Dive Bars and Neighborhood Establishments

Royal Tavern Philadelphia

I have dabbled in abstract painting. I have even done some realism. Neither style has captured my enthusiasm. I want my paintings to tell a story. Maybe not my story, some some story. I have not seen much abstraction that brings the viewer into a story. 

By the same token, if I want realism, I will take a photograph. I do not necessarily want to depict what is, but what may be, or what may have been.  I suppose that is why one subject I find myself returning to is the tavern.  You do not have to know the real story behind the painting, but I hope that the painting forces you to create your own back story. There is no right or wrong story.

I love to paint bars. Many of my paintings are of famous bars. Most are not, except for the regulars. I don’t spend too much time paintings tourist traps. Of course, in areas that cater to tourism, the tourist traps are a necessary evil. Some have their charm. Others push the bounds of mediocrity. But usually, off the beaten path, you will find a real gem.

My favorite establishments are the venues where the locals hang out when the tourists leave. I also refuse to include chains. If you want to go to a Chili’s, I am sure there is one near your town. They are all the same; you don’t need me to explain them to you.

Dave and Buster’s is a real fun time if that is what you are into. Sorry, you couldn’t drag me into one unless you were buying me drinks all night. Sure, the local Appleby’s has a bar, and there are probably losers that hang out at places like that.

But I am drawn to dive bars and neighborhood taverns. Havens for the local residents, where the bartender knows your favorite drink, where room is made at the bar if the night is crowded.

I like to seek out the dark alleys, the less reputable establishments. Of course, some towns don’t have the less reputable establishments, but even those bars do have their charm. Cape May, NJis a strange town. In the summer months, it is this upright, Victorian community. But when the “shoobies” leave, the Cape Maniacs that call Cape May home the year ‘round come out.

Yes, even Cape May has a dark side. First, I suppose I have to include a word or two about “shoobies” for those non-New Jerseyites. I love the Jersey Shore – not the insipid television program that casts New Jersey in a negative light with their Guido wannabes that are not even from this state, but the real New Jersey seashore.  In New Jersey, people go “down the shore”, not “to the beach”.

The actors of this wretched program should have stayed in Long Island; NJ has enough weird characters without importing idiots. It is these people, however, that were the impetus behind the term “shoobie”. Real shoobies, as those from the southern New Jersey area understand, are from Philadelphia. It all began aster the Civil War when visionaries saw Absecon Island as a destination. Railroads were built, and by the 1870’s a mosquito and greenhead-infested city became a vacation spot for people in Philadelphia seeking an inexpensive day trip.

I don’t have to explain mosquitoes; they are a bane to humanity the world over. But a word about greenheads is in order to anyone that is not familiar with South Jersey shores. Greenheads are a pernicious pest of the most nefarious sort. They breed in the brackish water of the plenteous salt marshes. I know people that will complain about the horseflies of their locale – South Jersyans laugh in their face!  Greenheads make their horseflies look like circus fleas! Greenheads are carnivorous little bastards that attack en-masse during the daylight hours, mostly on the hot summer months. They attack anything that moves, I swear my truck has dents from swarms flying in at high speeds during trips to the Delaware Bay. But I digress…

As the fares for a day trip “down the shore” became affordable for the middle class factory worker, Atlantic City became a destination. Couple that with a total lack of enforcement of such laws against drinking (during Prohibition), prostitution, gambling and other vices that everyone is against unless nobody is watching, and you have a recipe for success. The cable TV series Boardwalk Empire is a fairly accurate depiction of the Jersey Shore during that era.

You now had families that had never been outside of their neighborhood in Philadelphia able to afford a“real vacation”. To save money, the less affluent would take the earliest train to the shore and pack lunches in shoeboxes. They would stay the day, and would take the latest train back home. The “shoe-boxers” became “shoobies” – a term of denigration, not endearment. It has stuck to this day, and is now applied to anyone without New Jersey tags on their vehicles.

In Arizona, we call them snowbirds. They flock to our neck of the woods – er, desert, every winter when the snows in Minnesota and Michigan and Iowa become too much for them to bear.  Of course, our season is much longer than the Jersey Shore season.

Minnesota license plates and RVs mark the beginning their mass migration early in October.  They stay until April or May. The Canadians stay only six months, something to do with their national health care.  Minnesotans are more like New Jersey’s greenheads. They overstay their welcome by many months. Our only hope is an early summer heatwave to drive them away.

We only have a couple bars that could be called tourist traps in the area around the Superstition Mountains. Goldfield Ghost Town has a great little saloon. And Tortilla Flats has another. The rest of our establishments are local pubs. Some are real dives, some less so. But having few tourist traps, we have to endure crowded bars of retirees that drink all night and leave one dollar tips.

I will post more paintings of our local bars, as well as some better known bars from around the nation. Until then I am geared up to weather out the next eight weeks before the birds fly home.

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