Dive Bars

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Evolution of "Community"

While the textbook definition of community is a "unified body of individuals," the term can have "different meanings across [different] groups." Community can be a family or group of friends, or it can be a "social infrastructure" like a school, a park, or any other communal organization. America also has geographic communities categorized as urban, suburban, and rural. What has changed over the last 20 years is the composition of these various communities and their platform, as well as how they interact.

The Changing Definition and Appearance of Community

  • It is interesting to note that in an ecological sense, the scientific definition of community has changed over the last 20 years from generally meaning "all of the organisms in a prescribed area" to including various nuances in "space, time, taxa, and trophic characteristics." The social definition of community has evolved in a similar fashion with 54% of Americans saying that the country has become "a better place to live" due to the increasing diversity of "different races, ethnic groups, and nationalities."
  • American communities have become much more diverse, but they have also become increasingly polarized over the last two decades.
  • The relative value of traditional community pillars like religion has also evolved in the US. Communities that identify as conservative "are 42 percentage points more likely" to consider religion important than those that identify as liberal.
  • The most significant change over the last two decades that has contributed to a shift in how communities are built was the introduction of social media. Where most communities twenty years ago developed around brick-and-mortar institutions like schools, churches, and the workplace, today's communities are largely formed online.
  • People share photos, updates, and opinions on social media. They use these networks as sources of support and to maintain intimate relationships with followers and friends.

Social Media's Impact on the Meaning of Community

  • The social media boom of the last 20 years has allowed people to "share personal information with a broader community of people by posting photos, videos and blogs." A downside to this is that people "present themselves differently" than they would during real-life interaction, which leads to a lower sense of personal authenticity and a decrease in overall self-esteem.
  • Six Degrees and Friendster were the first two social media networks launching in 2001 and 2002 respectively. MySpace was arguably the most popular social media community when it debuted in 2003 until Facebook rose to dominance in 2009. Twitter entered the mix in 2006, and Instagram followed suit in 2010.
  • To illustrate just how powerfully social media has changed the way community looks over the past 20 years, only 5% of American adults used some form of social networking in 2005. That number rose to 53% by 2012 and 72% by 2019.
  • While social networking communities have grown larger, the number of real-life relationships in America has shrunk. As of 2019, "the average person in the US has only one close friend."

Declining In-Person Interactions

  • Cigna conducted a 2018 survey revealing that 46% of Americans feel isolated and alone. This survey also found that people who have "frequent meaningful in-person interactions" are less likely to suffer from feelings of loneliness than people who "rarely interact with others face-to-face."
  • Americans have mixed feelings about the pros and cons of digital versus in-person interaction: 53% of adults see it as a positive way to "keep in touch with like-minded people," while 39% think it "isolat[es] people from their neighbors and local businesses" thus "weakening the sense of community."
  • Despite the decline in real-life interaction, people are still "84% more likely to trust a referral or recommendation when it comes from a friend."

Face-to-Face Interaction and Generational Divides

  • Baby Boomers prefer communicating in-person or via telephone despite being computer and email literate.
  • Interestingly, Gen Xers have had the strongest change of heart regarding the impact of America's digital communication surge. In 2014, 80% of Gen X believed that the internet had a positive impact on society. Just four years later, that number dropped to 69%.
  • Millennials appear to have the strongest aversion to in-person interaction compared with other generations. 55% of millennials prefer messaging apps and 28% prefer email over face-to-face communication. They are also not particularly enthusiastic about answering phone calls.
  • Surveys have shown that real-life interaction is making a comeback with Gen Z. This generation is not as "social media obsessed" as millennials. They are 23% more likely to shop in-store than online, 77% prefer printed reading materials over digital books, and 59% distrust Facebook with 34% of them abandoning the platform entirely.

Research Strategy

We began by searching trusted media sources to examine what community looks like today in the US compared to how it looked twenty years ago. We then expanded our search to include industry journals and academic databases to evaluate how the definition of community has changed over the last two decades, as well as how this has impacted the way communities develop and interact. To determine how in-person interactions have evolved, we looked for surveys and data collection from sources like Pew Research. We synthesized the information we found into our findings.
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Local Bars and Community

The neighborhood bar is an integral part of the American landscape. For a number of years, they have served as the unofficial center of the community, playing host to any number of family events. With the advent of technology, the nature of communities changed. People became more insular. Churches and other facilities moved out of communities, but the bars staged a resistance. Now rising rents and high overheads threaten the survival of this American institution.

