Exploring L.A.’s Best Dive Bars With the World Dive Bar Tour
I’m not generally into joining groups, and I mostly drink alone, but if there was a club I might want to be a part of, it would be the World Dive Bar Tour. These guys and girls organize drinkups at some of LA’s best and least known dive bars in every part of the city. The leaders of the group graciously gave me some time to learn more about the Tour and dive bars in LA in general…
What is the World Dive Bar Tour?
As legend has it, the World Dive Bar Tour was spawned approximately 9 years ago deep in halls of New Line Cinema in Los Angeles, by a man whom we now refer to as “The Godfather,” in an effort to bring together ambitious PAs, embittered script readers, Creative Executives, and assistants to wash away the frustrations of the workplace with a cheap glass of American Macro-brew.
Every Wednesday, a pithy email would circulate describing the bar the group would be attending that night after work.
A couple years later, the torch was handed over to a good friend of the Godfather’s, and a new era of the tour began. Since then the World Dive Bar Tour has evolved into a bi-weekly, Wednesday event that has visited over 100 dive bars in greater Los Angeles, holds annual bar golf competitions, and hosts a Summer Spectacular at Big Dean’s in Santa Monica. Our website, worlddivebartour.com documents every bar we have visited since 2006 and keeps with the tradition of a pithy, snark-filled email about that week’s bar. You can also search for a bar based on dive characteristics or location.
In your opinion, what’s the diviest dive bar you’ve been to? How about the most classic dive bar (like close your eyes and picture a dive bar, and this place is the one you see)?
Diviest: Monte Carlo, 3514 W. 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90020 Classic: Cozy Inn, 11155 Washington Place, Culver City, CA 90232
Typically how many people attend the meet tour stops?
Because the Tour covers such a vast area in the city, attendance is usually based on who lives close by. That said, we average between 10-20 people per week. Certain stops also seem to hold special appeal; our end-of-summer event has drawn 40+ the last couple of years.
What are the top 5 things a dive bar has to have?
- CHEAP DRINKS. This is relative to Los Angeles prices, obviously. A $3 beer in LA is cheap. In any other city outside of the metropolis it’s a fortune. An establishment with a “cash only” policy is typically the kind of place where you can get loaded without being loaded. Beers usually range in the $3-6 range and cocktails between $4-7. Rarely will the prices go above that, and when they do, we’re making an exception because of other qualities the dive holds.
- DIVEY AMBIANCE. This goes for everything from year-round Christmas light decor to a juke box that plays Roy Orbison and Dean Martin. Age plays a big role here too. A truly worthwhile dive has an air of gravitas that can only come from years of drunken debauchery. If the bar’s been there a long time, the place is literally falling apart, and the owner pushes the structure of the building to its limit before shelling out for a repair, both to keep costs down and because no one cares how it looks anyway.
- ENTERTAINMENT “Entertainment” may take on many forms, and it’s often found in the subtleties of the ordinary. We’re not about to say that a bar that doesn’t have some kind of game isn’t a dive–although the vast majority of our dive bars have pool tables or dart boards. A classic dive bar mark of authenticity isa Golden Tee Golf arcade game that pre-dates 2002. Also, most bars have TVs in the corner turned to sports or infomercials. But even if that were lacking, you can rest assured that the bartender is a colorful character or that there is some kind of shenanigans going on around you (often times illicit activity) that, when watched closely, will keep you transfixed drink after drink. Plus, any bar that forgoes the usual trappings of a low-rent watering hole is telling its patrons that theirs is an establishment meant for one thing: drinking. The clientele that frequents such a place will certainly provide endless people-watching pleasure unmatched by a TV or round of darts.
- A GREAT STORY Does the owner have a “highlight reel” VHS tape of all the times the bar has been on the news? Then it’s most certainly a dive bar. Good bars sell cheap alcohol. Good dive bars sell an experience worth telling your friends about. Did a rat run across the rafters? Great. Did the owner tell you about doing lines with celebrities who died in the 70’s? Even better. The stories are what elevate your average neighborhood bar into the pantheon of Dive Bars.
- DOWN-TO-EARTH CLIENTELE Dive bars are where the proletariat and petit bourgeoisie rub elbows. Where how you’re dressed only matters as it applies to the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” policy. Where trucker hats are worn by actual truckers, and there’s nothing ironic about ordering a Pabst Blue Ribbon. Being in a dive bar is a lot like being in a margarita glass, you’re always surrounded by the salt of the earth. Unless, of course, a certain TV action star shows up at 9:00am and demands to open a tab.
What does the future hold for the World Dive Bar tour?
A future re-launch of the website will give us the ability to add different cities. Right now, we have associates in Buffalo, NY and San Francisco who are anxious and willing to carry the WDBT torch.
Also, through the use of social networking and viral marketing, we’re hoping to grow our numbers so that the attendees are not only connected to the people running the tour. Ideally, each dive bar event is more of a meet-up, where people will show regardless of one of the hosts being there.
Finally, much like Zagat rates restaurants, we are instituting our own rating system. You’ll know you’re at an approved dive when you see our logo posted on the door or behind the bar.
Photo by Waltarrrr.