R.I.P: The Dive Bar

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The Mission Dive Bar, an institution as important to the city of San Francisco as the bridge and the Niners, has passed away. It died sometime this summer and was likely over 300-years-old. The Mission Dive consumed too many Anchor Steams. Details, accordingly, get hazy.

City officials have yet to determine an official cause of death, but an investigation is ongoing. Current leads include Internet buzzwords like “gentrification,” “rent” and “Mark-Zuckerberg-hangs-out-at-The-Phone-Booth?!?”

“I don’t know what the solution is. Cherish your dives, obviously,” Esquire’s great cocktail historian David Wondrich once said, discussing The Mission Dive Bar’s cousins nationwide. “Go there, spend money, make sure they stay in business. But leases run out and landlords run to the greedy and heedless of history.”

Born out of necessity for a community space and a love of alcohol, The Mission Dive became representative of its fellow dive bars across the country. It was a vital and active member of its community, introducing the world to great ideas (the iPhone), hosting the early days of many local artists (Ty Segall to Carlos Santana), and serving as a communal living room for civic engagement (harboring support for everything from Harvey Milk to the 2012 Giants).

As a long time resident of a great US drinking city, it simultaneously straddled roles for San Franciscans new and old. The Mission Dive introduced many to their first late night Mission Dogs or El Farolito burritos; it hosted going-away parties for long time neighborhood fixtures. Young folks returning home had a familiar face to visit, and life-long visitors had a home away from home.

The Mission Dive Bar is survived by, frankly, very little. A few pricier cocktail bars—some appropriately lauded, others just the latest home of $11 whiskey neats—showed up to lay claim to the most valuable inheritance in a 7×7 city: land and liquor licenses. To make matters worse, at least five children of The Mission Dive Bar also passed in the last two years—all within just one BART stop, four on the very same street.

The local tragedies for The Mission Dive Bar family began in the summer of 2012, as humble 24th Street institution El Mexicano was sold and eventually turned into a “comfort food” place, as if cheap Modelo and tacos were not reassuring enough. Nearby institutions such as Jack’s Club (once home of sax-accompanied karaoke and Busch-pitchers), Pop’s ($5 Bloody Marys, Ham’s on tap, one St. Patrick’s Day chasing shots with Lucky Charms), and The Attic (the darkest and weirdest from a family of dark and weird bars) soon followed.

The most tragic might be this year’s loss of Este Noche, a 33-year-old staple of the city’s LGBT nightlife, particularly for Latino members of the LGBT community. It wasn’t the only bar to gain notoriety beyond city limits—appearing on HBO’s Looking in this case—but it was likely the lone spot for Selena drag tributes. Reports from this month are mixed on whether the Elbo Room, the family member boasting the neighborhood’s longest happy hour, will hold on. The family asks for prayers as The Elbo Room undergoes alternative treatments, in this instance the application process for “historic resource” status.

Signs of decline for The Mission Dive Bar had been building for years. Similar cases of fatal closures started popping up nationwide as the cocktail and craft beer renaissances meant property (especially with license) became valuable for copycat wannabes hoping to cash in with a sterile version of genuinely enjoyable trends. Across the country in Asheville, NC for instance—10 years after the famed Vincent’s shuttered—the town’s oldest bar (Burger Bar) and oldest gay bar (O. Henry’s) each changed hands this calendar year. If tragedies as awful as historic hurricanes can’t even put a good dive bar down (Kajun’s in New Orleans will celebrate 10 years of straight service at the end of the year as it stayed opened despite the storm), this rash of recent closings may be an epidemic never before seen.

There will be no services for The Mission Dive Bar, as like the rest of its kind, it left far too soon and too unexpectedly for final toasts to be arranged. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made on tabs across the country, at the local dimly lit, open-to-all pub that still has a domestic on tap and 70s punk alongside vintage R&B on the jukebox. Or, as Wondrich suggested just one year ago when New York brethren like Bill’s Gay 90s or Timboo’s left us, it can be a two-pronged approach in memoriam:

“That leaves plan B: Turn these shiny new bars into proper old ones. I’m not suggesting you go in and break things. But when you’re at one of them, live in it.”