Historic Neighborhood Bars

  • For ten years through the 80s and early 90s, American's favorite bar appeared weekly in living rooms around the globe. The ultimate neighborhood bar, "where everybody knows your name." Social interaction, friends, laughter, community — "Cheers" was the neighborhood bar that everyone wanted to drink in.
  • Undoubtedly this was a romanticized view — or was it?
  • The neighborhood bar has a long and celebrated history on the American landscape, so often seen as the cornerstone of the community.
  • The author of America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops, Christine Sismondom, explained the historical origin, "This is where people organized, this is where people aired their grievances, this was where people spread political propaganda. You could get a tumbler of whiskey, and you could find out what your neighbors thought about the latest news — and what they planned to do about it."
  • The sense of community was strong, and the neighborhood bar was the unofficial center of the community, the church being the official center. Life events were celebrated, first at the official center, then later at the unofficial center as a community.
  • The popularity was such, many a neighborhood bar has been immortalized on either the silver or small screen.
  • Dive bars also contributed to this rich history. Their careworn buildings, a sign of the love and energy of the local community, played their part too, in the historic character of America.

Benefits of a Neighborhood Bars

  • Each day in the US, 28 people are killed as a result of drink-driving. Local bars negate the need to drive.
  • Healthy neighborhood bars can drive the local economy. Happy hour drinks can progress to dinner at the local restaurant. With strong ties to the community, bars are good contributors to local city and charitable events.
  • A popular local bar plays host to a stream of people moving around the neighborhood, looking in shops, stopping for food, interacting with each other.

Social Interaction and the Role of Bars

  • A recent study completed at Oxford University found that regularly attending the neighborhood bar is not only fun but good for one's health. Regulars at the neighborhood bar have more friends and are happier. They are also more satisfied with their lives.
  • Neighborhood bars are often the center of activity in a community. They are the default venue for new musicians, fundraisers, club meetings, and pool and darts leagues. Local bars are transforming into the cornerstone of many communities.
  • When explaining why bars are an essential part of a vibrant community, Michael Hickey, community development consultant said, "The vaunted 'third space' isn’t home, and isn't work — it's more like the living room of society at large. It's a place where you are neither family nor co-worker, and yet where the values, interests, gossip, complaints, and inspirations of these two other spheres intersect. It's a place at least one step removed from the structures of work and home, more random, and yet familiar enough to breed a sense of identity and connection. It's a place of both possibility and comfort, where the unexpected and the mundane transcend and mingle. And nine times out of ten, it’s a bar."

Communities in Decline

  • A sense of community is considered to be the feeling of belonging to a group, where the members matter to each other.
  • The arrival of technology marked the end of an era. Technology has had a huge impact on social interaction, personal relationships, and the sense of community. It has created gaps between the members of communities and families the world over.
  • It is somewhat ironic that as the sense of community declines throughout the Western world, bodies of research is finding just how strong the benefits of a community are.
  • A small neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, has been witness to the official center of the community leaving town. St Vincent de Paul Church, built in the 19th century, and host to a huge community for over a century, was left to developers when parish numbers dwindled and there was no money for repairs.
  • Every year between 6,000 and 10,000 churches die in neighborhoods across America. The biggest epidemic in the US at the current time is the Epidemic of Empty churches.
  • It is not just the churches moving out of communities. Similar trends are seen with malls, rotary clubs, and bowling leagues.

End of an Era — Neighborhood Bars Decline

  • Doyle's has sat in the heart of Jamaica Plains, Boston for the last 137 years, the epitome of a true American neighborhood bar. It closed for the last time a week ago. The headline in USA Today read, "An iconic Boston Irish pub closes after 137 years. Residents fear for the city's soul."
  • This is indicative of the trend all over the US. The neighborhood bar is dying. A 2016 Nielson study found one in six neighborhood bars shut their doors for the last time, between 2004 and 2014. The trend hasn't slowed. In 2015 six bars closed every day. 4
  • Dive bars experienced similar trends. Costs are up for everything — liquor, rent, insurance, health care, and wages, These are all factors in the exodus from the suburbs. This should have signaled an opportunity for the neighborhood bar. The reality is the opposite.

The Revival

  • Seattle has its solution — Bar Church. A Church and bar combined into one in a recent session. It's not a solution that is likely to gain huge popularity, but at least it creates options.
  • The social interactions in a community were once described as the lifeblood of the community. The social aspect neighborhood bars bring to a community, is a good reason to support them.
  • Local Bars were once the unofficial center of the community. There is no reason they can't be once again. Social interaction is at an all-time low. More people are lonely than at any other time in history. A revival of neighborhood bars could be exactly what is needed.

