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Sarah Ward

What Is a Dive Bar? 12 Facts of Dive Bar Design and Industry

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Of all the types of bars, dive bars hold a special place in the industry. But what is a dive bar? What defines it apart from other bars? In this BinWise blog, that’s what we’re going to find out. If you’re looking into how to open a bar, how to design a custom loyalty program for a dive bar, or you’re looking to join the best bars, this is the place for you.

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Dive Bar Definition

The dive bar definition covers every bar that is a little worn down, a little messy, and a lot of fun for customers. The appeal of the dive bar rests in its comfortable state of being. It invites everyone who comes by for a drink to be just as relaxed as the bar. From the restaurant bartender tending bar with the barback to the laid back drinks, the entire experience is chill.

These four facets of the dive bar definition set the tone for what you can expect in a dive bar:

1. Inexpensive Drinks

Inexpensive drinks are the marker of a classic dive bar. Dive bars are known for cost effective menu items across the board. Most of the brews are on the cheaper end, the wines are plain, and they all flow freely.

2. Authentic Vibes

The authentic vibes of a dive bar come through in every facet of the business. From cozy booths to friendly bartenders to comfort food meals, the authenticity can’t be faked–naturally.

3. Cozy Community

A cozy community is something you can find at a dive bar and a factor in where a dive bar is most likely to open up. It goes both ways, with dive bars inspiring a comforting community space.

4. Staple Foods

Staple foods are, well, a staple of dive bars. Things like good burgers, fries, and sandwiches are common culprits on dive bar menus.

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Dive Bar Design 

What is a dive bar design plan? It’s a loose plan which aims for comfort over everything else. The goal of dive bar design, from seating to artwork to lighting, is to set customers at ease and accompany the customer experience. These four pillars of dive bar design help you get a feel for everything a dive bar needs to make customers feel at home.

1. Eclectic Decor

Eclectic decor sets the stage for a dive bar. From funky lamps to local paintings, eccentric touches are key.

2. Dim Lighting

Dim lighting enhances the coziness of a dive bar. There should be some direct lamp lights around tables and the bar, but other than that, the softer the light, the better. 

3. Weathered Materials

Weathered materials, from seat cushions to warn wooden walls, are a hallmark of dive bars. They make it feel like a place that has always been there. 

4. Relaxed Seating

Relaxed seating is part of the design aspects of a dive bar in a cozy setting. It’s also a part of the direct guest experience. 

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The Dive Bar Industry

What makes the dive bar industry such a long-standing part of the bar industry? Why do these dark, mellow places remain such a figure in communities? The answer is: dive bars are all about community. They’re based on what people want. To come to a bar for a chill time, with no expectations about what they need to wear and how they need to act. 

These four features of the dive bar industry showcase why dive bars remain such a pillar of the bar industry:

1. Local Significance

Many dive bars become a significant part of their communities over time. They hold significance in the hearts of the locals. 

2. Loyal Patrons

Loyal patrons, from locals to people who always come in for a drink when they’re in town, are the heart of dive bar success. When people keep coming back for more the drinks keep flowing.

3. Innovative Adaptations

Even though dive bars remain a steadfast part of bar culture, there’s no doubt bars have changed over time. Dive bars stay a part of the scene by adapting through the years.

4. Resilience

Resilience is a part of every other section of this list, but it’s important enough to warrant its own spot. Dive bars remain a part of bar culture because they stick it out when the going gets tough.

Starting a Dive Bar

There are two outstanding ways of getting a feel for dive bars: visiting them and owning them. Customer retention in dive bars is exceptional, they’re the kind of place you want to return to over and over again. From the other perspective, owning and operating a dive bar gives you a meaningful adventure of a business. 

Starting a dive bar involves plenty of work. You’ll need to build your customer profile plan and sort your bar inventory. Marketing for bars will take up time in your promotion efforts. You can study from bar books and implement unique bar profitability ideas. Starting a dive bar will take a lot of work, but it’s oh-so worth it for long-term profitability and career satisfaction.

"Key Takeaway: The dive bar definition covers every bar that is a little worn down, a little messy, and a lot of fun for customers. The appeal of the dive bar rests in its comfortable state of being, which invites everyone who comes by for a drink to be just as relaxed as the bar."

Frequently Asked Questions About Dive Bars

When you’re learning about dive bars there’s a lot to discover. Dive bars have been around for ages, with the official term starting out in the 1800s. Our answers to these frequently asked questions give you further insight into what dive bars are and why they’re important in bar culture.

Why Do They Call Them Dive Bars?

Dive bars take their name from the 1880s when they were defined as a grungy place where folks would “dive below.” This was, at the time, often literal as many dive bars were in basements. It also refers to the general tone of dive bars, which can be seedy. 

What Is the Difference Between a Dive Bar and a Regular Bar?

Dive bars and regular bars differ in terms of vibes, atmosphere, and clientele. At a regular bar, you’re more likely to find something more high-class. At dive bars, the vibe is strictly grunge-chic. They’re laid back in every way. Some bars toe the line between dive bars and more structured businesses, but ultimately, dive bars hold their own as a cozy, easy place.

Why Do People Like Dive Bars?

People like dive bars because, not only do they have inexpensive drinks, but they also have an atmosphere that sets you at ease. They’re comfortable, easy to spend time in, and suitable for many occasions. You can throw a birthday party at a dive bar or head there after work on a Friday night. 

What Do People Drink at Dive Bars?

Some of the most common and best drinks people enjoy at dive bars are:

  • Cheap beer brands
  • Whiskey and coke cocktails
  • Margaritas
  • Bloody Mary’s
  • Long Island iced tea
  • Rum and coke
  • Jagerbombs
  • Gin and tonics
  • House wines

Overall the things people drink at dive bars fit the dive bar aesthetic. They’re inexpensive but satisfying to the core. 

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Dive Bars: Dive Into Your New Business Venture

Now, you know the answer to “What is a dive bar?” The next question is, what are you going to do with this information? Starting your own dive bar is a way to get into the industry and find your footing in the dive bar community. From bar management to brainstorming bar promotion ideas, when you start your own dive bar you can enjoy all the aspects of running a bar.

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