Archive for the ‘Best Dive Bars: Trust Me … I’m a Professional’ Category

Chicago, dive bar

I have high expectations of dive bars. As the divebardiva discussed in a recent “You Ask, We Answer” post, dive bars must possess the perfect magical mixture of ingredients to get it just right. If just one little thing is off, the bar doesn’t make the grade.

I was fortunate to visit a truly great dive bar during my recent travels to Chicago. And one of our goals here at Bar Trash is to give our subscribers the inside scoop on where to go to get that perfect dive experience. We don’t want ANY of our loyal readers to accidentally meander into a cookie-cutter establishment with fucking flair and frozen drinks. It’s unacceptable! And I’m throwing up a little in my mouth just thinking about it.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

I was staying in Wrigleyville and looking for a place to get a cold beer and watch the Cubs/Sox game. I wanted to experience a real Chicago dive with all the accoutrements … eclectic regulars, great history and a smart-talkin bartender. And I found it.

Upon entering Joe’s on Broadway, I was greeted with a large sign reading, “Sorry, we’re open.” A good start. I went to take a seat at the bar and was looked at skeptically by the motley crew of regulars. Another good sign. Tourists are a rarity at Joe’s.

I sat down, ready to order a Goose Island 312 (a local beer brewed in Lincoln Park) that I had heard so much about. But as I faced the bar, my stool slowly spun around and I was suddenly facing the door again. I then realized that the floor at Joe’s is on a slant — and keeping my bar stool facing the right way was going to be an ongoing challenge.

After maneuvering my stool to once again be facing the bar, I took a look around. The bar boasted a bevy of smart-ass signs:

  • If only closed minds came with closed mouths.
  • Our house wine is Jagermeister.
  • Kangaroos next 14 miles.
  • I (heart) Rainy Lake International Falls, MN.
  • If life gives you lemons, grab the vodka.
  • Be good or be gone.

And my personal fave …

  • Support your local bartender. I’m helping ugly people get laid.

chicago dive bar

The lovely barkeep on duty, Roger, came over to take my order. I requested the 312 on tap and wasn’t disappointed. It was ice-cold. 312 is an American pale-wheat ale, yummy and very refreshing.

Roger is a low-key, sweet teddy bear. We had a good conversation about the area and the bar’s history. Joe’s has been a Chicago institution for 40+ years. He told me that before it was Joe’s, the place had been two other bars. Basically, this joint has been slinging drinks for Chicagoans for the past 100 years. Wow.

Besides the smart-ass signs, the decor features a jukebox with classic rock, a dart board, and a mounted sailfish on the wall. There’s also a large hand-made sign in homage to the Cubs’ 1989 Eastern Division Championship. And a misspelled specials board, “Rumpelmize … $3.50.”

About that time, a college kid wandered in, obviously very out of his frat-house element. Roger asked him what he’d like. The guy then asked one of the stupidest questions I’ve ever heard asked at a bar:

“Uh … yeah. Do you have Bud Light?” (Really? There are fucking deer antlers over the bar. Yes, I do believe this particular establishment has Bud Light.)

Roger responded, dead-pan:

“Yeah, son. We also have Miller Lite and Coors Light. And Amstel Light if yer feelin fancy.”

I fell in love at that exact moment.

A little later, the kid asked, “Do you have a food menu?” Roger replied, “No. But I got beef jerky behind the register. Want some?”

The college student — who probably preferred jalapeno poppers — declined and left soon thereafter. I have a feeling never to return again.

About that time, the baseball game got very exciting. I found myself cheering as loudly as the locals (even though I’m not a Cubs fan). At the end of the game, I was high-fiving the other patrons and had a feeling that I had overcome their suspicion.

I went to Joe’s the next night, and what a difference a day makes. Upon my entrance. I was greeted enthusiastically by the same regulars. Roger had a huge smile, called me by name and pointed to an empty bar stool. I was home.

I have to say that Roger is one of the coolest dudes I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He’s not only an attentive server; he’s also extremely intelligent and carried on great conversations about a myriad of subjects. And he drinks tequila shots. Be sure to buy him one if you visit.

I’ve drank in dive bars all over this great country, and Joe’s is one of the best. I’m painfully sad that this gem isn’t in my neighborhood. I hope the regulars at Joe’s appreciate their good fortune. I have a feeling they do.

