The Current state of Diners and Dive Bars in America?

I am thinking mostly of classic Mom & Pop diners and also dive bars across the USA.

How abundant are they now compared to say in the early 1990’s? Do you think gentrification and immigration have had an impact on them? Would you say there has been a decline in the number of live music in dive bars since the 1990’s?

Coming from the other side of the pond I think of the road side Mom & Pop diner as one of the great symbols of America in the 20th century and so too the dive bars of the working class neighborhoods in cities and small towns. I recently watched an excellent documentary online recently called Pennsylvania Diners and Other Road Side Restaurants made in 1993. A behind the scenes look at these types of diners and it struck me how things have probably changed massively in some of those places since and perhaps some other places featured where time has probably stood still, technology aside.

Since this is about cafes (of sorts), lets move it over to Cafe Society.

Colibri
General Questions Moderator

college towns and parts of cities near colleges still have plenty of music/dive bars. the trend now is for younger folks to live in downtowns rather than suburbs so that also helps bars do well.

diners are not as big now as they were in the past but they are still around

A lot of sit-down coffee shops/diners in NYC have disappeared over the last 30 years. It’s cheaper, especially with Manhattan real estate, to run a counter joint where people order a bagel or egg sandwich with their coffee and bring it along to the office. Or eat it on a park bench. No waitstaff.

Dive bars have a similar problem here…low profit/high rent. I’m happy to say that they are still prevalent in Chicago and Cleveland.

New Jersey diners are going strong. They were invented in New Jersey and we have many great ones. In fact, somewhere on this board, was a thread discussing the best diners in New Jersey. I’ll try to find it.

We have sort of a faux dive bar nearby. It used to be the real deal, but not the beer selection is probably too large to qualify. The food (mostly burgers) hasn’t changed though. If a selection of craft beers isn’t a disqualifying factor, this one would count. What about a diner that added on to the original building? We have one of those. They were moved when the Discovery Channel headquarters were built, and they added a couple of big dining rooms. The menu didn’t change, though. I saw some dive bars we visited our son in Ithaca. I’m guessing the lowered drinking age didn’t help business in college towns, though.

Not sure I agree with that. The ubiquitous neighborhood watering holes that I grew up with seems to be disappearing at an alarming rate. As a kid, I thought the Old Style logo was the Chicago flag! Now they are getting hard to come by.

We don’t have a lot of true diners in the Chicago area (at least not in the suburbs) – what we do have is a lot of “family restaurants,” which typically have a wide menu of breakfast and dinner items, including a few Greek dishes, since they’re often owned by Greek families. When I moved to the area, 30 years ago, they were pretty common here, and many of them were open late into the evening (some open 24 hours).

Particularly over the past 10 years or so, a number of the ones around here have closed, at least some of them because the original owners retired, and the children either (a) weren’t interested in running a restaurant, or (b) tried to keep it going, and failed.

What still seem to be doing well here are breakfast places (many of which are also run by Greek families), which are usually only open until around 2pm or 3pm.

Neighborhood bars have all but disappeared in Chicago - it’s a damn shame too.

They are truly still alive and reasonably common on the Southwest Side. Where I live there are at least six bars within walking distance that I think most people would qualify as “dives,” but it depends on what is meant by “dive.” These are what I would call local neighborhood bars catering mostly to a local working class and some middle class income clientele. Places that have $2 beers and stuff like that in a city where $5 a pint is about the going rate for a beer. Places where you’d feel out-of-place ordering anything but an Old Style or Miller or Bud (or Modelo, Tecate, Pacifco, as well as it’s become a very Hispanic area.) So, not really the sorts of places that get described on Yelp as a hip Wicker Park “dive bar.” It’s a neighborhood bar, but I find it somewhat insulting or dismissive to refer to them as “dives,” but I suspect they would qualify as such for most people, because the “dives” I’ve seen in some of the trendier neighborhoods looked like nice bars to me that attracted people from all over!

But, you’re right in that the presence of the neighborhood tavern has diminished somewhat. Over the last 20 years, I really can’t remember any new bars opening (that is, in new locations, not just takeovers over existing bars), and there probably were at least another 3-4 bars that were within walking distance of my house that have closed. I’m just miffed that the last 4 a.m. bar in the neighborhood had closed a few years back, and I have to actually drive a mile east on 47th to get to the last one in this area.

