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What makes a great dive bar?

We’re going to switch it up in the old bar today and talk about … bars.

Yeah, we’re a sports forum, but we have room in here to mix it up (and not just on the never-been-used, four-foot-square dance floor).

And this is sort of about sports, so stick with me.

I wrote earlier about the Orioles’ spring training move from Fort Lauderdale to Sarasota and how there were some things about Lauderdale I’d miss. Several of my baseball-writing buddies wrote on their blogs about their memories from Lauderdale.

And Jack, among other regular customers, wanted some tall tales about the spring from me. Well let’s say I believe in the truism, “Whatever happens in Lauderdale, stays in Lauderdale.” I know, that’s no fun. But I am a former altar boy, I have a reputation to consider.

My pal Roch Kubatko over at MASN wrote about some of his fondest memories, and included a little dive bar called Jester’s in North Lauderdale. (I’d say his account of our late night is 99 percent accurate, though I contend, perhaps sheepishly, that it was common knowledge I wasn’t on the next morning’s trip).

Crazily, when I think about my nine seasons in Lauderdale, Jester’s will be one of the most memorable places – to the shrieks of the Fort Lauderdale Tourism Bureau. The place screamed dive bar – and I loved it.

It was open until 4 a.m., while others in the area had to close at 2. So it was one of the few places that got busier after 2. And what a clientele that poured in there after hours. It made the Star Wars bar look tame. Creatures with three heads were a common sight. It was prime people-watching territory, and that’s key for a frumpy, married sportswriter with time on his hands.

My two all-time Jester’s highlights in order: 1. Watching a knock-down, drag-out fight between two drunken women that spilled into the parking lot and nearly toppled a motorcycle. 2. Seeing Roch cry at the bar while listening to Green Day’s “Good Riddance” on our last day of the spring one year (Roch claims he was just a little melancholy, but I swear I saw mist in those eyes. One of us is telling the truth, I promise).

Anyway, it got me thinking about my favorite dive bars and the connection between them. They’re usually dark, dingy and filled with bizarre-looking people. I explain dive bars this way: You likely wouldn’t eat there and you certainly wouldn’t take a first date there. But it’s the place you and your buddies start or end a night on the town.

So, while the Orioles are on a losing road trip, let’s talk dive bars. What makes a good one and which is your favorite?

If you absolutely, positively need a sports fix this weekend, however, here’s a trivia question to ponder that I stumbled across.

Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, at age 23 and 105 days, became the 15th youngest player in baseball history to reach 50 career wins this week.

The youngest to reach 50 was age 20 and 297 days. He’s a Hall-of Famer. The second youngest wasted his talent. The third youngest should be in the Hall, but hasn’t gotten the necessary votes yet.

And the fourth is a former Oriole, who reached 50 wins at age 22 and 108 days. His name isn’t Jim Palmer, by the way (Cakes was 24 and change when he did it).

So name the four youngest to reach 50. I’ll let you know for sure on Monday.

Daily Think Special: What makes a great dive bar? Which is your favorite?

Bonus Think Special: Name the top four youngest big leaguers to achieve 50 wins.



Ahhh... now you're talking... at least a little. But you still are the artful dodger by and large. But I guess it's that ability to keep a secret that makes you so popular as a bartender, at least in part. Lord knows it's not the watered down cocktails.

I'll ponder the primary question, but want to take a shot at the bonus question, without looking it up. I'm going with:
1 - Bob Feller
2 - Dwight Gooden
3 - Vida Blue; though the "necessary votes yet" would indicate maybe Blyleven
4 - that's tricky because you didn't say he was an Oriole at the time. I should have read that profile on Wally Bunker a little more closely to find out if he's the one, or possibly Steve Barber. I think it said Bunker won 19 in '64 as a rookie and was a shell of himself by the '66 season. So I'll go with Barber. Now watch, it'll be Pappas, McNally, or somebody who when I hear the answer I'll go "DOH! I shoulda known that!"

Depends on how deep the pool is...

"M" is for Sarcastic response

I always thought the definition of a dive bar was one that is patronized by Sportswriters.

