Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dive bars and journalists: Perfect together

If there's one area a journalist can truly claim the right of expertise, it's dive bars.

We know every place near work that stays open past deadline, keeps the kitchen open late, has good beer on tap that won't break the bank, and employs the bartenders we love to cajole.

We also lament our fave dive bars that have moved on (*sigh*, McEvoy's in Pottstown is no more).

Brian McManus, a music editor and contributing food writer at Philadelphia Weekly, has made himself privy to this sort of "insider information," with his radius spanning the city of Philadelphia. He recently published "Philadelphia's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the City of Brotherly Love (Ig Publishing, $12.95, 168 pp., March 2011)

McManus told Joe Sixpack of the Inquirer recently that "Really nice places make me feel uncomfortable."

McManus, 37, who relocated to Philly from Houston six years ago, presumably got to know the city through its multitude of no-frills bars. Included in the book are the likes of Philadelphia's Oscar's Tavern, Bob & Barbara's, McGlinchey's, and Dirty Frank's; Billies Boomer Lounge, West Philly; Cresson Inn, Manayunk; and Fireside Tavern, South Philly.

In his paperback guide Philadelphia's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the City of Brotherly Love, he says you know a dive when you see it.

He told the A.V. Club, Philadelphia, in a recent interview:

"What makes a dive a dive is really an individual call, but I do think there are certain criteria that most of them meet, be it the smell of stale air, a few hardscrabble regulars, nicotine-caked ceilings, ripped and worn leather barstools, or the vague sense that someone might do you bodily harm.

"There’s a rating system I use in the book — one bottle of beer: one toothless man at the bar. Two bottles: one toothless old man under the bar. Three: one toothless old man behind the bar. Four: Leave your valuables at home. And five bottles of beer means, “Drink and be merry, for tonight you shall die.”

And, always, "something odd, out of place or downright illegal, be it a dog sitting on a bar stool, a baby on the bar, an old man playing tonsil hockey with a tranny in a booth, or a drunk sobbing loudly to no one but himself. In short, the type of s--- that would get you kicked outta someplace proper."

McManus, pictured at left in a Philadelphia Weekly photo, has written for Houston Press, San Francisco Weekly, Chicago Reader, Cleveland Scene, and Spin magazine.


The book is available online at, and Barnes & Noble, as well as at any of McManus' book signings.


Learn more about McManus and his book at a free July 20 appearance/booksigning at the Free Library of Philadelphia's Central Library. Beginning at 7:30 p.m. McManus will talk about his book, along with Sara Stolfa, author of "The Regulars,"a collection of portraits of her regulars when she bartended at McGlinchey's bar. Stolfa is now executive director of the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center. No tickets required. For Info: 215-567-4341.

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