Marv's dignified, no-BS bearing helped win the Jury Room a favorable rating. Photo by Chip Scheuer.
Given the sheer importance of this article, we had to design a scoring system that would be as entertaining, at least to us, as it would be fair. With that sentiment in mind, we came up with the following rubric. Each dive bar would be judged in the same manner a good beer would, through smell, mouthfeel, taste and overall score (metaphorically, of course).
“Smell” refers to the bar’s outward appearance and first impression. Before you really dive into something you typically smell it first, or at least I do. By the way, there is nothing like that first musty breath of dive, right after a day of work full of inhaling clean and controlled bullshit. Another way to think about the smell factor is that feeling you get right as you first walk in. Inhale.“Am I going to be stabbed? Are the people here having fun or are their heads all down? How chill is that guy uncontrollably muttering to himself in the corner?” These are all smell questions.
“Mouthfeel” is the metric used to capture the bar’s inner feeling, the collective mood of the place once you spend some more time inside. This can refer to the types of people, the décor (or lack thereof) and, of course, the music, which should rock or maybe twang but definitely not thump (crappy techno has no place in a dive bar). That being said, it really is more of an intuitive rating. The music and wall linings really only help inasmuch as they set the tone for those first couple of encounters, the one with the bartender being one of them.
“Taste” quite explicitly refers to everything that is not intuitive, like the cost of drinks, the food available, the jukebox, the pool table, yadda yadda yadda. However, to me one of the most overlooked aspects of dive bar taste is the bathroom, which, despite the disgusting association you now have in your head, really does tell you a lot about how well the place is being treated (or not). For instance, if the “employees must wash hands” sign has been replaced with a glory hole, that is not tasty.