Grow old disgracefully,
Vodka Toxic

Joe’s on Broadway
3563 N Broadway St (between Addison and Brompton)

Traveling to New Orleans, Atlanta or the Big Apple? We have great recommendations for those locales, too. Check out “Trust Me, I’m a Professional.”

Okay people, I have lunch with my lovely Maja today so we are gonna do a little ask and answer and call it a day. We have four questions today from some lovely peeps on the other side of the U.S.

(But first, a BIG welcome to our newest subscribers! We’re so happy you stumbled in …. and we look forward to your comments and contributions!)

Please feel free to send in any questions you have people. This is an interactive process and if you aren’t doing your part I may have to hunt you down and smack your ass. Who are we kidding? I might do that just for fun!

So here we go.

Q: I’m heading to NYC for a girls’ weekend. Are there any dive bars that we should visit?

A: Okay, there are a few bars out there that I really like. So, we are going to take a little trip around Manhattan. First of all is my new favorite Hells Kitchen addition, owned by none other than my good friend Michelle Gascoigne.

The bar is called Blue Ruin is at 9th Ave and W. 40th Street and it is fucking amazing. Do a facebook search and ‘like’ her joint…you won’t regret it.

I was there a year ago this weekend for a little surprise visit. Michelle welcomed me with:

  1. A scream calling me the sickest bitch EVER
  2. A Bud
  3. Margarita shots

I stayed all day, met all of the regulars including a sweet transvestite (not from Transylvania) and some of the local union boys, Iz and Dainty Mitts Rodriquez. They have a photo booth where you can document your shenanigans and a place across the street that delivers the best cheesesteaks and fries right to your bar stool.

Michelle (and staff) is a fast talkin smartass who is a helluva bartender and has been known to make me laugh so hard I almost pee myself. No, seriously people, I have considered wearing Depends while hanging out with her, just to avoid embarrassing accidents.

It is the absolute best, and you will NEVER regret your visit…except with a bit of a hangover.

Secondly is my old work place, The Hog Pit, and it is wonderful. It’s former locale is the meat packing district but it has now moved to a new location and has also changed up the menu a little. I ate there on my last visit and we had an amazing time.

My good friend Damon was a lovely host and our dinner was fantastic. We had more than a few cocktails and once again no regrets but one helluva hangover.

And PS they have unbelievably hot bartenders and those of you who know me, this has to be a good thing!  http://www.hogpit.com/

A few other top choices…

  • Lakeside Lounge: Great music if you can catch Tom Shaner – http://www.tomshaner.com. I highly recommend it! (Lower East Side)
  • The Snug: Upper Hells Kitchen
  • McSorleys: http://www.mcsorleysnewyork.com (Lower East Side)
  • O’Connors: In Brooklyn, which used to boast a cassette player on a table as their “jukebox” and at which I have spent many the good night.
  • McCoys: Hells Kitchen and if you go during the day…ask for Jeff.
  • Mars Bar: I love this review from yelp — “It’s small, dirty and crowded. No beer on tap and they will probably punch you in the face if you order a cocktail with more than 2 ingredients. So yeah it’s perfect.”

Q: What are the qualities a bartender in a dive absolutely must possess?

A: Great question! An unbelievable amount of patience, the ability to answer the same question day after day and not shoot someone, an odd sense of humor, sarcasm up the who-ha, the ability to smile while you are telling someone to fuck off so they return another day, self deprecation and the ability to handle anything and everything…while drinking, dancing and counting massive amounts of cash.

Q: The weather is finally getting warmer. What’s the best summertime cocktail?

A: The Barefoot Contessa (http://www.foodnetwork.com) makes an unbelievable grapefruit margarita. It looked so good I wanted to kiss her on the mouth avec tongue. That is what I am planning to try and soon as it actually warms up in this god forsaken state.

By the way, a big fuck you to whoever submitted this question. Thanks for reminding me that I live in the great white north, and spring has still not yet sprung.

4. Do you realize how lucky you are to be able to drink at work?

A: First off, yes I do. Secondly, it’s probably best for everyone because dealing with 50 to 100 screaming, fighting drunks on any given Saturday night would be catastrophic without alcohol to calm the savage beast. And by savage beast, I clearly mean me.

