Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jefferson, Pennsylvania Dive. Do I Make It Out Alive?

Dive of the day.  Demasky's Tavern in Jefferson, Pennsylvania.  Did the large dude at the end of the bar take a swing at me?  Check back as soon as I get home to write up a new review.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Tune Inn -- REVIEW

The Tune Inn
331 Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast Washington, DC 20003-1148
(202) 543-2725
Open Daily 8am-1am
The “Tune” as it’s known to the regulars, is a Capitol Hill institution. It literally is in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol at the end of several blocks of eclectic shops, restaurants and bars. What makes this place so unique is that it has been serving drinks (and breakfast around the clock) to congressman and winos (and congressman who are winos) since 1947. I was lucky enough to spend a few hours at the Tune with my buddy Dan who, if he were on Foursquare, would easily be the “Mayor” of this dive several times over.

Since I’m in DC for work all week, we wasted no time sneaking out the door promptly at 5:15 to catch a cab in an attempt to beat rush hour traffic. While we were unsuccessful at beating the always aggravating DC gridlock (Don’t block the box!) we did have a cab driver that must have trained at the Joey Chitwood school of driving. Never in my life have I seen a cabbie make more illegal turns, cut more people off and somehow swerve his way to the front of every line of cars like this guy. I thought to myself between grabbing the “Jesus” strap in the backseat, “now this is a way to start happy hour!”
First Impression: The place is narrow, like really narrow. If you’re sitting at the bar there’s just enough room for someone to walk behind you. No chance of the bar being three deep to get a drink…there’s not enough room. “Mayor” Dan and I walked in around 5:30 and the place was pretty quiet. There were a few people there already who looked like they had been there most of day (nothing like pounding drinks all day on a Monday I suppose?). Johnny Cash was cranking on the jukebox, the barstools were old, and the beer literally was on ice (in Dan’s personal cooler). Let happy hour begin!

The Bar: It’s a fairly small area and does not seat a ton of people…maybe enough for 12-15 people to grab a stool. There is a cramped area out front for a few tables, but it’s mostly a place for those who are ready to fire-up a smoke go to hang out. As you walk past the bar there are 15 (or so) tables and booths where people can hang out and eat drink and me merry. The back of the bar is just littered with random signs and assorted bear and moose heads (not the beer). They had everything from PBR to Sierra Nevada on tap and just about every type of whiskey you could name. A sign just in front of me read: “Men, no shirt no service. Women: No shirt free drinks”. Every good dive needs, at minimum, at least one sign of this nature.

Crowd: This is what really makes the “Tune” great. It was a mix of everyone from DC policy wonks in bowties and suspenders, to a softball team celebrating their latest victory with a pitcher (or 10). Almost as predicted, U.S. Representative Gene Taylor (D MS-4) (who I see pretty much every time I’m in this place) walked in the door not too long before we were getting ready to leave.

Here was the best part of the night, I was able to do my first bit of market research on if people who frequent dive bars would find a site dedicated to their type of hangouts useful. I ran the idea of http://www.hitthtdive.com/ past a regular (an off the clock senior executive who in his spare time hangs out at the Tune in flip flops pounding beers and shots) who also is friends with Mayor Dan. I told him that I had hoped to review dive bars across the country to make it easier for people to find a cheap drink when they were in a new city or as a way to learn about a place they’ve never visited before. His response? “Get this man a shot of Jameson! On me!” I have to assume that he liked the idea…
Service: Quick. Efficient. Our bartender could bring them faster than I could drink them. I had ordered a draft beer, but she quickly advised me that because of the heat in DC over the past few weeks, most of the draft beer was not very cold. She then pointed to a cooler behind the bar (Dan’s cooler) and said “That’s the beer you want.” How could I argue with that logic? For those ordering mixed drinks, let’s just say this, if you order a Captain and Coke, you get a pint glass of rum with just a whisper of coke. Strong does not begin to explain the drinks here.

Price: Good question? When you go do a place like this, with a regular (who also is a consultant for you) there is not much a chance to pay for things. I think I did catch a glimpse at the final tab, and after being there several hours, I’m pretty sure it said $47.00. Thanks for picking up the tab Dan!

Food: Great diner food. Your typical burgers, chili dogs, wings…but the best thing is…you can eat breakfast there all day. The guy sitting next to me was chowing down on some kind of egg, cheese and bacon bagel at 8:00 p.m. at night.

