Every town has at least one, affectionately named because of their nondescript nature, seldom found in a building less than 50 years old, usually tucked away on a back street, dull flickering milky neon in the windows the only sign of welcome, easy to miss on a dark street in a sketchy neighborhood but nonetheless somehow beckoning.
I found mine the way everyone should search for theirs; find the nearest bar to your home and if that place does not meet the criteria, keep searching and moving outward until you do find it. This becomes your home base, last stop or first stop, maybe both on a night out on the town.
The challenge becomes fitting in. These places have a caste system in place that rivals the Hindus and with one wrong move, you could become an untouchable. Your first foray into the bar will be met with stares, hushed conversations muffled by hands covering mouths and the sense that you are the center of attention, the newest fish in the little fish bowl. Best move, make friends with the bartender and keep your eyes from wandering. Let the action come to you, don’t go looking for it. The smart strategy is to make your first trip on the busiest night so you blend in. Then, after a few visits, check out the quietest nights, like early in the week, and get a feel for the place. It won’t take long for one of the “regulars” to give you your initial interview. This is the equivalent of pledging for a fraternity or sorority, without the Greek life thing. Your success or failure at this interview will determine your starting position in the social standing.
After that point, you will be ranked and placed into a hierarchy that can be manipulated either upwards or down, depending on your performances from now on. Titles, social standing, rankings and those being punished are all generally well known but never openly discussed. As a newbie, your role is to listen, be quiet and fit in.
If you’re a guy, your standing initially is determined by your appearance, attitude and sports teams affiliations. Deficiencies in any category can be overcome by excesses in the others. If you bring male friends along, be careful not to upset the natural balance of testosterone/estrogen as the Alpha- Males may get their backs up. You can counter this issue by bringing attractive woman. This can automatically raise your standing.
For women, attractiveness rules the day. Depending on the male/female balance of the place, you are either a threat or a treat, a rough choice which probably explains why women hate going to bars alone.
Before any dive bar can be yours, you have to go through this process. Where this uniquely American system places you may be an alternative to expensive therapy. Who would have thought that a stranger’s opinions and self-medication might do an even better job?