However, some Sundays I do feel — about the time that one of my kidneys or liver croppie flops for no apparent reason — that it may be taking a toll on my old ass. But, since I’m still lookin pretty good and my parts are still pointin toward jesus I’ll go with the thought that my dear old dad told me…

“Kid, alcohol is preserving you like formaldehyde.”

Not sure if it’s good or bad but I’m goin with it.

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Okay people, let’s talk about my first stop in Atlanta!

After getting up at 2 a.m., leaving the house at 3 and hitting the aero puerto for a full body scan at 4 (and yes I am still talkin a.m. here)…I am on my way to Hotlanta. As a sidenote, however, I must say two things:

  1. The nice man who checked my ID at the airport that had his ears pinned like Spock from Star Trek did not quite inspire confidence in my complete safety.
  2. Anybody who bitches about a full body scan is a pain in my ass! All I have to say is, if you are worried about looking fat then stop super sizing the number three at McDonalds because the rest of us who lost friends in 9/11 are more than happy to not be riding a plane with murderers.

So anyhow, I tried taking a little catnap the night before the flight but to no avail. This body is used to hitting the sack after 2 a.m. — not rising and shining at it. 

The flight left a bit to be desired, coming in the form of a very fast drop where screaming passengers awakened my from my Dramamine- and Valium-induced stupor. When the pilot comes on to tell us to tighten our seatbelts as tight as they will go, I’m thinking that I’m totally justified in my vehement dislike of flying. Thankfully, we touched down in Atlanta shortly thereafter.

After making myself somewhat presentable in the airport bathroom and heading to MARTA (Atlanta’s public transport system), I jumped on a train with the assistance of a homeless dude who I gladly paid a dollar for travel info. He pointed to the bus I should take and informed me that I could use my train ticket and transfer for free. Off I went to one of Vodka Toxic and my favorite old haunts, R Thomas Deluxe Grill!

You see, it’s a 24-hour place and as it was just 10 a.m. — and I wasn’t due to be picked up till 1 or 2 –I needed somewhere with good food and an equally good mimosa. R Thomas fit the bill perfectly.

Miss Toxic and I used to frequent R Thomas during our Atlanta club days. Some of our readers may not recognize the need for such an establishment living in a land where bars close by midnight –and that also serve pizza to soak up the unbelievable amounts of alcohol you have consumed during the course of an evening.

Well my friends, let me tell you something, when bars are open till 4 a.m., and there are also a bevy of places with  “private club” status, meaning they can stay open and serve booze till the end of time…you need something after those shenanigans and I am not talkin White Castle. What you need is delicious fare that performs two important roles for the drunkard.

  1. Satisfy the urge for a damn good meal in a non-judgemental environment for your drunky-pants ass.
  2. Soak up the copious amounts of alcohol consumed during your several hours of auditioning to be a Solid Gold Dancer. All those dance moves can only burn off so much.

Well, as far a good food and non-judgy atmosphere goes, R Thomas is the best. They have a breakfast quesadilla with home fries that is TO DIE FOR. They also used to have this fantastic grilled cheese with portabella mushrooms and bacon. I asked my adorable waiter if they still served it, and he said no but they would be happy to make it for me.

A cute boy with tattoos that wants to make me happy?  Clearly, one more check in the plus column for the place.

Another plus is that although they do not have a full bar, they do serve beer, wine and a mimosa the size of your head. (As far as heads go mine is peanut-like in stature rather than an orange on a toothpick.) Imagine my surprise when I held it up to my head and lo and behold…same size.

Another little tidbit I like is the fact that it is dining Bedouin style. The whole restaurant is a tent, or maybe three tents. there are lots of colors, lamps and these crazy-ass hippie beaded curtains like the stoners always had in their basements. (And by stoners, once again, I clearly mean me.)

They always have this great music floating through the place. The sound is tempered with little tweets and cooing coming from the amazing array of birds outside the perimeter and in the restaurant.

I absolutely adore the fact that you have to walk through the kitchen to get to the bathroom. The bathroom is small and mirrored from floor to ceiling. However, they’ve painted little murals all over the walls so you don’t have to watch yourself pee from every possible angle.