A/V: Five TVs throughout the place. You could easily come here to watch a game, but the place is really rocking once the jukebox starts cranking. Everything from Springsteen, George Jones, Jerry Reed (East Bound and Down!) Van Halen and Charlie Daniels Band…how can you go wrong!

Restrooms: Oh boy…these are interesting. Put it this way, this is an old dive, the restrooms fit the rest of the d├ęcor. Hold your nose, do what needs to be done, and get out. They only fit one person at a time, so much like an airplane, if you see a line starting to form it may be a good time to join the queue if you “feel the urge”.

Bartender Chat: Our bartender told us that Guy Fieri just got done filming an episode of his show there. I am not a fan of his, and I hope that after the episode with the “Tune” airs, that it doesn’t make the place douche bag central with a bunch of people who now want to check it out because a guy with a really bad goatee was here. For the record, our bartender did not see to very pleased that he filmed there.

How Far Did my $20 Go: I have no friggin’ idea! I just did some quick algebra based on what I know we drank and what I know Dan paid. My best guess is STRONG mixed drinks are about $4. And bottled beer was around $2.50. Let’s just say twenty bucks can do some damage here.

Final Impressions: A must! It is a dive bar classic. When you are in DC, or if you live here now, go to the Tune Inn, chat with the regulars, drink really strong drinks, sit on a bar stool and belt out “Rosalita” as it’s cranked on the juke box. This is the kind of a dive you though only existed in bygone eras. HIT THIS DIVE
Dive-O-Meter


9.75*
*Mayor Dan and I both agree that this can be lowered to 8.75 if the followers of Guy Fieri start showing up in droves and ruin the character of the place. I will update if and when needed.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Garrett's Washington DC -- REVIEW

Garrett’s Restaurant and Railroad Tavern
3003 M Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20007-3702
(202) 333-1033

For those who don’t really know the Georgetown culture, it’s the kind of an area where groups of guys go out to meet women wearing suits and ties (even on a Saturday) and are willing to pay $15 a drink just to look “awesome”. Fools!

This was a homecoming of sorts. Garrett’s was a place I would visit on occasion when the rest of the crew I hung out with in the DC-area felt like getting “uppity”. The only reason I would agree to visit Georgetown was on the condition that at some point we would stop into Garrett’s…which is as big as a dive bar in this Beverly Hills-wannabe area of DC as you can find. I had hoped that my memory had served me correctly and that this was still a dive-ish place with good wings. Of course that was a decade ago, so I decided to stop in and see if things have changed.

First Impression: Where is everyone? Today in DC was nearly 100 degrees with a heat index of 115, and just before I got to Garrett’s there was a tornado warning with torrential downpours, so maybe that scarred some people away. It still looked like the comfortable dive I remember, just with a lot less people. I grabbed a seat at the bar (downstairs) because it was easy to do with only one other person sitting there.

Bar: Classic wood and bar stool set up. Nothing fancy (But nothing cheap-looking either). It has the feel of neighborhood dive that is not trying too hard to be anything more than a neighborhood dive (A Ha! Just as I remember it). It has the mandatory video game (Buck Hunter) in the corner and a jukebox on the wall. Other than that, it is just a bar and tables (no complaints here). Keep in mind if you go, Garrett’s has an upstairs as well, which was where I generally liked to hang out when I lived in the area(bar on the left…not the one on the right).

Crowd: At first it was just some me and a dude from New York (by way of Texas). We sat and B.S.ed for a while until a few regulars showed up. Without missing a beat, the regulars joined into to our conversation which consisted of basic nice-to-meet-you bar bullshit (does it even matter at this point?) As the day wore on, a family or two showed up, as did a few couples either trying to beat the rain, the heat, or both. All-in-all a fun crowd.

Service: Our bartender for the afternoon was a blonde Jewel-looking woman named Natalia. She is new to area by way of Chicago, but did not hesitate to jump into the middle of any conversation that was on-going. She also only does this as a part-time gig, but also has a government job during the week. Although new to the area, and fresh out of college, she clearly knew her way around a bar (even if she didn’t know, nor did I, what all went into a Kamikaze).