Research Strategy

Once we had developed a clear picture of the industry, we reviewed the aforementioned sources considering each of the factors identified in the research criteria. We were able to develop an understanding of the past, current, and future role of neighborhood bars. Some sources have been included that are older than two years. We have included these sources because they were relative to the historical aspect of the question. There was also limited current research related to this topic. These sources provided us with a good context and background.

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Bar Selection

An in depth search of research studies, surveys, news sites, establishment websites, and consumer reviews did not provide any recent (within the last 24 months) publicly available information on why patrons choose a local/dive bar rather than a "high brow" bar for an evening out. Qualitative data, as well as older quantitative data, was uncovered in the research, and some helpful findings related to the topic are provided below.

Generational Differences

  • Gen Z will be looking for sophisticated non-alcoholic options and will be searching out bars that provide those options.
  • Millennials may be driving the trend toward non-alcoholic bars, even as it is expected that Gen Z will consume alcohol at an even lower rate than millennials.
  • Millennials and Gen Z are both focused more on experiences, and that is contributing to a change in the types of entertainment being offered at bars. For many consumers, live music is not what they want, as they are looking for bars that offer competitive entertainment such as trivia or even ax throwing.
  • Examples of entertainment that can now be found at bars includes yoga, bowling, cocktail classes, and painting.

Bars by Type

Insights From Older Source

  • Although the 2008 UK study found is outdated, some relevant insights are still being shared as additional data points.
  • Some key reasons consumers gave for going to a particular pub were that they served the alcohol they preferred, atmosphere, social opportunities, watching and/or participating in sports, familiarity, and comfy seating.

Research Strategy

We began our research by looking for any publicly available studies that had been done on bar patrons motivations for selecting a particular bar. This led us to a 2008 report on the appeal of local bars in the UK that was published in 2008, as well as a 1987 paywalled study on Canadian tavern-goers. These outdated sources were the only relevant results from a direct search for the requested information.

Our next strategy was to look for surveys or studies that have been done on drinking habits in general. Our hope was that some of the research found would include questions about where people prefer to drink and why. This led us to sites such as Recovery.org, Pew Research, and The Atlantic. We found data related to drinking preferences of people based on the type of car they drive and their faith, and information on the drinking habits of millennials, but there was no data on where people are drinking and why they are choosing those places.

Next, we decided to look for information on where Americans are choosing to drink based on generations. Our hope was that even though the data didn't seem to be available in general, studies would have been done comparing habits across generations. This led us to an article on LinkedIn that compared the percentage of each generation that have drunk alcohol in the last week, the results of a study by Insights Strategy Group which looked at the alcohol choices of the 21-23 year old cohort of Gen Z, and a Market Watch article on millennials use of cannabis as an alternative to alcohol. None of the search results provided the information we needed on why consumers choose one type of bar over another.

Finally, as a strategy to find less scientific data for the request, we examined the websites of several U.S. bars and attempted to use the pictures/content on the site to categorize them as "high brow" or "local/dive." Then we looked for reviews for the establishments to see if there were patterns or commonalities. Although this provided some useful insights, it did not provide the necessary quantitative data needed.

From Part 01
From Part 03
  • "Public-health efforts have helped drive down adolescent drinking rates, and American beverage manufacturers are beginning to hedge their bets on alcohol’s future. Media too have noticed that change is afoot. Recent months have seen a flurry of trend stories about Millennials—currently about 22 to 38 years old—getting sober."
  • "There isn’t any great statistical evidence yet that young adults have altered their drinking habits on a grand scale. Changes in habit often lag behind changes in attitude, and national survey data on drinking habits reflect only small declines in heavy alcohol use."
  • "Half of U.S. adults (51%) who say they attend religious services at least once a month report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days, according to the survey. That compares with roughly six-in-ten (62%) among people who attend worship services less often or not at all. Similarly, only 13% of monthly attenders engaged in recent binge drinking – defined as four or more drinks on a single occasion for women and five or more for men – compared with 21% of less frequent attenders."
  • "It comes as no surprise to me or others in this industry that millennials are not drinking as much as other generations. Last year, drinking rates among British adults fell to their lowest number in 12 years, and this has been largely attributed to millennials – more than 40% of whom admit to drinking more low- or no-alcohol drinks."
  • "The eldest of the Zs are turning 21, and as they do, the time is now for the hospitality industry to begin adapting. To attract and retain these diverse and educated hospitality customers and workers, different approaches may be needed."
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