Fridays at the dive bar: a lifestyle or a fashion trend?

By Lara Avery

A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of “vita.mn” at the Pizza Lucé on Selby. Instead of its usual group of musicians or fashion models, the cover featured a picture of a middle-aged white man in a red baseball cap slumped over a bar. In the background, out of focus, were a few other men his age or older, nursing drinks. The bartender was a woman with frizzy hair and a stern look on her face. The headline was “The Cities’ Best Dive Bars.” A dive bar, according to Wikipedia, is a “downmarket drinking establishment serving a working class or a poorer clientele.”Vita.mn keeps the Twin Cities up to date on arts, events, and restaurants. The latest trend in cultural experience? Go elbow to elbow with the locals at an establishment that is not-so-established. Forget Chino Latino or The Independent for a night, leave your high heels at home, and grab a brew with the regulars. The down-home folks, the blue collar, the working man-less educated, less fortunate, and, let’s face it, pretty hot right now!

A colorful box in the middle of the article encased categories and the names and addresses of the “comfiest dive bar,” the “cheapest dive bar,” and my favorite, the “least divey dive bar.” I guess the idea is to meet at the bar with friends, drink in a corner booth away from all the loners and drunkards, and pretend I am a part of the working class. After a night of “slummin’ it” as the articles puts it, I return to my apartment, lock my doors, and get a good night’s sleep for tomorrow’s arduous reading or monitoring the desk at an art gallery. I will reflect on my experience as I have on all the events I attend, as a spectator in a venue, perhaps through an album on Facebook or a stack of artfully taken polaroids.

I should be stopped on my fixed-gear bike, punched in the face, and told that smoking cigarettes outside of a bar with outdated furnishings doesn’t mean I have worked as hard as the residents within. It means I have the time and money to make fashionable choices. To patronize an independent business is to be commended, but to enter the environment of those who are less privileged for the sake of an image is exploitation.

It goes beyond bars, and is a sensation with which I admit I am familiar: relief of peeling off the armor of the oppressor, the academic, the suburban, to feel the breeze blown from hair on the heads of those who are troubled, now lifting the American Apparel cotton on my chest. Douglas Haddow says in Adbusters magazine, “Ten years ago, a man wearing a plain V-neck tee and drinking a Pabst would never be accused of being a trend-follower.” The feature in “vita.mn” brings us to that point, and is an example of our generation’s newest habit of adopting what Haddow calls “the aesthetics of the working class.”

Even if it is out of guilt, aesthetics can only take us so far. Being fashionable is not a step backwards, but believing that it aids in bridging the divide between ourselves and those that cannot afford our education is a mistake. It’s time to take off the work clothes and start the actual building. Considering the high unemployment rate, we may find ourselves drowned in our own image.