My favorite isone in the little town of DuBois, PA. What makes this one unique is that the "decor" consists of about 100 stuffed critters (The real "dead" kind. Not the fluffy ones you get for your kids.) There are pheasants, rabbits, foxes, etc. The most impressive though, is a black bear that stands about 7 feet tall.

I've been in this bar several times over a period of a couple of years, and literally each time I've been there, there is one Amish guy sitting at the corner of the bar. He's obviously a regular (Probably named "Norm".)

There's just something about the atmosphere in this place that makes it a great dive bar.

I think the Oriole pitcher is Milt Pappas. I know he was 22 when he picked up that 50th win.

Barkeep's reply: Ding, ding ding. Impressive Bob.
And Bob Feller and Dwight Gooden are correct, too.

My comments on what makes a good dive bar:

--don't eat the food (limited menu anyway)

--if they sell Schlitz, regardless of what else is served, they qualify.

--cash only. No cc's accepted.

--Pool table, yes.....darts yes.....shuffleboard, no.

--they have wood floors that haven't been re-finished since the Kennedy/LBJ administration.

--sexy chicks are no where near this place. If your single and wants some action, go to the trendy bar. If you and your buddies want to tie one on, drink cheap beer and/or possibly get in a fight.....dive bar it is.

--pitcher's of beer are encouraged

--not exactly top flight musical acts (if any)

OK, I did look up the answers after I posted so I know where I went wrong. I think Rob's on the right track in describing a good dive bar, though he probably has an unfair advantage on me for having spent more time in more of them over the years than I ever will. Additional points needed for a good dive bar:
- lots of wood, most of it worn smooth or without remaining finish, not just on the floors

- not a whole lot of light in the place

- not too big, nothing looking new and trendy or very fancy

- nobody's ordering fruity drinks

- buckets of peanuts on the tables and shells on the floor are a good sign

- old signs on the walls that have been there forever, not some retro collection brought in for "ambiance"

One place to comes to mind fondly for me is Cactus Flats on Rt 15 between Frederick and Thurmont.

I haven't lived in Baltimore since the mid 80's, so I don't know if any of these places I once frequented still exist -- or even if they qualify as "dive" bars -- but here's my list.

1. The Hollinswood Inn
in Lakeland.

2. The Horse You Came In On Saloon in Fells Point

3. The Counsel House in Baltimore Highlands.

4. Renee's in River View/Lansdowne

5. Smitty's in Morrell Park

6. Hammerjack's in South Baltimore

We used to joke that Hammerjack's served people so young there was a cartoon character at the front door, like the ones beside amusement park ride entrances, that said, "If you can touch Bo-Bo's nose, you can drink at Hammerjack's."

Yes Jack, I HAD many years of experience visiting dive bars before I got married. Anonymous.....The Horse you came in On just might be the the Dive Bar of Dive Bar's. I spent too much time at the old Old Philadelphia Inn too......

More makings of a good dive bar:

Paper beer coasters that have been in use for years.

Happy hour drink chips or, even better, shot glasses (preferably plastic) used in place of drink chips.

Package sales and "To-go" cups.

"Food" selection consists entirely of pickled items (eggs, pig's feet,
sausages, etc.).

Budweiser, Coors, etc. are considered premium beers
(One time I drank a dive bar in Essex out of its entire stock of
Miller Lite - one 6-pack - and the bartender had to run
to the liquor store down the street to get more!).

Posters on the walls for events long since past and/or bikini model calendars from past years; Beer lights for beers they don't have or that are no longer sold;

Only one CD in the jukebox contains music that came out after 1986 -
regulars sitting at the bar shoot dirty looks at whoever dares to play it.

Video poker and/or video slot machines ("For Amusement Only", of course!).

Trench urinal along the wall in the men's room (or along the bar itself!).

Newspaper (sports and comic sections) pinned to a board above the
urinals to give customers something to read.

Vending machine in the men's room selling things that are "ribbed for her
pleasure", with a comment scribbled on it, "This gum tastes like rubber!".

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