best dive bars around today, and the best of the past. Our answers to these chosen questions will add to your dive bar history knowledge.

Are Dive Bars An American Thing?

Dive bars started out as a purely American thing, but these days they’ve spread around the globe. They’re considered pubs, hole-in-the-wall bars, and many names in between. All around the world, there are bars that are a little less polished and a little more cost-effective. Most importantly, they're a lot of fun to relax in!

What Does Dive Bar Stand For?

Dive bars got their name from being a place where someone would “dive below,” so to speak, into the underbelly of the social world. This original meaning remains, and there are certainly dive bars that are on the scummier end of the spectrum. That said, these days, many dive bars are a place where you can “dive” headfirst into a good time.

BinWise resources page

What Is the Number One Dive Bar In the United States?

The Edge Eatery and Drinkatorium, of Rapids City, Illinois, holds the current title of the number one dive bar in the United States. There are different contests and guest reviews held throughout the year and on a yearly basis. The Ege Eatery and Drinkatorium holds the title now, but the beautiful thing about dive bars is that there’s a favorite in every state.

What Is the Busiest Bar Day In America?

The busiest bar day in America is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It’s known by many as “Blackout Wednesday.” Marketing for bars isn’t much needed on that day. In many areas of the country, this day is spent in bars, home bars, or restaurant bars. Even on days like this, please drink responsibly. Good times can be ruined by one too many drinks.

What Is a Dive Bar Versus a Pub?

As compared to dive bars, pubs are generally cleaner, larger, and more open and available to tourists. Dive bars tend to be small, grubby, and poorly lit. This is part of their charm, but it’s quite peculiar in the world of the best bars. Pubs have been around longer in different ways, and fit more in what you would typically think of as a standard bar.

binwise demo request

The History of Dive Bars: Where Did Dive Bars Get Their Start? 

Now that you’ve learned the dive bar history you’re fully acquainted with where these businesses are coming from. Of course, there’s always more to learn, from dive bar ideas for business to the dive bar business plan. Knowing the history, however, gets you situated to open a dive bar that is uniquely yours but also fits in the industry with ease. 

When it comes time to prepare to open your dive bar, reach out to BinWise and BlueCart. The BinWise Pro beverage inventory program, paired with the BinScan mobile app, gives you peace of mind when you take inventory. BlueCart’s order management software simplifies your order management system

Book a Demo
Reduce inventory counting time by as much as 85%. Schedule a demo now:
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.