Price: For Georgetown…not too bad. I paid $3.00 for a domestic pint. But they also had signs around for drink specials that included $5 JagerBomb shots on Wednesday when the had a Wii Tournament going on upstairs. For the record, the special when I got there was for Bloody Marys, but at 3:00 in the afternoon on a HOT day did not seem like the time to give that particular special a try. By comparison, the beer I ordered with dinner later in the evening (as a different, non-dive place just down the street) cost a whopping $8.00 for a 12-ounce bottle. It was nearly the same price as the pizza I ordered!

Food: I didn’t eat (because I stuffed myself on Carolina barbecue at a great place just up the street at a great place called Old Glory) but a guy next to me ordered the wings and they smelled and looked fantastic! Nothing against the Midwest, but you just can’t find wings like this anywhere but in the on the East Coast.

A/V: Nothing special. A few TVs around the bar-area. They have DirecTV, so I’m assuming that watching a sporting event here is pretty easy to do. Unless of course, a monster storm rolls into town again and wrecks havoc with the satellite signal.

Restrooms: I only used the one downstairs so you have been warned now. It is directly behind the bar and is a “unisex” set up. It has a sliding door with an old-school latch on the inside. It is more than a bit dingy and roughly the size of a phone booth. If you are claustrophobic, germaphobic or have a “shy” bladder, you may want to venture to the ones upstairs.

Bartender Chat: Good tips for the male readers out there from bartender Natalia…she was bemoaning the fact that a bunch of yuppie-types were hitting on her the night before and how bad they were at it. When the few of us at the bar pressed her on what they did wrong she said “bartenders know when guys like that are full of shit.” Apparently they kept trying to convince her that the one dude’s girlfriend either just left him and or died. For those familiar with the movie Animal House, apparently trying to meet women by claiming your girlfriend died works only if your name is Eric Stratton (RUSH chairman, damn glad to meet you).

How Far Did My $20 Go: Twenty bucks will get you close to a half-dozen pints of domestic beer. Hey, in Georgetown (or most of DC for that matter) that is a pretty damn good price.

Final Impressions: Garrett’s has stood the test of time and is every bit the fun hangout type of dive I have always loved. In talking with some people in town today I was reminded that Garrett’s is a bit of just-old-enough-to drink place on the weekends…so keep that in mind when making your plans to visit. Of course, I highly encourage you to stop by for the first-time if you’re visiting DC, or check it out again if it has been a few years since you’ve wondered into the place. It will remind you that a good dive can exist even in the high society parts of town.  Hit this dive!


DIVE-O-METER

7

 


Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Elbow Room--REVIEW

The Elbow Room
4973 Center Street Omaha, NE 68106-3247 - (402) 556-0867


Thanks to a suggestion from brooke_murphy (one of my smattering of Twitter followers) I hopped into my car and drove to The Elbow Room. This was uncharted territory for me so I pumped for a new dive bar adventure. I pulled into the small parking lot and thought “oh shit, what did I get myself into?” How do I describe the outside of the place? It’s a cross between some type of 1950s bomb shelter and what I assume a crack house to look like.

I tried to enter through the front door that faces Center Street, but oddly, there was no handle to open it. The door was warped at the bottom, so I grabbed the part that was sticking out and tried to open it that way. No luck. Shit. What do I do now? Part of me thought, screw it let’s get out of here. But my more ballsy-side came to the rescue and said there HAS to be a way in. I did several laps around the place and did notice a door in the back (completely unmarked by the way). After my third lap around the place, I figured I either could try the unmarked door, or continue to look like a scared white guy looking for a hooker. I chose the former…

First Impressions: I opened the unmarked door and walked in (this IS the door to use by the way). The bar was dark, even in the daylight, but not intimidating. There were a decent amount of people sitting at the bar and at tables throughout the place. I grabbed a stool at the end of the bar hoping not to stick out. (To try and look like a “local” I even donned my one and only shirt that has the words Omaha printed on it.) I ultimately thought to myself, if something goes wrong I am well-versed in the oldest from of self-defense. Running!

The Bar: The bar, in a word, was awesome. It reminded me of a really cool Pittsburgh-type social club (i.e. Italian club) mixed with a really funky basement bar like my grandmother’s brother “Uncle Ted” used to have in his house (He came complete with a cancer kazoo in his throat, but that’s a story for another day). There were signs for drink specials EVERYWHERE and the place came equipped for the standard dartboard, pool table and pinball machine (Family Guy pinball at that!). For the beer drinkers in the crowd there were 10 taps (Everything from PBR to Boulevard Wheat) and a very well-stocked cooler of just about anything you would want. What really gave the bar that “Je ne sais quois” was that orange shag carpet on front of the entire bar. Dive-o-rific!

