and Diving In the Five Boroughs
A QA with Dive Bar Expert, Wendy Mitchell
Where the hell are all the good dive bars these days?
Every time I find a place I like, 50 people who look just
like me eventually begin to creep in, forcing the older clientele
(who give any dive its color) to leave in frustration.
Want to find the perfect dive bar? Wendy Mitchell's New
York City's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving In the Five
Boroughs is here to help. From Freddy's to The Turkey's
Nest to Botanico, most of NY's best dives are included and
discussed in hilarious (and accurate) detail.
Wendy is 28 years old and moved from North Carolina to New
York City 7 years ago. By day, she is the managing editor
of indiewire.com, but by night she is New York's finest dive
critic. She currently lives in Prospect Heights.
Are you hungover now?
Sadly, no, but I hope to be tomorrow.
2. What do you look for in a good dive bar?
A few things. Number one is the clientele: if its
all hipsters, that doesnt count. You need a few blue-collar
types and at least one old man drinking in there. Second
criteria would be cheap drinks. A $7 bottle of beer does
not equal a dive bar. As for my own personal preferences,
I need a good jukebox, a seat at the bar, an affable bartender,
and not-too-bright lighting.
3. So, what is your favorite dive bar in New York? Which
borough has the best dives?
My favorite all-time dive bar in New York would have to
be Siberia. Ive been going there for about five or
six years, since the original locale was in the subway station.
I have great friends that I made in that bar over the years.
The newer version near Port Authority isnt quite the
same for me, but still its a one-of-a-kind experience.
Great bartenders, a cool crowd, and the owner, Tracy Westmoreland,
knows how to treat his regulars right.
As for the boroughs, Manhattan, particularly the East Village,
has the best dive bars in terms of numbers. But since Im
a Brooklyn gal, I have to say that Brooklyn dives are a
bit more real than some of the Manhattan dives.
In Crooklyn, I love Freddys, Franks, Sweetwater,
Turkeys Nest, OConnors, and of course
the diviest in Brooklyn, Monteros on Atlantic Avenue.
Ive had some surreal nights in that joint.
4. Who has the best dive jukebox?
I used to be a music writer, so Im going to go with
a jukebox that pleases the music snob in me. Its gotta
be the Phoenix, the gay bar in the East Village. Lots of
indie rock staples, and some surprises. Its worth
sacrificing the opportunity to flirt with straight men to
hear those tunes.
5. Is there one essential record for a dive jukebox?
That is the toughest question of the bunch. It all depends
on the mood sometimes a little Dolly or Willie, sometimes
Stones, sometimes Wilco. No matter what the place, I think
some white trash rock does the trick, some AC/DC, Def Leppard,
Journey, Guns N Roses, something like that can unite a crowd.
6. Dive bars often attract colorful characters. Did
you meet anyone interesting when doing your research?
Where to start with this one? Aside from the requisite drunks
and drug dealers, there was the guy who admitted to murdering
a business associate in the 50s (hed never been
caught), a guy who tried to pick me up by telling me about
his ex-girlfriend who was paralyzed when she was hit by
a car leaving a bar, a man with tattooed testicles (he showed
the whole bar, not just me), a man who offered a bartender
$1000 to throw my lovely drinking companion out of the bar
(and then got thrown out himself when he vomited on my feet),
and some dude who claimed to have been knighted but who
also may have spent some time in prison.
Your book is published by IG Publishing. Who are they and
how did you get involved with them?
Ig is a new small press started by Elizabeth Clementson
and Robert Lasner, who are friends of mine. I met Elizabeth
several years ago through a mutual friend, and we became
dive bar buddies after that. Robert is her husband (they
met at a dive bar on a one-night stand, by the way) and
they are both huge book lovers who decided to start their
own press. They do guidebooks like mine but also some great
fiction and reprints. You can see all their projects at
8. Are there any bars you avoided reviewing to keep
their existence on the down low?
I thought it was probably a bad idea to include Cokies.
And there were a few bars that I could have included because
they are open as after-hours spots, but I didnt want
them to get in trouble. Not to mention the fact that if
they got shut down, I have nowhere to go after 4 a.m.!
9. What do you order when going to a dive bar?
Im mostly a draft beer girl. Except when Ive
been drinking too much beer and I feel like switching to
10. What is the origin of the term "dive."
Im sad to say I have no idea. I did my research on
a barstool, not in a library!
11. Was there any place you wanted to review, but were
too afraid to enter?
No way, Im brave. Although there are a few spots that
I wouldnt go back to alone.
12. Ever gotten laid after meeting someone at a dive?
Lets just say that I have been known to look for love
in all the wrong places.
13. Your book is pretty comprehensive, but The Greenpoint
Tavern is not included. Have you been there?
No, I havent. Ill make a note for the next edition!
The only places I went to in Greenpoint were bars I didnt
really think earned a place as New Yorks best
dives...they were places where nobody spoke English except
the elderly gentleman playing a Casio keyboard in the corner.
(note - The Greenpoint Tavern is in Williamsburg whose Northside
used to be considered a part of Greenpoint)
14. When doing your research, did you get fucked up
or did you try to keep your wits about you?
Lets just say I tried to get the full dive bar experience.
I wanted this book to be about drinking stories and colorful
characters, not a scientific study of bars. I did take notes
on my visits, though. Only problem is that by the end of
a bar crawl night, my notes werent so helpful. For
one bar, after a late visit, all I had written down was
hot men and pitchers of beer.
15. Is a good pint of Budweiser an oxymoron?
Hell no! Bud is not the worlds most upscale beer,
it still can taste damn good. Just gotta keep those taps
16. Do you have any upcoming projects?
Ill be revising the dive bar book for a second edition,
so if anyone out there has suggestions for bars for us to
add, email me at [email protected].
17. Where can people buy your book?
St. Marks Bookshop, Penn Books, Shakespeare &
Co., Book Court, Novel Ideas, igpub.com, Amazon.com and
B&N.com. It will be in Barnes & Noble stores in
a few weeks.
18. What movie had more damage on bar culture, Cocktail
or Coyote Ugly?
I refuse to see Coyote Ugly because its
too ridiculous. Id say that one is worse cause
Cocktail is such a joke, its way too cheesy
to be considered realistic. But some poor souls probably
come to Coyote Ugly the bar expecting something like the
movie. For realistic dive bar movies, my moneys on
Barfly or Trees Lounge.