In Praise of the Dive Bakery

Man oh man, do I love a good dive bakery.

Yup, there's shortening in that buttercream.

Yup, there's shortening in that buttercream.

Wait. Pray tell: what is a dive bakery? 

"Dive bakery" is a term which to the best of my knowledge I've made up (haven't googled it so I am not sure if this is true or not; often when I have a great idea like this I purposefully avoid googling it so that my idea isn't changed or altered by what has come before). 

Basically, it's the dive bar equivalent of a bakery. 

Put it this way. If you go to a dive bar, you're not going to be ordering a Cosmopolitan. You're being served by a bartender, not a mixologist. There is going to be pretty much zero talk about house-made bitters or liqueurs, and please, for the love of god, don't utter the word "shrub" unless you're talking about plants that live outside. 

At a dive bar, you're most likely going to be ordering beer (and none of those fancy ones) and you're probably going to feel like you need a shower after using the bathroom. 

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A dive bakery is definitely a different experience overall, but it's similar in its no-fuss, no-frills simplicity. 

When you walk into a dive bakery, it's not because it's a hip new spot you saw on Instagram. A dive bakery has probably been in the same spot seemingly forever, whether that in fact is since 1981 or since 1934. It's got that "lived-in" sort of feel. Often, the employees seem ageless too. 

In a dive bakery, you're probably not going to see the words "locally sourced" listed in any product descriptions, even if they are. In fact, product descriptions have been made using a label maker, or even printed on little cards, possibly in comic sans. Dive bakeries might seem in some ways hipster-ironic, but they are not. 

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Price-wise, you're not going to spend $40 at a dive bakery unless you really try, or are buying a wedding cake or something. There are no $4.95 cookies or brownies at a dive bakery. You may --not even kidding--even see some goodies for under a dollar. 

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At a dive bakery, the buttercreme is probably made with at least part shortening. But they're not apologizing for or hiding this fact. 

The coffee pretty reliably sucks at dive bakeries. And no, they do not have soy or almond milk. 

The lighting in a dive bakery always kind of feels like you're walking onto the set of a David Lynch movie. And where on earth did they get those retro bakery cases? 

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Dive bakeries are generally a place where you can be free of talk about glycemic index and paleo diets and (shudder) Stevia. 

Dive bakeries can be good, or they can be not very good. But there is something satisfying and honest about them. 

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Dive bakeries are nostalgic. After-school treats, innocence. The simple desire for a sweet treat without food being fraught with meaning. 

For me, a dive bakery is kind of my happy place. Even if the pastries and cookies and cakes aren't technically very good, there's something on a soul level that is so nourishing about the experience of them. 

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One of my favorite dive bakeries in the world, Freedman's Bakery in Belmar, NJ, closed a few years ago. I cried when they closed. They hadn't actually been good for years, but I freaking loved this place. I had been going there since childhood, and even the diminishing quality of their sweets when ownership changed didn't make me turn away. There was something that I loved so deeply about the place. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm also all about those $4.95 locally sourced cupcakes and the single-origin chocolate and all that. But sometimes, a good dive bakery is all that you need in the world. 

Is there a dive bakery in your life that you can tell me about?