Places

The Bars That Speak Volumes

June 05, 2020

Story: Leslie Pariseau

Art: Anthony J. Rayburn

What neighborhood joints can teach us about the fabric of their communities.

Having lived in a handful of tourist destinations over the past 15 years—including Paris, Miami Beach, New York and New Orleans—I’ve come to understand that one often keeps different recommendation lists: One for tourists and one for locals. I’ve kept these lists myself, tailoring them to individual requests, shielding certain establishments from sightseers and amplifying those already decorated. Eventually, I began to rebel against the notion of a list divided. Why not let the user decide?

A gap nearly always exists in the perceived value of places coronated “institutions” and neighborhood joints tucked deep within the fabric of their community. Part of this is about access: Visitors simply don’t have the same intimacy of knowledge. But another, bigger part of this equation is about the effort made on the part of visitors to arrive at discovery. While it will likely be many months before travel resumes, in this moment it’s the businesses that serve locals that stand to benefit the most from our attention, dollars and support. 

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I write an occasional column on PUNCH dedicated to these establishments called “Dive”a term whose origins are entangled at the intersection of race and socioeconomics, but here is used as a way to denote locality. Over the past couple of years, we’ve covered a working-class bar in Queens, a speakeasy jazz club in Harlem, a blues bar in Detroit, a pre-Civil War-era corner bar in New Orleans, a 118-year-old Italian-American stalwart in Brooklyn and more. These places are deeply entrenched in their specific neighborhoods, and they’re the ones that, when the world starts back up again, I hope will stick around.When I’m able, I’m excited to resume the search for these places vital to their surrounding communities, and I hope that I’ll be trusted to be the beneficiary of a list undivided. I’d also love to hear from you in this search if you have a personal favorite that deserves a nod.

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Tagged: bars, dive