Hartford is a dark dive of a city full of half ass business men, somewhat competent customer service professionals and a constant tide of college students who all add, in there own ways, to the texture of the city nightlife. Of all the bars and restaurants and bars in Hartford, What exactly is a dive bar? What do you call something that is not a dive bar?
What exactly is the Hartford bar scene? The collage age crowd that dominates the nightlife provide an interesting, yet predictable, landscape that still has enough room for the thirty and over crowd. If you spend too much time here you might start to hate it as its novelty wears off. You have the same few conversations about early twenties drinking for the hundredth time with a different group of people. The truth is that it would get old if it wasn’t for Hartford’s stark contrast to New Havens ivy and faux ivy culture. Sorting New Havens scene out is another project altogether and is best left for someone displaced from their home and forced to live there.
I was displaced from New Jersey and forced to live in the Hartford area for the past seven years. I arrived at the age of 25 ready to explore a new city and meet a lot of new people. I didn’t meet many people that stuck around but I did make it a point to visit every possible bar I could find. There are only a few I have not set foot in.
I started this article while standing on the corner of Pearl and Ann street in a heavy rain. This is the general area I know best. I didn’t want my first work to be a review, they are so impersonal and honestly, if all I write is reviews I will run out of content rather quickly. I thought about how I would approach this subject of dive bars. I got cold, wet and heavy as the drama of standing in the rain is lost when you are alone. I thought about treating myself to the cheesy bliss of a calzone but I was able to resist the urge (mostly because I’m poor) and I took a short walk to my favorite bar and got my favorite drink from my favorite bartender. Enjoying the fact that she did not recognize me (after 7 years) I found a dark corner to plant my wet self. I ended up doing no more work then the following statement. “What makes a bar a dive bar”?
Hartford has a lot of dive bars. It is easier to list what is not a dive then what is. Every bar seems to have its own darkness to it and with most you get the feeling that it wasn’t the owners original intent.
Now, before we go on, I want to make it clear and make no mistake. I love this place that has become my home and the bars have been a big part of it; god knows I have no friends here.
What is a dive bar? The dive bar is where you find comfort. Where you can drink and not talk to anybody and still enjoy yourself. A place that, for some reason, is not as fun when you try to bring your friends. The dive is for your solitude that you have no desire to share.
What makes a bar a dive bar? This isn’t as easy to define as you might think. You know one when you see it but what aspects and clues bring you to that conclusion. It is, for the most part, subjective and very much linked to ones own impression of the word dive. Is it a positive or a negative.
For me it is very much a positive and I will now present you with my working theory. I will apply this to all my reviews and accounts in the future.
Every bar is, in its own way, a dive bar. It takes considerable effort and energy by a team of management owners and staff in order to wash, scrub, and repel the vibe and and aura of “The Dive” that will naturally grow in any establishment the serves alcohol. “The Dive” is a darkness that can grow in even the most upscale of establishments and its spore starts to germinate the moment a bartender does something as simple as give a regular customer a free drink or just accept a shot from a customer.
Some bars are so intent on avoiding the darkness that they will not even allow shots to be served. You will see this in the “hidden bar” or “speakeasy” scene in cities like New York where the staff is instructed to have a professional distance from the customer. This distance comes across as rude to most people. This is partly because many staff that try this tactic don’t know how to be properly poised and detached without being rude and partly because customers are so used to the local and friendly bartender.
I’m starting to stray form my topic for this article so this is where I will leave it. Hartford is a city full of dive bars. dive bars are good things. If you are in the rain on a cold night and you need to get your mind off the pile of work that needs to be done, your local dive bar is the place to go. Fancy martinis and bartenders in black vest will only remind you that you are not getting anything done. You want a bar that has the same atmosphere of stagnation as you are feeling in your mind. Support your local dive bar.