First things first.

If we’re going to talk about dive bars, you need to understand I mean this as a compliment. I think most people love a good Jersey dive bar. I think most of us use this term with love.

Or do I have Garth Brooks syndrome and have too many friends in low places? I think not.

So as long as we understand the term dive bar is a good thing, that it means a place you seek out and not settle for, means a place where you can be comfortable and yourself and no one is putting on airs, we can continue.

Just like a Jersey diner needs certain attributes to be a genuine diner, the same goes for a Jersey dive bar. They need specific characteristics. But what are they?

Here are 9.


The bathrooms cannot be nice. There must be urinal cakes, graffiti like “let’s go Brandon” and maybe a slow leak or a loose toilet handle.

paper out of order sign on bathroom or restroom urinal
Justin Smith
Just like a Jersey diner needs certain attributes to be a genuine diner, the same goes for a Jersey dive bar.

Packaged goods

I have never been in a true dive bar that didn’t have a cooler filled with Budweiser or Miller for carryout. Never anything fancy.

Never-updated Christmas lights

They decorate for Christmas but at a minimum. Maybe lightbulbs and garland draped along the back bar. And it’s the same exact decorations they’ve been putting up for 25 years. You know because this is the same bar you’ve been coming to for 25 years.

Pay pool table

Not only is there a pool table, it really helps dive bar status if it’s one of those pay pool tables. They take quarters. Which releases all the balls from the previous game with a loud clunk. There’s only one table and to get to play you have to stack your quarters on the table’s edge and shoot against a total stranger to ‘win’ the table. Some of the pool cues are old and warped and no one minds.

pool balls on a blue table with balls

Duct tape

You’ll see it on the stools at the bar. Maybe one stripe of it concealing a tear in the stool’s vinyl seat. And a few others holding a metal bar in place on a different stool.

Frank Sinatra

There must be a jukebox and even if it’s the most modern one it must have “That’s Life” by Sinatra in it. I’m pretty sure it’s a New Jersey law.

Vintage jukebox playing 45 rpm vinyl

No menus

The closest thing to one may be only a chalkboard behind the bar with four food items that hasn’t been changed in 12 years.

Elderly person at all times

Every dive bar must have one elderly person there at all times. It is in the DNA of a Jersey dive bar for this to be true.

Cardboard drink coasters

They’re reused as long as possible and they’re so old they may have the name of a now-defunct beer.

I’m sure there are other tell-tale signs. Be sure to loosen up and visit your local friendly dive bar this holiday season. And don’t be a grinch. Tip your bartender.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski. Any opinions expressed are Jeff Deminski's own.

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