Today’s City Reads: the Death of Dive Bars & the Birth of the Land Bank

They're not related developments.

 Dirty Frank's. Photo by John Donges.

Dirty Frank’s. Photo by John Donges.

National: Someone get a protective order for Dirty Frank’s right now

Dive bars are disappearing from big cities around the country, being replaced by monstrosities with bocce ball courts. It’s happening for all the obvious reasons: gentrification and craft beer, smoking bans and specialty cocktails. The destruction in Portland is so extreme that Willammete Week dubbed 2014 Barmageddon.

Willammete Week:

A world was ending. Some wept openly, one woman danced the worm so hard she thinks she might have shattered her knee, and the next night at least two people had sex in the basement. We’ve all got our own ways of grieving.

The Day of the Dead, Nov. 1, was the last night of Slabtown, a cavernous punk-rock and pinball bar that sat in the shadow of the I-405 overpass for nearly a half century. When it closed, it was the last independent all-ages rock club on Portland’s westside. For some, it was more of a home than the place where they actually slept that night…

If we add up all the stories WW has written about closings, they’d rank near the top of our most-read stories this year.

If we had to hazard a guess why, it’s that these old bars serve as canaries in a coal mine. Aside from their place in the memories of Portlanders who grew up in a much more rough-and-tumble city, their death signals a change in Portland that many have already come to feel is irrevocable.

Now, Philadelphia’s dive bar scene hasn’t been decimated in quite the same way. Sure, the Dolphin isn’t what it used to be, the B & W Sports Bar is gone, as Teri’s, Tritone, and some others. Even so, the ranks of dive bars remain pretty solid… so far. But it’s worth remembering they are fragile creatures, so maybe spare a few bucks for a drink at your local dive now and then, ok?

Local: The Land Bank is almost open for business

Claudia Vargas writes for the Inquirer that Philadelphia’s long anticipated Land Bank is about to sell its first (tiny) cohort of properties: a cluster of 17 parcels on the 1600 block of Bodine Street in North Philadelphia. They’re in the district of the Land Bank’s legislative architect, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez. It’s a big deal–potentially. There’s a lot of hope that the Land Bank will help to solve not just Philadelphia’s vacant land problem, but its property tax delinquency crisis as well. But it’s far from a sure thing.

One of the central selling points of the Land Bank is that it will, in theory, consolidate most of the city-owned property now split between many different agencies into a single entity, theoretically making it easier for developers and community groups to acquire vacant land. An early test of the Land Bank’s promise will be whether or not district council members are willing to sign off on the transfer of lots into the Land Bank. If even a few balk, the Land Bank simply won’t be the centralized clearinghouse it’s billed as.

Sánchez clearly understands this. “I’m going to have to lead myself,” she told Vargas, “to show this can work.”