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Wednesday, March 23. 2016
I receive emails each week making suggestions for weekend activities. Sometimes they are interesting, most times not. This week, a suggestion to visit certain dive bars before they become Pret-a-Mangers. Not a bad idea.
I love dive bars. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and my stepfather spent time at Mick's Tavern, the local gas station, garage and tavern. Total dive. At Syracuse, we had the student bar, Jabberwocky, which hosted many big name bands before they were names. That was before my time. The Jab also had Oldies Night on Wednesday nights, and Happy Hour on Friday. It wasn't technically a dive bar, but it could qualify. The drinking age was raised to 21 the year I left, and it closed. The real dive bar we used to frequent was Doug's Place, somewhere down near Carrier Circle. Real blue-collar stuff. We'd meet some alumni who lived in the area from time to time. It's where I learned to love dive bars. Pool, dimly lit, cheap glasses of beer, the only 'mixed' drink available was a Boilermaker. Always a few local factory guys in there. Doug's Place is long gone, too. I did hear 'Doug', whoever he is, opened a fish fry somewhere nearby.
When I moved to Queens in the 80's, my roommate was a local who introduced me to My Lady's, a tavern for which I played softball and drank quarter glasses of beer on Thursday nights. I got to know the bartender, a giant of a man, but the classic example of a huge teddy bear. My girlfriend's family came one night to watch college hoops with me and dubbed it The Bucket of Blood because, well, that's pretty much what it reminded you of. The final night it was open was 1991, and early on it was a great party. I heard the rest was very good, too. I guess I had an early start on the evening...
When we lived in Hoboken, Louise & Jerry's was our end-of-the-evening final stop. Louise, a widow in a housecoat, was always behind the bar. When God Bless America played on the jukebox, you had to stop what you were doing and sing with Louise. If she didn't like your look, she stopped you as you walked in, and demanded you leave. She once gave my wife the stinkeye for ordering club soda. When I told her, quietly, that she was pregnant with our first child, Louise smiled and gave us all a round of drinks (but kept the secret). Louise & Jerry's is still open, but I heard it's upscale now.
Recently, I stopped in at the Canyon Club, in Williams, AZ. One of the finest dive bars I've ever experienced. A real honky-tonk. Loved every second, loved the people. Which is important. A good dive bar has friendlies, it doesn't attract surly or violent types. You can have a curmudgeon or two, but people have to want to have a good time.
Some dives are iconic, and unlikely to go away. McSorley's is one. Out where I live, there aren't many dive bars left unless you're willing to take a chance. We used to have the Blue Collar Bar, but that got bought by a high-end group and was transformed into a "dive" bar. It retained the dive nature, but served high end cuisine. Excellent food, but ruined the ambiance. It closed after four or five years. Dive bars, I believe, have short lives.
There is still one place near me, the Garwood Rest, which my buddies and I will gather in to play darts (American Darts - with the wooden shafts and we're playing baseball, not 301, 501 or Cricket) and watch football or baseball once very month. It qualifies as a dive, but it's higher end than any other one I've been in. Here are some more. I'm familiar with the Raccoon Lodge, The Smith, and Hogs and Heifers, though all from 20-30 years ago. When you find a good dive bar, it's a thing to revel in.
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If there was ever a dive . .
Back in January 1979, a friend and I made a road trip to Northeast Nebraska to visit a mutual friend from college.
After drinking way too many beers on Saturday night, he was driving us around showing us the sights on Sunday morning.
He told us that before we left, he had to take us to the Buzzsaw in Waterbury. So we drive into this little town that must have had maybe 80 people and pulled up in front of this old brick storefront. If you have been through small town America you have seen similar. It was a mostly plain brick building probably erected around 1910.
As we stopped, we spied the "closed" sign in the window. Our host said, "Darn, they're closed. I really wanted to take you in there." I was rather thankful they were closed, because though I had felt much worse on past Sunday noons, I really didn't feel like drinking more beer. But then, as if on cue, at that very moment a hand reached through the curtain in the window and flipped the sign to "open".
Our host said, "GREAT! Let's go in."
It was about 10 above zero that noon and the snow crunched beneath our feet as we headed to the door. As we entered, the first thing I noticed was that it wasn't much warmer inside than out. The next thing I noticed was that it was a large room, sparsely furnished. I recall a couple of wooden painted white tables and maybe 10 or 12 old chairs of which no two were alike. If they were busy and ran out of chairs, there were 'tree stumps', large pieces of unsplit firewood that you could drag out and sit on, lining one wall. The ceiling was one of those patterned copper varieties that were popular in the first part of the 20th Century. The ceiling had been painted white as well. You could see where it leaked.
Immediately there after I heard the oil stove roaring like a jet engine in the middle of the room. The 'barmaid' (and I use the term loosely) had just lit the stove and was exchanging pleasantries with our host.