The Crowd: A nice mix of men and women of all ages drinking everything from Bush Light to shots of Jager and Rumplemintz. Some of the women were even quite attractive (and this was sans beer goggles!). Conversation was so friendly throughout the place I even overheard a table of women talking about “the time Radar walked in the O.R. white as a ghost…” to which I immediately blurted out “not the episode where Henry Blake dies!?” We all agreed that was the saddest day at the 4077.

Service: I don’t get treated this well by my own family members. Bartender Ben was the kind of guy you’re known your entire life, you’ve just not met him until now. He was an late 20s/early 30s guy who you would easily pour your life story out to (if you were so inclined) but even better…Ben would be the type to listen intently and offer advise. Ben’s replacement bartender came in toward the end of my stay and seemed equally great. He was the type that seemed like he would bust your balls and lend you the shirt off his back at the same time. This begs the question…why do people go to “fancy” bars and pay a cover charge to be treated like shit? That will never make sense to me.

Drink Prices: Let’s just say this. CHEAP. There are so many special listed around the bar (and in the bathroom) it was hard to figure out when it wasn’t happy hour there? The average price of a beer seemed to be around $2.50. But at happy hour you can buy a pint for a buck. Shots of the “bomb” variety seemed to be around $4-5. And there was even a sign for $3 Captain and Cokes. Let’s just say this…if you don’t like the prices here…only ever drink at home.

Food: Nada. Zip. Zilcho. Not even a bag of chips. If you’re hungry just go to the Runza across the street.

A/V: The Elbow Room has 4 TVs and it’s small enough that you have a decent view just about anywhere you sit in the place. What I found funny is what was on the TVs at the time…two had on baseball…one had Pulp Fiction…and the one closest to me had on the “Dog Whisperer”. That too was the only audio to be heard in the bar.

Restrooms: Ummmmmm…yeah. In fairness I’ve been in (and smelled a lot worse). This was no Trainspotting restroom. But, you’d be well-served to hold as long as possible and then make a quick dash in and then right back out again. Purell is a must for the germophobes in the room.

Bartender Chat: In the time it took for me to order several rounds I found out a lot about Ben. Maybe it was because the Dog Whisperer was on (or maybe because I was bemoaning the fact we had to take our hound to the kennel tomorrow) but I learned that Ben just had to have his dog of nine years put to sleep a day earlier. Only in a real bar, do you get real stories from real people. Sorry for your loss dude. He does however, still have a cat that he doesn’t seem to mind. Again, you frequent places like this to meet new people and share stories (it's like Twitter with beer)…that’s what makes a dive fun.

How Far Did My $20 Go: I did some creative happy hour math from the signs on the wall and determined that 20 bucks could buy you 5 pints of domestic beer, 2 well drinks and a JagerBomb. That’s what I call bang for your buck!

Final Impressions: THIS. IS. A. DIVE…in the greatest sense of the word. Friendly people, cheap drinks, cool dive atmosphere…what more could you want? (Well, if it also had the world’s greatest wings that would be nice too…but now I’m being nitpicky). The one thought I did have (because of all the people walking in and out to have a smoke) was I wonder what I would have smelled like if Omaha did not enact a smoking ban in bars?? Thankfully there is one which makes it easier for people like me to enjoy a truly great Omaha dive. If you love dive bars, do not hesitate to belly up at The Elbow Room…you’ll thank me when you do. HIT THIS DIVE!


DIVE-O METER 8.5


Friday, July 23, 2010

Sneak Peek of The Elbow Room Review

This is the restroom at The Elbow Room?  Now I'm scared.  Check back tomorrow to see if I made it out alive. Or, at the very least, how long I could wait until I had to break the seal.

The Wet Lounge -- REVIEW


The Wet Lounge
1021 South 178th Street, Omaha - (402) 502-9995


I set off, on foot mind you, for the Wet Lounge armed with my notepad, cell phone and a fresh new 20 dollar bill to see how far that would get me. It was 8:00ish on a Thursday so I was a bit surprised to see the place pretty near empty. The Wet Lounge location is just plain odd, it’s in a strip mall-ish development in the same area as a chiropractor, dentist and day spa. It’s safe to say, it’s not really the most inviting bar I’ve even seen from the outside.

