Aaron Gilbreath shines a light on the King Eddy Saloon in downtown LA:
Located on the ground floor of the historic King Edward Hotel, The King Eddy is the last original Skid Row bar still in operation, or what some call an authentic dive. LA’s Skid Row contains one of the largest permament populations of homeless people in the US, with estimates reaching as high as 5,000 residents. During the Prohibition, the saloon was a hub of alcohol bootlegging, and part of an enormous network of underground tunnels in downtown Los Angeles. After alcohol sales became legal again, novelist John Fante drank there, and poet Charles Bukowski drank and wrote there, too.
The new owners closed the bar last month for renovations that will “preserve the bar’s ‘mythical status’” – which raises questions:
As a dive—before it closed for renovations—the King Eddy served some of the cheapest booze downtown. It was the last place you could order a whole pitcher of beer for $12, a shot for $3.50 and a bottle of Bud for $4. They also sold $4 microwaved cheeseburgers. (Prices had been lower, but rent went up.) A banner above the entrance advertised “The Best Dive Bar In Los Angeles.” The website listed their motto: “Where nobody gives a shit about your name.”
To adapt, the King Eddy was starting to market its authenticity, a process which inevitably diminishes authenticity. In this age of heavy-duty lifestyle marketing and urban renewal, when does a dive cease to be a dive?
John Fleury and Benjamin R. Freed argue that dive bars in DC died long ago:
We’re not looking for a true dive. We’re looking for the invented nostalgia of the idea a dive conveys but watered down for the masses. You don’t want your beer to taste like the Toxic Avenger washed his feet in it (even if it costs $2), but you want a place that looks like that is the case while drinking your Dogfish Head IPA or Ketel One and in-house tonic. The idea of a disgusting bathroom that looks and smells more like a slaughterhouse is incredibly amusing and useful when writing on your OKCupid profile that you “love dive bars,” but it is a very different story when you have to use it multiple times after that “seal has broken.”
We are not a city that loves grime. We are a city that wants to give off the impression that we want grime, when in fact we crave sushi and cupcakes. We even go so far as to drink in places that go to a lot of effort to have dive aesthetics but price points and atmospheres that would keep any true dive regular out of the establishment. This may be the way the city is moving to as a whole: give the appearance of an all-American city while fewer and fewer can actually afford to pay their tabs.
(Photo by Marc Hughes)