Taking A Dive
Sydney’s bar scene has improved immensely over the last few years. The licensing changes mean that there are classy wine bars, gastro-pubs and boutique beerhouses popping up all over the place. This is all great, but there’s a noticeable gap in the market.
I went to the refurbished Abercrombie Hotel last week which led me to reminisce about Purple Sneakers and Britpop nights back in the old Abercrombie before it was gentrified. For anyone who was born in the mid-to-late 80s, as soon as you hit 18 the Abercrombie was an institution, and the only place I’ve ever considered worth queuing for. Back in Sydney’s pre-small bar days, you had three choices when you wanted to go out:
- The huge Darling Harbour/Kings Cross clubs where you’d pay an entry fee, buy some overpriced drinks, listen to dance music and deal with the sleazy guys hitting on you and your friends.
- Your local pub where the drinks were cheaper, the music was soul-destroyingly bad, and the table next to you would be a bunch of construction workers who’d been kicking on since 3pm.
- The Abercrombie where they played an awesome mix of old school classics and modern indie hits, the douchebags were fewer in number, and you could still get a cheap drink. The Abercrombie may have had sticky floors, broken toilet seats and graffiti everywhere, but we had our priorities straight in those days.
On a recent trip to the US, I realised that they have a name for places like the old Abercrombie. Dive bars. Special mentions go to Zeitgeist in San Francisco with a beer garden that felt slightly like drinking in a school playground, and Welcome to the Johnson’s in New York which had $2 Pabst Blue Ribbons. Yes, seriously, $2.
So why don’t we have dive bars here? Sydney’s an expensive city and alcohol is ridiculously pricey. I won’t lie – I will happily sacrifice a modicum of class for a favourably priced drink, but I also won’t step foot inside an RSL club if I can help it.
While some Sydney venues come close to what I would call a dive bar (The Abercrombie’s little sister the Clare Hotel came to mind), I haven’t yet found a replacement to plug that little hole in my heart that the old Abercrombie used to occupy. The new Abercrombie’s got relatively cheap drinks, but it’s also got clean toilets and no seedy late-night dance floor. Chingalings on Oxford Street has got the bathroom graffiti but it’s in a more deliberately stylish kind of way, and the beers are still pretty costly. The Flinders Hotel has got all the old Purple Sneakers crowd who are a bit more grown up these days, but they’re also a bit more pretentious as well now they’re earning a decent salary.
I reckon it’s not just me wanting dive bars in Sydney. Leave a comment below if you agree or if you think you know of a good dive bar that I might have missed. On a side note, Pabst Blue Ribbon, please start exporting to Australia. Thanks.