Diving into the dive bars and pubs of New York, Berlin & Sydney
You might have seen cool kids hanging out at shabby bars or pubs lately – and you are not alone. Be it because of hype, part of what is usually described as gentrification, or a necessary alternative to expensive nights due to staggering inflation, are dive bars experiencing a revival?
The urban dictionary defines a dive bar as “a well-worn, unglamorous bar, often serving a cheap, simple selection of drinks to a regular clientele. The term can describe anything from a comfortable-but-basic neighbourhood pub to the nastiest swill-slinging hole.” The colloquial use of the word dive to describe a “drinking den” or “other disreputable place of the resort” comes from the fact that these types of establishments were originally housed in cellars or basements, into which “frequenters may ‘dive’ without observation”, according to a citation of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Let’s look at some concrete cases in three big urban areas across the globe.
In February of this year, a local news outlet featured an interview with the owner of the Pearl River Hotel in New York State, which he does not consider a dive bar himself, although he appears to be thankful for the latest rising interest among visitors. This was not the first time a news outlet in New York reports about dive bars. In fact, this has been a recurring topic in The New York Times, at least until 2021.
The common thread is apparently how puzzling it can be for both owners and journalists in the sense of why would younger people nowadays choose such places. However, the opposite also exists: visitors who do not understand the trend and have different expectations when told it is supposed to be a “cool” place – see this funny comment from a dive bar owner to a 1-star review on Yelp.
The southeast district of Neukölln, known as a melting pot and home for many creative workers, is arguably the area where there is a higher concentration of such bars and pubs becoming popular. In Schillerkiez, the latest neighbourhood to undergo a similar transformation comparable to Prenzlauer Berg years before, places like the former Syndikat are swiftly being replaced by fine dining restaurants and bars serving natural wine or craft beer.
The bar Bechereck, on the contrary, in its privileged corner with a big terrace caters to those who still seem to prefer the real deal – the so-called Berliner “Kneipe”, serving mainly different homemade liquors, cheap long drinks and local draft beer. Other comparable examples in the surroundings are Warthe-Eck (in Warthestraße) and Stammtisch (in Weserstraße). Usually, it is allowed to smoke inside and it is common to find a slot machine (or two), as well as pool tables. Random music is often part of the appeal, just like the unmatching furniture.
In order to confront the recent news on Time Out listing the best dive bars in Sydney and to compare the situation there with Berlin, we conducted a short interview with Nicolas Tsirimokos** who is Australian and lived several years in Sydney before relocating to Berlin 10 years ago. When referring to notable examples of dive pubs like The Marrickville Hotel and the Unicorn Hotel, he tells us that:
“The traditional Aussie pub has forever been a part of our culture, for people of all ages. It’s the place you meet your friends for lunch or your colleagues for a beer after work. For nearly as long as I can remember there has been a trend of rich men in the restaurant and entertainment business buying run-down or historical pubs and transforming them into more glamorous, hip establishments with prices to match.
Similarly, many traditional pubs have retained their classic look and feel but added on fancy food options or specialise in things like Korean chicken or dumplings for example. Whilst the food is obviously delicious – it’s often at a particularly lavish price point. You have to ask yourself, is this what pub and bar culture are all about? Shouldn’t a local pub serve the whole community?
Obviously, some pubs still operate like this, but I have been to a few in areas like Newtown, where actually I lived for a long time when some were still relatively hidden gems and meanwhile have changed completely.”
The concluding remarks are, therefore:
- Can this influx of younger and wealthier generations (often referred to as yuppies or young urban professionals) help these bars and pubs survive?
- Or are these instead losing their authentic character, by adapting their offer to what their new demand expects versus the initial customers?
For more detailed information about the nightlife vibrancy of these cities, read the Creative Footprint reports on Berlin and New York, as well as Sydney’s “Future Proofing” Report by VibeLab Asia Pacific.
**Nicolas Tsirimokos (a.k.a. artist Nicolas Sàvva) has over 10 years of experience in music strategy, curation and artist relations at companies like SoundCloud and Beatport. He enjoys educating the creator community on how to build and grow their careers. He also works as a composer and sound artist and has scored works for the Stuttgart Ballet and The Czech National Ballet. Moreover, he has presented Face The Music with Nicky Böhm every month on Refuge Worldwide: showcasing, amplifying and celebrating intersectional stories from voices across the music industry.