Last summer, I sat in the backyard of Do or Dine in Bed-Stuy with a best friend visiting from Boston. It was a perfect night: chilling on the patio drinking beers with my bae at my favorite bar in warm weather—perfect, that is, except Do or Dine would soon be no more.
My relationship with Do or Dine started many months earlier. I had photographed and become friends with head chef and co-owner, Justin Warner. I lived around the corner and developed friendships with the other owners, wait staff, and bartenders after returning multiple times a week for post-work Genesees. There was always a spot at the bar and someone to talk to.
Recently, I walked into Do or Dive, the bar that replaced it. Despite its brazenly similar name, all the familiarity of Do or Dine was gone. There wasn’t a spot at the bar. I didn’t see anyone I knew. The décor was not the same: its mid- to high-end class was replaced with on-the-nose dive objects: a battery powered Schlitz sign; an analog TV; old American beer decals, in excess, everywhere.
On the other hand, they’d kept the same floor tiles and part of the original Do or Dine bar, as if part of the excavation had been forgotten. Standing inside Do or Dive drinking a High Life and examining it all, the combination of old mixed with faux-old was unsettling. I looked towards the front door. I remembered the day I shot Justin’s wedding here. I watched him and his wife walk inside to a sea of excited friends and family. To the right of the door, a booth is installed where I sat with the squad for our first Animal Sweater Dinner. The backyard—where I sat that summer night, and, another time, where I waited happily with a friend for a bike flat to be fixed down the street—was under construction.
Where I used to see bartenders, I saw shuffleboard. Where I used to see the kitchen cooking up octopus or shishito peppers, I saw a machine that dispenses Skinny Dennis’ frozen coffee drink in a paper cup. Where I used to see “Do or Dine” on the front awning, I saw “Do or Dive.” A piece of black tape covered the N in “Dine” to make the V in “Dive.” Another strip covered “restaurant.” And, as if to stick it to them a little bit more, Do or Dine’s tagline “Fine Diving” remained.
And then, I went downstairs to the bathroom. This, alone, was completely untouched. A mirror on one wall was surrounded by Do or Dine stickers—the same I still have on my bike. The writing on the wall that I’ve stared at over and over read the same but, somehow, it didn’t feel the same. Reading the words “Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way,” on a tile, I wanted to call bullshit on the whole thing. It was like my childhood home had new owners: the frame is the same, but the inside is stale and hackneyed.
Sure, Do or Dive’s drinks are very inexpensive. When the backyard opens, it will probably be great. After all, dogs are allowed. I have no doubt the guys behind Lucky Dog, Skinny Dennis, Rocka Rolla, and George & Jack’s have created a bar people will love. But, for me, it’s hard to forget what we had at Do or Dine. The wound is still open, and this feels like salt is being poured all over it. Luckily, for the new patrons of Do or Dive, they’re using some of that salt and making perfectly serviceable, dirt-cheap margaritas.