The latest dive bars combine high-concept mixology with lowbrow appeal.

A new wave of polished dive bars is emerging across the United States, fusing the high-concept aesthetic of mixology with the lowbrow ingredients and lack of pretension typically associated with dive bars.

Genuine Liquorette in New York’s Little Italy exemplifies the new dive aesthetic with its “cha-chunkers”—cans of beer or soda that are perforated with larger holes to accommodate upturned bottles of booze. The opposite of an enigmatic cocktail infused with esoteric ingredients, the creations feature loud logos and playful visual juxtaposition of brands.

Stormy Weather_photo credit Lizzie Starr
Stormy Weather by Genuine Liquorette. Photography by Lizzie Starr
Bloody Mary by Genuine Liquorette. Photography by Brian Dunn

In Boston, the official cocktail at State Park is a high-low blend of Miller High Life, Rittenhouse rye whiskey, Amaro Braulio and a lemon twist. “No refunds,” the menu cheekily warns. The 70s-inspired joint Good Times at Davey Wayne’s in Los Angeles serves “adult” snowcones, among other lowbrow delights.

“Humor has always played a part in bar culture,” Genuine Liquorette owner Eben Freeman told Punch magazine. “The bartender has always been a bit of a wise-ass, and we just lost our way for a bit while we focused on our craft. Now, we’re back and ready to play.”

The trend also marks a return to irony. While the hipsters of the 2000s enjoyed vintage dive bars, with their Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and faux-wood paneling, this sort of affected posture lost its appeal as the figure of the “hipster” became everyone’s favorite cultural punching bag. Today, drinkers are again ready to embrace lowbrow brands, this time with an additional ironic wink towards irony itself.

In some cases, the new ironic appeal comes from a considered-yet-humorous approach to visual presentation. At 151 on New York’s Lower East Side, which calls its new menu “trailer tiki,” drinkers can order the inebriation-equality tray, a “tray of rainbow-colored shooter tubez.” The Flower, available at the comedy club The Standing Room in Long Island City, Queens, is a gin and cranberry juice concoction served in a lightbulb resting on a bed of crushed ice.

As millennials age, they are keeping the tastes of their youth, but are now looking for higher quality ingredients and better visual presentation. For more, purchase a copy of our Food + Drink report.

Main image: Mojito by Genuine Liquorette. Photography by Brian Dunn