The great thing about writing dive bar reviews, is that it gives me an excuse (not like I really needed one) to go into places I have meant check out for years. Demaske’s Tavern is a place I’ve driven past a hundred or more times while visiting my in-laws in Jefferson, Pennsylvania. Where’s Jefferson you ask? Even life-long residents of Southwestern PA probably have no idea where Jefferson is located.
I need to properly set the scene of Jefferson: it’s not far from West Virginia, has a population of 337 (according to the last census), no stop lights and two bars (not counting the fire hall and the Legion that a lot of people frequent as well). The racial makeup of the borough is 99.41% White, 0.30% African American, and 0.30% from two or more races. This is Appalachian coal country, so there are a lot of steep hills…great for my walk down to the main street (not so good coming back up the hill after having a few).
As I get to the street to begin my short walk down the hill, my wife relays a message to me from my father-in-law (a retired coal miner who had seen his share of dives in his day). His advise “don’t get the shit knocked out of you”. Great…
The Bar: Old. Really old looking. I’m sure this is probably how the place looked the day it opened which I assume was many decades ago. It is the kind of bar surface that has soaked up a lot of beers (and a lot of tears) and then was wiped down with musty old bar towel. It seats about 10 people, and there is a table and a few chairs sitting by a vintage shuffle-bowling machine. There seemed to be a back room, but I didn’t dare venture off of my stool that was right next to the door. It even has a sign behind the bar with a gun on it that reads “Don’t call 911”.
Crowd: It was 4:00 P.M. on a Saturday afternoon, and there were a few guys in there 50s who clearly had been drinking for several hours already. A younger couple, he went about 300 pounds and clearly did not like the looks of me, and an elderly couple about 70ish who looked like they had been there quite a while as well. I have to assume that in a small bar in a small town everybody knows everyone, so I’m sure my presence alone was not making anyone very happy.
Service: The crusty old bartender yelled from the other end of the bar “you want somthin’?” Quickly scanning the rest of the bar, it appeared that Budweiser was the drink of choice…so I quickly yell “Bud, please.” Turns out she goes by “Chickie” and the little girl behind the bar was her granddaughter. In her defense, I never got to the finished with a beer before she walked back down to see if I wanted another one. Can’t knock the service here.
Price: Good question? The price seemed to range between $2.00-3.00 but that really seemed to depend on how much Chickie wanted to pull out of my stack of money. It was never the same amount twice, even though I drank the same thing the entire time there. I was NOT about to argue with her.
Food: From all I can tell, bags of chips. The little girl behind the bar claimed to be fond of the jalapeno chips, but her red face and watery eyes told a different story.
A/V: No music. No TV. Well, there was a TV but it wasn’t on, it was an eerie quiet that one does not often associate with dives.
Restrooms: Part of me just wanted to get out of there without checking the restrooms…but I have a job to do! So off to the mens room I went. Opened the door, and much to my surprise…not awful. Who knew? But something isn’t quite right, what is it? I look around and then realize, there is no sink in here! It’s just a toilet and TP hanging from the door handle with rope. Damn…and I forgot my Purell too!
Bartender Chat: Chickie is a throwback to dives from the 60’s and 70’s (think of the movie The Deer Hunter) and does not want anything to do with computers. We made small talk about a few things but mostly that she thinks kids these days are smarter than kids from other generations. (Funny…I can remember my grandmother saying the same thing about my generation.) I wanted to remind Chickie not to confuse intelligence in a small child with a smart-alecky kid reciting lines from watching hours of iCarly (when she’s not hanging out in a bar of course) but decided to just to nod my head in agreement.
How Far Did My $20 Go: Like I said, there seemed to be a progressive increase in the price of a Budweiser every time I ordered one. I spent $7 on three beers, but only $2 on the first one. Can some do the algebra on this one for me?
Final Impressions: I’m glad I went. Now I never have to go back. Not that it was an awful place, but it is a place for locals to get drunk. I think this place is best summed up by a line from It’s a Wonderful Life “Hey look, mister - we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don't need any characters around to give the joint "atmosphere". Is that clear, or do I have to slip you my left for a convincer?” If I WERE a local, I would stop by here on occasion if for no other reason than to say I know a bartender named Chickie.