First impressions: This place is really blue. Not as in the mood, but the color blue, like an almost neon blue. As for the furniture, the tables throughout all have that circa 1979 diningroom table-look with matching chairs on coasters.

Crowd: Two tables of loud golf types chatting about the same thing middle age golfers seem to like to talk about (getting away from the kids, the wife is a nag, and lying about shooting a 68 the other day), a mean-looking concrete guy (complete with no sleeves), and grey-haired woman who did not order a drink but apparently hit it big on a poker machine.

The Bar: Looked to be heavily stocked with a wide array of vodka…which leads me to believe this place has served more than its share of JagerBombs. For the beer drinkers in the crowd, there are 8 beers on tap and (everything from Bud Light to Blue Moon and Guinness) and a big selection of bottled beer. The bar itself (you know, that place where your drink goes) is looking pretty banged up. It too is blue, but looks like it’s had a fair share of shot glasses, or skulls, banged off of it. There is a pool table and dartboard oddly placed just sort of in the back of the place.

Service: The bartender was a likeable former Backstreet Boy-looking wannabe compete with several large tattoos and a penchant for Irish punk music (OK in my book). Before I had time to settle into my bar stool he asked my drink order, and for the rest of my time there, he never let my glass get close to empty without asking if I was ready for another round. Cheers to you my friend!

Drink Specials: I didn’t see a whole lot of them advertised. Lots of posters for $4 drafts (that is not a drink special in my book) I did notice that they have a $2 Miller Lite special on Wednesday nights during karaoke. Since the Miller Lite I was drinking was only $2.75, I was happy to pay the extra money on a Thursday to avoid middle-aged drunk people attempting to sing Katy Perry songs.

Food: I’m not a food critic, which is good because they don’t have a menu here. In the future however, I will only strictly review wings.

A/V: While I would not classify this as a “sports” bar, there are nine TVs located throughout the place. They are kind of on the smallish-side, so I’m not sure this is where I would choose to watch a game I am highly intent on watching. There is a DJ there Wednesday-Saturday nights if that matters to you. The odd thing about the DJ was he seemed to be closer to the age of collecting social security than he did playing frat parties at UNO.


Rest Rooms: Not too shabby! Surprisingly clean-looking and non-odoriferous. That may have been the biggest shock of the evening.

Bartender Chat: In making small-talk with the bartender, I asked him how the new 2:00 am closing was working out. He said that on the previous Saturday night, between the hours of 1:00-2:00, he kicked out nearly 10 people…something he claims to rarely have done when last call was at 12:45. He also let me know that a “party bus” from Lincoln was on the way and that things could get “kind of crazy”. Sure enough, just as I was about to leave, a spray painted black bus showed up with 20 or so drunk people. Which raises the question, why hop on a bus for an hour to come to the ‘burbs of Omaha to get your drink on?

How Far Did My $20 Go: Five pints for a total of $13.75 and a $4 tip…I still walked out of there with some money in my pocket.

Final Impressions: I’ve been here a few times and never walk out hating the place. It never really gives me a reason to make it a point to stop here either. This is what I would classify as a “third base lounge” …it makes a logical last stop before home if you live in the area. So the question is, would I Hit That Dive again?

Oddly, I would. It’s never going to be a first-choice option in my book (even though I can walk there) but try as I might to dislike the place, I have always had great service and reasonably priced drinks.

DIVE-O-METER (1-10 shot glasses…10 being world’s greatest dive) Wet Lounge on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Preview of Tomorrow's Review of the Wet Lounge


When this is on the coaster...you know you're in for a fun night!

Only Several Years in the Making!

Welcome to "Hit That Dive" where I will fearlessly critique dive bars throughout Eastern Nebraska. Why would I do this you ask? Several reasons come to mind. One...it's a good excuse to get of the house. Two...how many times have you driven past the same bar and thought "Wonder if that place is worth stopping in for a beer?" And three...hell, we critique everything under the sun these days...It's about time dive bars got their day too!

So hang in there with me while I ventrue into some of Omaha's dives, dumps and gin joints to answer that age-old question...should I hit that dive?