He introduced us and it and that was when I really noticed her. She must have been 75 years old. She had medium long brown hair (it had to be a wig), waaaay to much rouge on her cheeks and heavy bright red lipstick. I wondered to myself if she was an old hooker.
Anyhow, we ambled up to the bar and ordered our Falstaffs. Behind her was a 1950ish refrigerator. THAT was the beer cooler. I remain convinced that the beer was in the refrigerator to keep it from freezing.
Anyway, we had a couple of beers and visited with Evelyn (I believe that was her name) for an hour so. She was a character. I would describe her as gregarious, fun to talk to. We offered to buy her a beer but she replied she didn't drink anymore as she had diabetes. Then some regulars arrived and we bid her adieu.
Within two years, she was dead and the Buzzsaw was gone, replaced by an all metal structure, the material you would build a machine shed or warehouse out of. It was named Buzzsaw II if I am not mistaken but was too antiseptic and ordinary. However, they did sell T-shirts commemorating the original and I bought one.
It was a long time ago and I am glad my friend took us there.
That's a great one. Wish I could've experienced it. The old dives that are just the bottom floor of a residence are often some of the most interesting. You get a glimpse at a bizarre mix of the personal and the community.
Had one near school. A concrete uneven floor with picnic benches. It was great.
still several here in farm country (west central Ohio), one burnt down years ago, nice new one built, but it's still a dive. The best is called E&R's. originally an old house, apartment above. In the day it was hopping (late 70s and through the 80s) especially after the open air dances at the Goat Ranch, down the road, (don't ask) brought a dutch exchange student there, warned him it was a bit of a hole, he got one look and exclaimed "back home we call these bars", damn kid had a cast iron stomach, kept asking if they had anything stronger. I finally ran out of money, the barkeep, (a distant relative) said "its on the house I got to see what this kid can drink!" Then one of my cousins walked down the bar top[ bare foot hot pants and halter top, walked over to the kid, crouched down in front of his face and stated to play with his hair, kid damn near came in his pants, said loudly "I like this place!!!!!"
little shit was bright and perky in the morning when we got up to milk the cows, damn it
there was the old Las Vegas Gun Club (then known as The Mint Gun Club in Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). It was a fine mix of trap, a full bar, animal heads and fish trophies on the walls and a weekly poker tournament for the league shooters. It was like a country club for the average citizen to rub shoulders with the big names in local business and city government. But at its best, it was a Dive.
Just about every town in Nevada has(d) a Mint Bar...most are now abandoned though.
A dive bar can not have a nice restaurant in it. It can do pizza and burgers, etc., and it should have table games and darts, pool and even ping pong is great.
It's good to have a poker table.
if I can indulge memory lane...
the club's manager purchased very expensive poker tables. "alcohol abuse" occurred when someone spilled a drink onto the green felt. the abuser would then be served only in a kid's sippy cup, until the cup passed on to the next guy to spill a drink on the manager's very expensive poker table.
Yeah, the Blue Collar WAS a dive bar. The food group hoped to cash in on the concept by making it a food destination, which is why I put the dive in quotes.
It was such a strange place to eat, but the food was too darn good. They did a great job with the food, it just didn't work overall. They tried to class up the local cuisine, basically, and the old crowd wasn't buying.
I prefer dive bars that don't serve any food, but if they do it can be out of a toaster over or microwave. Better to order in a pizza.
Late in 1962, I was 12 years old in south Augusta, GA. On Friday nights after the skate rink closed, my buddies and I would go to the juke joints to shoot pool and listen to the black singers and musicians who were not allowed in white establishments. Yes, they was our local spots for after hours chitlin' circuit. Ivory Joe Hunter, Albert King, James Brown, Richard Penniman(Little Richard) all played! Two of my favorites to this day were John Lee Hooker and Chester Burnett(Howling Wolf)! They allowed us to come in to shoot pool and drinks cokes because we were white kids and had real money.
In the late 60's did I realize what I saw back then.
Central Wisconsin had some great dive bars, and probably still does.
One of the best was Lucky Lager's on South US 13, just north of Lake Nepco. It was seedy and attracted the worst of the local community, but there weren't fights or troubles, because people came to have fun. Pool tables, dart boards, a few video games, and a drink special every night (three Point shorties for a dollar was my fave). Dice games at the bar. Tombstone pizza, salted-in-the-shell peanuts and popcorn were the only things on the menu. It was torn down soon after Mrs. Lager passed. Sad. It was my dad's hangout, then it was mine. Now it's gone.
The other was Four Stools Short. It earned its name because it was so small, a patron once said it was "four stools short of a real bar." It eventually burned down (exploded, actually) and was reopened in downtown Wisconsin Rapids and has become a much larger place that frequently hosts local bands. But even though they've added some craft beers on tap, it's maintained its dive attitude.
A good test of character is if it still has a cigarette machine.
Just thinking about having "eaten" them in the past made me throw up a tiny bit in my mouth. Thanks for the memory.