They seem more common in small towns from what I’ve seen.

in la county both the dive bar and diner is alive and well in many places ……

'Round here, we have diners like Bob & Edith’s (now a chain; the original location will celebrate its 50[sup]th[/sup] Anniversary next year) and Weenie Beenie (a former chain; down to just the one now).

For a large beer selection this side of the Potomac, there’s Lost Dog Cafe. Here are the beer shelves at one of their newer locations.

Yeah, this one is a lot tougher. While the neighborhood bar is pretty much alive and well in my neighborhood, the American-style diner (well, actually what I would call “Greek diner” because to me that’s what a Chicago diner is) has disappeared completely from my neighborhood. Growing up, there were at least four of these places, two of them 24-hours. Since 2005, all of them have closed down. (The last one in May of this year.) The Huck Finn Donuts a few miles south of me on Pulaski is the closest to this style of diner, or what you call a family restaurant. There’s another a few miles northeast of me on Archer (the Archview), but that’s all I could think of off the top of my head.

Much of it, I think, is due to the changing demographics in the neighborhood. A lot of the older population that would eat this type of food moved out to the Southwest Suburbs, and now a different kind of “diner” emerged – the tacqueria. So food options remain plenty – actually much more than when I was growing up in this neighborhood – but Chicago diner food was replaced by tacquerias. So, it all depends on your definition of “diner.” But, yeah, if you’re thinking of a place where you can get a Swiss steak, meatloaf, hot turkey sandwich on white bread, chili, cream-of-whatever soups that you could stand a spoon in, breakfast skillets of every permutation, yeah, they’ve moved on from where I’m at.

The diner situation in my north-side neighborhood is pretty stable. They are not as ubiquitous as on the east coast, and there aren’t many *new *ones popping up, but the old ones seem to be hanging in there. Many with “Golden” in the title: Golden Apple, Golden Cup, etc., and plenty of “Cozy Corner” places too.

There were two very good ones within 5 minutes of my house, out here in the near SW suburbs. One transitioned to a pancake (breakfast & lunch) place a decade or more ago; the other went downhill fast when the original owners (two Greek brothers) retired, and the son of one of the owners ran it into the ground. There’s still one more that’s within a short drive of me, but the food is terrible, and I noticed, yesterday, that there’s a “property available” sign in front of it, strongly suggesting that it’ll be closing soon.

I think we’re experiencing the changing neighborhood demographics here, too – when I moved here, 22 years ago, the area was very Anglo. We’ve become a lot more diverse, particularly Hispanic, and there are several good tacquerias nearby.

So, at this point, if my wife and I have a craving for that sort of restaurant, our two main options are both about a 20 minute drive away.

Same for us, but it’s more because we have to go through the city streets to get to it. I miss having a place where I could just open the door, walk literally one block from my house at 1 a.m. in the morning, and get a hamburger, fries, and a Tom Collins to go with it. (These places always seemed to have cocktail menus from the 1950s in them. Stuff like pink ladies, grasshoppers, sloe gin fizzes, etc. Pretty sure they even had Harvey Wallbangers.)

Help me out- what’s the difference between these places and a true diner? That’s pretty much how I would describe a diner.

I don’t know about dive bars, but diners are doing just fine. There are about seven withing 15 minutes of house, and two of those only opened this year.

Of course, they aren’t the old railroad car diners, but they usually are characterized by a full menu and serve breakfast as long as their open. Only three of the seven serve dinner; the rest close mid-afternoon.

There are dive bars, but they don’t feel authentic to me somehow. Different places I’ve lived I’ve seen the really old places shut down. I think true dive bars have to be trashy to the point that only people who know the owner go there or something - I can’t really put my finger on it. If the bartenders are nice to you, it’s probably not really a good dive bar in the true sense of the word. I’m also always thinking of lushes that go there to do serious drinking; other people being there is incidental, not the main purpose of their going there. They also have to be open during the day, if they’re not open during the day its a faux dive bar at best.