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Marc Hurwitz of Boston's Hidden Restaurants on Dive Bars

Marc Hurwitz has been writing his blog, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, since 2004. In it, as the name implies, he seeks out the hidden restaurant gems in Boston as well as beyond. Here, he talks with Eater about dive bars.

Marc_Hurwitz.0.jpgWhat is your definition of a dive bar?

In general, I think a dive bar, as opposed to a neighborhood joint, focuses mainly on being a place to drink and get away from it all. Some dive bars have decent food, but many, if not most, have none at all. Also, there should be at least a slight element of danger involved, even if none is imminent.

What do you think makes a good dive bar and a bad dive bar?

A good dive bar is often one that has been around for decades and has the same clientele day in and day out — and cheap drinks are a must. If a "dive bar" has large windows with light coming in, good food, ferns hanging from the walls, and music from bands such as The Decemberists, it's a bad dive bar, or perhaps not a dive bar at all.

Do you have a dive bar snack of choice?

Bar pizza for sure. The grease and gooey cheese help make the beers go down that much quicker.

What are some of your favorite dive bars, both inside and outside of Boston?

Well, my favorite of them all may be the Old Colony Tap in Provincetown, but closer by, I really like Cronin's in Quincy (though they don't consider themselves to be a dive bar), the Cantab in Cambridge, Kelleher's in Roslindale, and Cappy's Tavern in Readville.

Why are these your favorites?

They tend to feel old-school and untouched by gentrification, though I tend to break my own rule about bad food/no food in the case of Cronin's and Kelleher's. As for the Old Colony Tap, it's the perfect storm of dive bar greatness — no food, cheap drinks, great jukebox, very dark and gloomy, no door on the bathroom, and bartenders who will talk your ear off.

What’s the most unique drink/bite you’ve had at a dive bar?

Borderline dive bar, though the apple cinnamon pizza at the Venus Cafe in Whitman is something special.

Are are some dive bars that have closed that you miss?

Too many. The Alumni in Quincy, Salem Wood Cafe in Malden, Sadie's in Waltham, The Quiet Man in Southie, Woodley's in Cambridge, The Paddock in Somerville...I could go on and on but I'm starting to get a bit weepy.

Is it better to go where everyone knows your name or a place you can just escape?

Well, if everyone knows your name at a bar, that in of itself can be a problem (for many reasons), but it's not a bad thing in some ways. I guess for me, it would be a mix of that and a way to escape the craziness of everyday life, though sometimes going to a dive bar is simply a way to have fun.

What sort of music do you think is essential for a dive bar?

Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Beastie Boys, AC/DC, Deep Purple, Metallica, Soundgarden...anything that's loud and the opposite of The Decemberists.

Are there certain other things that you think are essential to having something be a dive bar? Things like televisions, pool tables, wings served in crappy wooden bowls, etc.?

Sticky floors are a must. Also, no windows (or tiny porthole-style windows), a jukebox with loud music (see above), televisions with lousy screens, neon signs, and little plaques on the bar memorializing those who used to sit there.

Do you think a dive bar is not a dive bar without someone named Sully?

Sully is always a good name for a bar, or any name or nickname that ends with a y. Sully's, Kiley's, Smitty's, Patty's, Buddy's, Morey's, Cappy's, etc. They all work to varying degrees.

Image: Hurwitz' "self-portrait" (he maintains anonymity.)