They even have mirrors on the ceiling which at first made me think, “I’m at a motel with a bed that accepts quarters.” But add crown moulding and good lighting, and it really works. Trust me when I say that good bathroom lighting is critical in a 24-hour place. NO ONE wants to see what a mess they truly are at 4:45 in the morning.

Another selling point is yet another cute waiter who is on his tables like a duck on a junebug and has taught one of the birds inside to sing to him – maybe it’s the head-sized mimosas but that is pretty damn cool.

You see people, I am damn sick of all these corporate, cookie-cutter places — people with money putting up one generic hell hole after another. For god’s sake, let’s have tents and birds and hippie curtains, great food, no flair and a flower garden out front even though they are located on one of the busiest thoroughfares in Atlanta. Let’s have cute waiters in jeans with tattoos that serve peanut-head sized mimosas.

Let’s have that shall we? Let’s just have that!

So, needless to say, it was totally worth the dollar I paid that nice homeless guy who told me which bus to take. My friends, if you find yourself a little drunk and unruly in the great town of Atlanta…Bar Trash highly recommends R Thomas Deluxe Grill. (www.rthomasdeluxegrill.net)

Oh yeah, a couple of additional points:

  • R Thomas has some really healthy food. Their menu is huge and includes smoothies and tons of organic and vegan items. It’s really good and good for you. I know it doesn’t really sound like me but I thought I should mention it nonetheless.
  • They have Sugar In The Raw and Celtic Salt on all of the tables…Vodka Toxic has been know to pocket a packet of the sugar (or two or three) to use at less civilized coffee shops throughout her day.

More tales from the ATL to come!

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Okay people, one day during my annual traveling birthday weekend (which happened to be in New Orleans that particular year) me and my bitches happened by this little bar called The Alpine. It was an unseasonably cold and very rainy weekend in New Orleans, and the board outside boasted of a peppermint martini. Several of the girls I was with thought that this particular drink…following mimosas at brunch…sounded like heaven.

I looked in to see the cutest bespectacled girl behind the bar wearing a dress and a little knit hat. She had a “I am the sweetest little thing in the world but if you are a douche, I will kick your ass” kind of look about her. I, of course, love this look and sport it myself on a helluva lot of occasions.

Our bartenders name was Hannah…we of course decided it needed to be Hannah Louisiana. She made peppermint martinis with the skill of an old pro even though I am pretty sure I was old enough to have given birth to her. We loved her instantly and as such, we loved The Alpine. A bit of drinking and from what I can remember some manicures happened that afternoon and although we eventually took our leave, we returned several hours later.

In the course of our drunken reverie, we obviously mentioned that it was my birthday and apparently that I knew how to blow fire. We decided that since Hannah was pulling a double we would return to have dinner with her.

We were met with an absolutely sublime dinner, where we were allowed to sit at the bar and share plates, loving every dish that each of us ordered. There were five of us, and each meal was better than the last. All not only cooked with soul, but also the technical skill that New Orleans is famous for. I myself had crawfish etouffee’ which is a personal must-have while in Louisiana. It was so wonderful it almost hurt.

As we approached our departure time, I was allowed to blow fire which brought cheers from the customers including a mother and daughter from Holland who moved from their seats so I could do the trick. The manager whose name escapes me (but was a beautiful girl with a fleur de lis necklace and a great butt) and one of the owners brought me the most amazing Kahlua Cheesecake and sang to me like I had been going there every day for the last decade.

I cannot express enough how much we all loved this place. Hannah was instrumental in finding us a few great hot spots including a bar with the sexiest bar crew on record…clearly there will be more on that bar…and it’s wonderful bartenders…later.

Now I have to say at this point that I have been to New Orleans quite a few times, I have never, not once, had a bad time there. Once Katrina hit I had wanted so much to return but never seemed to be able to make it happen. I was so happy to go back and experience new things and was even able to find a little place we had visited 10 years prior called the Biscuit Palace and we stayed with Clayton and his lovely wife for the duration, loving life even though it was the worst rain since the early 1900’s.

I think that this explains New Orleans in vivid detail…no matter the weather or the surroundings or the time of year…a beautiful place with beautiful people cannot help but shine.

As a professional I cannot recommend The Alpine or Hannah enough.

Please visit and tip well…cause if you don’t you know I will find your ass!

http://www.thealpinebistro.com