Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Message In A Bottle

There's something so magical about the dive bars of my misspent youth. Serve me 50 in a bottle, throw some microbrews on tap, stuff a bearded hipster behind the bar and wrap the whole damned place in christmas lights, and we've cracked the code for the Dive Bar©. I'm a person who used to be super-obsessed with high-end fanciness in the food arena - hello, Canoe, I've missed you so - but the special disgustingness of a crappy bar is delectable in its own right.

The Toronto lowbrow bar scene is a veritable wonderland of trashy palaces. From Sneak's to the Green Room, from the Bistro to Tortilla Flats, from the Communist's Daughter in the west over to the east-side Blue Moon, the "decor" is standardized and the drinks are cheap. In the hipper places, you might get some heat lamps on the patio and some overstuffed couches to lounge on. In the real crapboxes, the seats are vinyl and the overhead lighting is flourescent. This are places where the business is drinking, and business is always good.

I love these places, because drinking is inherently a messy thing. Oh, don't let wine snobs and expensive bottles of tequila fool you - alcohol is a poison, just like we all learned in health class. Despite what folks claim about a glass of red wine being good for the heart, booze isn't all that great for your body...although, in the right quantities, it can be good for the soul.

Oh, I know. Not too much. Too much of anything is a bad thing (like how eating too many carrots will turn a gal orange, reason enough to avoid the damned things altogether). I'm struggling right now to define what "too much" alcohol means to me, and dive bars and my affinity towards the seedier side of boozing it up has definitely been both a joy to explore and a burden on the brain. As Mae West said, too much of a good thing might be wonderful, but that wonder doesn't extend to the moment when I can't lie on the floor without holding on.

Much like Oscar Wilde, I myself can abstain from everything except abstinence, which I think is the trick when it comes to both dive bars and alcohol in general. Trying to strike a balance, and then paradoxically trying to make the effort seem effortless, is one of the toughest things I'm working on right now.

Dive bars cut out the justifications, the faux-highbrow snootiness about "notes" and "character" in wine, the city snobs who deign to drink Canadian, and the bullshit. I also strive to eliminate as much bullshit as possible, and that includes lying to myself about what dives bars mean to me. I love them, because that's where they keep the booze, and I hate them for the same reason. It's tough to gunsling your way into a hole in the wall and then ask for a mint tea; the places are designed to feed people alcohol. Tough, but not impossible. I have a feeling that my money is just as capable of buying Diet Coke as it is of buying lager; I only have to put myself to the test to find out.

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