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Drinking 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.

1. 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 it’s all hipsters, that doesn’t 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. I’ve 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 isn’t quite the same for me, but still it’s 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 I’m 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 Freddy’s, Frank’s, Sweetwater, Turkey’s Nest, O’Connor’s, and of course the diviest in Brooklyn, Montero’s on Atlantic Avenue. I’ve had some surreal nights in that joint.

4. Who has the best dive jukebox?
I used to be a music writer, so I’m going to go with a jukebox that pleases the music snob in me. It’s gotta be the Phoenix, the gay bar in the East Village. Lots of indie rock staples, and some surprises. It’s 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 (he’d 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.

7. 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 igpub.com.

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 Cokie’s. And there were a few bars that I could have included because they are open as after-hours spots, but I didn’t 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?
I’m mostly a draft beer girl. Except when I’ve been drinking too much beer and I feel like switching to vodka.

10. What is the origin of the term "dive."
I’m 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, I’m brave. Although there are a few spots that I wouldn’t go back to alone.

12. Ever gotten laid after meeting someone at a dive?
Let’s 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 haven’t. I’ll make a note for the next edition! The only places I went to in Greenpoint were bars I didn’t really think earned a place as New York’s “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?
Let’s 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 weren’t 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 world’s most upscale beer, it still can taste damn good. Just gotta keep those taps clean.

16. Do you have any upcoming projects?
I’ll 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. Mark’s 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 it’s too ridiculous. I’d say that one is worse ‘cause “Cocktail” is such a joke, it’s 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 money’s on “Barfly” or “Trees Lounge.”


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[email protected] | February 2003 | Issue 35
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