Don’t Refer to a Dive Bar as a “Dive Bar” in Burlington

dive bars, Burlington, Vermont, Green Mountain State, pool table, game of pool, night life, bars

One cool project I decided to take on during my time in Vermont was to blog about the different dive bars in Burlington. I started at the bar in my neighborhood, T Ruggs Tavern. T Ruggs was a pretty nice dive bar, with a few flat screen televisions, a jukebox, a backyard patio with Christmas lights strung around, and a pool table.

Even with all the perks, this bar was the kind of place where the bartenders knew you by face and regular customers consisted of a group of the same 70-year-old men taking up half the bar’s counter space to bitch about sports and swap tales of the good old days. It had that neighborhood feel, the feel of, oh, you know, a dive bar.

But when I showed up with my camera, questions were raised. Mostly people were just curious, and some requested that I photograph them. They asked why I was taking pictures and I said that I’m a blogger looking to write about the best dive bars in the area. Saying this, as I soon realized, was the equivalent of me wrapping my body in raw bacon and throwing myself to the lions.

“A dive bar?! What do you mean a dive bar?!” said the bartender, her eyes wide in disgusted shock at my words. “You think this is a dive bar?”

I, being dumb, said, “Well yeah! It’s a nice dive bar, but it’s still a dive bar. It’s a neighborhood bar!” The bartender glared at me and stalked off to the other side of the bar’s counter to talk about what I had just said with a few of the regular customers.

At this point, one elderly dude decided it was chill to put his arm around me and tell me “how it is around here.” He said that to call this place a dive bar was to insist that it was dirty, grungy, and attractive to a trashy crowd of people. I was surprised to hear this. I also felt embarrassed to have stuck out so much for being offensive and seemingly ignorant. I liked T Ruggs a lot and I generally prefer a dive bar to any other type of bar/club on most days. While I admit that a lot of dive bars are kind of dirty, I didn’t think that was part of the actual definition of a dive bar.

So I went straight to Wikipedia on my phone and looked it up. This is what I found:

“A dive bar is an informal bar or pub. Such bars are sometimes referred to as neighborhood bars, where local residents gather to drink and socialize.”

As I was reading this, the bartender came back over to me and asked, “If this is a dive bar, what do you consider NOT to be a dive bar?” I responded with the first local bar name that popped into my head, Nectars. Anyone who has ever been to Nectars would know that it has two levels of “club” space, the first of which is generally used for 80s and 90s nights, while the lower floor will either have live music or a DJ. In my opinion, if a bar is hoppin’ enough to host decade themed parties every weekend and a DJ, it’s not a dive bar. It’s not the place where everyone knows your name. It’s not the place you go to on a casual Wednesday after work.

But the bartender responded, “Nectars?! Now THAT’S a dive bar!”

Honestly, I was so confused. I told her what my understanding of “dive bar” was when I said that T Ruggs fit the category, and I apologized for offending anyone. Now the older guys were kind of teasing me, saying I come in here and mess things up because I don’t know any better. I thought about reading my Wikipedia definition out loud, but I thought it useless information to bring to a group of offended drunk people all over the age of 60.

And so that ended my pursuit of the best dive bars in the town, because apparently dive bars in Burlington don’t like to be called out for what they are. Whatever.

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One thought on “Don’t Refer to a Dive Bar as a “Dive Bar” in Burlington

  1. Hey! Interesting post – and you were game to take on a challenge – however, I don’t think you took into class considerations.

    Even though you had an intellectual, unapproachable definition – you didn’t have a cultural one to lean on. Instead, you came off as privileged. I think this was a wonderful conversation to open a dialogue – the same words can have different meanings across the country – this is the basics of linguistics. Cultural definitions divide from purely academic ones.

    Honestly, if someone showed up with a camera to my local, neighborhood spot – I’d instantly think, “Ah, here to snap a few shots of the peasants, eh?” Instead, this came off as a diatribe from a middle to upper class person who is offended when the people she ignorantly insulted were, well, offended.

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