Right now on Etsy, you can buy a $320 Bad Brains-themed denim jacket, complete with hand-painted “Pay to Cum” lyrics above the left chest pocket, the band’s signature lightning bolt running the length of the right sleeve, and a frayed Bad Brains patch stitched on the back. If you’re the kind of person who’d click “Add to Cart,” then you’re probably the kind of person who’d wear it to the soft opening of Washington, DC’s new DIVE bar.
And honestly, you should. Not because Bad Brains played a gig in that same space, back when it was a wood-paneled, weed-scented bar called the Childe Harold, but because DIVE is exactly the kind of place where you could wear a $320 “punk rock jacket” and still pretend that words like “punk rock” and “dive bar” still mean what they did a couple of decades ago.
The late Childe Harold may not have even been a dive bar—it had fucking crabcakes on its menu—but it holds its own unassailable place in DC music history, and the list of bands who played there was long enough to be included as an index in a longtime local DJ’s autobiography. In May 1973, a scrawny bearded Bruce Springsteen made his DC debut there, doing three straight nights for $750. His signed contract hung on the wall behind the Childe Harold’s bar until it closed in 2007.
When DIVE opens, Springsteen’s framed signature will be hanging on what may be the same wall, but oh boy, the atmosphere couldn’t possibly be more different. For starters, there are guitars hanging on the walls that the patrons are encouraged to take down and play.
And Eater reports that “upon arrival, customers are handed branded guitar picks and a ukulele to create mini bands at their tables,” because if there’s anything that’ll make one of DIVE’s $28 entrees taste better, it’s listening to a stranger haltingly wank his way through “Wagon Wheel.”
“We will have at least nine guitars that customers can choose from that include the ones mounted on the bathroom doors and the walls around the bar,” Russell Hirshon, a partner in DIVE, told MUNCHIES. “They range from acoustic electric to hollow body to solid body guitars. One was my son’s guitar that he learned to play on, while another is a very special Rickenbacker electric.”
The bar’s menu also includes a $1,420 Gretsch Electromatic guitar that comes with a bottle of Tito’s vodka, Patron tequila, or Knob Creek bourbon—your choice. And regardless of that decidedly un-divey pricetag, Hirshon will probably sell a lot of those guitars, presumably to thirtysomething bros who still remember the weekend they had to miss sailing camp because they put RHCP bumper stickers on their mom’s Volvo.
Although it’s using the tagline “Music History Plays Here,” DIVE seems to be catering to the same demographic who have turned music history into a commodity. It brings to mind people who learned about CBGB by shopping at John Varvatos; people who have never heard Darkness on the Edge of Town, but saw Springsteen on Broadway anyway; maybe even people who say, “Thanks buddy, rock and roll!” when a valet gives them their keys back.
Look, we’re not saying that Hirshon isn’t sincere in his approach, or that he’s not trying to pay homage to the bar’s history—because he is. Really. It’s not his fault that times have changed, or that it seems like the people in the cheaper seats clapping their hands are being increasingly drowned out by everyone else rattling their jewelry.
An ask: Just… just don’t call this place with its soft openings, its book signings, its “here’s a ukulele for the table,” and its photos on-loan from-the-Govinda-Gallery a true dive. It’s not exactly dishonest—nobody who’s ever had to leave a bar and go straight to a laundromat is getting confused by the branding—but people who can afford a Gretsch with dinner don’t need to co-opt the dirty old dives for the cheap-whiskey lushes among us, too. You’re not “part of music history” because you’re staring at a picture of Springsteen while you wait for a $32 steak.
But man, I’d pay good money to hear someone sing “Pay to Cum” at the first open mic night.