I have always loved Dive Bar’s. Unlike the public perception of them being dangerous places to be, I have always found them great places.
I have many stories, all are fun, and all show the charm of these much maligned businesses. They are an uniquely American feature. The UK has some pretty scuzzy pubs, Belgium and Holland have some interesting bars of ill repute, Canada has the Taverns, but nothing beats the classic US dive bar.
Alas, the dive bar is in decline. I spent some time researching some of my favorite hangouts from my past, and most are shadows of their former selves.
My favorite dive bar in San Diego was ‘The Tom Cat’ in Mira Mesa. You never knew what strange thing would happen next. My favorite story is taking my work mate and friend Don to it. We needed to discuss a serious issue with the computer projects we were supporting. Our usual watering holes would be filled with the very people we wanted to talk about.
We agreed to meet at the Tom Cat. I was a loud boisterous place, perfect for a nice quiet chat about Wife Swapping. Oh, I suppose I should explain that comment, it is not what you think. The projects we were supporting were for a large bank, some idiot had decided to use SSN as a major key in the data base, the result was a ‘cluster F*ck’, grumpy demand letters were being sent to the wrong people.
Don and I wanted to discuss the best way to move forward.
Our quiet chat was not to be, we met Charlie. He decided that we were looking far too serious and in need of cheering up. Don and I did our best to ignore Charlie, but he played the ultimate trump card. He was a Vietnam Vet, with a CLUNK he put his false foot in the middle of the table! Yup, you just never know what to expect in a Dive Bar.
The Tom Cat was within walking distance from my house, so I would take the occasional walk to enjoy a couple of beers.
All good things come to an end. Research shows that it is now a respectable establishment, a place you could take your Grandmother to.
San Diego is largely a clean upmarket city so there were not many ‘Tom Cats’ to be found. The same could not be said of Phoenix, there were no end of dive bars at the turn of the 21st century. Phoenix and next door Scottsdale are poles apart. Scottsdale is golf courses, country clubs and fancy restaurants, while Phoenix is (was), dive bars, greasy spoons, and taco stands.
On my second day in town I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood. Two blocks walk and I found a grungy building with a grungy sign ‘The Caravan’, it screamed dive bar. The front door was propped open, well I was drawn like a moth to a light.
Alas, the establishment was not open, the two new owners Buzz and Chuck were still ‘remodeling’, that is a fancy term for passing the basic state requirements for health and public safety. Install a large sign ‘Check all guns and knives with the bartender’. Remove all things that might be used as weapons from the restrooms, including a door, but that is a story that came later.
A week later the Caravan opened its doors, it was the ultimate dive bar. I could write a book, it was 3 years of fun. We had Bikers, hookers, and more than a few Drugies, but no fights.
Apparently Buzz is no longer the proud owner of this fine establishment, it seems someone named Ivan attempted to clean it up, and the latest owner seems to have restored The Caravan to its previous glory. This review I found online sums it up:
I truly believe this is the worst bar in Arizona, maybe the Southwest. It’s soul-killingly bare and soaked in ammonia fumes. The warm clutter of the former Ivan’s Caravan has been replaced with an uneven formica bar top, stripped concrete walls, linoleum floors and all the ambiance of a jail cell. The bartender told me they don’t provide toilet paper in the bathrooms anymore because the clientele kept stealing it. Ouch, my soul hurts.
Yup it lightens my heart to know that all is not lost. The Caravan was never meant to be anything other than utilitarian. On Saturday afternoons it was the Shuffleboard competition, and Sunday’s I could be found out back cooking large bits of animal on a Brinkman Smoker.
Over time we added a small propane burner, and then a large double basket commercial deep fryer. Where any of these ‘toys’ came from is unknown. Nothing was new and all required some ‘TLC’ to get working.
Oh and when we were done, everything needed to go back in the storage shed.
The Dive Bar is dead, long live the Dive Bar!