In an article about how yuppies are killing America's dive bars
, writer Alexander Nazaryan name-checked one of Detroit's best and oldest dives, the Two-Way Inn. It's a good piece, with a not-too-subtle subtext about how the same class divisions ripping America apart are spelling doom for the quirky little dive bar. Here's a passage worth noting:
The death of the dive suggests that we don’t drink together anymore, as a single nation yearning for a quick post-work respite or Saturday-afternoon escape. The rich can pay several hundred dollars for a single coveted shot of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve; the poor, meanwhile, drink Cobra out of paper bags and Miller Lite in busted lawn chairs. The dive bar used to be for those in the middle, those who had a little money and a little time, not to mention a little curiosity about the human race: the mid-level bank manager, the cop, the teacher, the hopeful writer, the waitress. They dove together into the sloppy democracy of cheap beer.
We seem to remember the journalist and writer Alexander Cockburn commenting on this phenomenon as it was building steam years ago, remarking that the well-to-do were just beginning to notice the decrepit little taverns on the outskirts of their gentrifying neighborhoods and lament, "What a quirky little bar! What a shame it's wasted on the working class." As the years have rolled by, the yuppies have indeed waged a sort of class war against the places where the have-nots and have-somes have congregated, if not through rising real estate prices then through nanny-state laws against smoking.
Luckily, metro Detroit remains a place where bars in some of the shadier neighborhoods will buzz you in and reveal a place very much like the 20th century. They are places where "the lower orders" meet and discuss life and politics instead of who serves the best poutine or the intricacies of "seacuterie." They're funky, musty old places where heads whirl around at strangers, and many of the finer points of a dive will make yuppies shit blood. (Some of these joints even have the audacity to put out an ashtray from time to time, usually around 9 or 10 p.m.)
Yeah, it can be gross, but it's not for everybody, right? It's for the people who live the life you'd probably rather not, and why should they be deprived of it? Heck, why not celebrate that Detroit may be a contender for capital of the American dive bar? What's so great about a low-down joint with a lot of poor people drinking? Few people wrote about that life better than Joe Baegant. In a political piece disguised as an ode to the dive bar
, Baegan once wrote:
… [I]n this place you can feel America's people. Just like Roy felt them. It's not an inspiring America. It's not even a passable America. But it's an America where, contrary to the national lie, people do manage to accept one another. Poorly educated, beaten-down working folks, essentially Christian people, accept the queer, the biker, the Mexican and the Iranian swish, laughing and joking and singing until that last sad hour when their ten or twenty bucks is spent. Then they go back to lives that cannot ever achieve what middle class people would call modest success. But they know as truth what I can only allege in brittle, lifeless text. They know that all of us are in this together. They understand because in life they are exposed to the truth about what our country has become, and perhaps always was. There is no escape for them into insulated suburbs or high rise apartments or condos. They must live it every day of their lives to survive at all.