Old Men and their Bars...Mon, December 21, 2009 - 12:55 PM
Breakfast of Champions
An ode to the old-man bar--rare but not forgotten
By Allie Gottlieb
IT'S AN UNFORTUNATE failure of collective parenting that old-woman bars don't seem to exist. Hence, the best, most authentic kind of bar is still the old-man bar. This bar exists in every city--or at least it should--and it just drips with certain tacky and beautiful elements that help make over- and underwhelming urban and suburban areas more bearable via sappy drunken stories, free rounds, odd interpretations of personal space and nautical clocks.
Sadly, the old features--like the velvet curtains that used to hang inside Bear's--that lend bars a crucial gaudiness too often give way to giant TVs tuned to ESPN and terrible songs by Cher.
Luckily, some local drinking institutions still do their part to jointly define what it is to be an old-man bar. Most importantly, they open early. An hour before I hit the snooze button for the third time, retired folks with no clue about R. Kelly and his alleged kiddie-porn videos are working on their first red-eye special.
Alex's 49er Inn
2214 Business Circle, San Jose 408.279.9737
Arthur Olivas grabs my hand, and his eyes tear up. "You know, young lady, progress has raped this valley," says the 71-year-old. He's lamenting the loss of apple orchards, which used to frequent the area. "This is way before your time, little girl. It's never going to be the same."
Art, as he likes to be called, tells me about how he went to San Jose's Jefferson Grammar School with local political hero and Transportation Department chief Norm Mineta. "I do believe that Norman Mineta is the type of person that never was corrupted," he practically sobs, in a moment of Budweiser-induced poetic sentimentality.
A moment later, he changes the subject. "Do you drive?" he asks.
"Yes," I answer.
"You drive me crazy," Art coos.
HOW TO TELL IT'S AN OLD-MAN BAR: The bartender is overly friendly. She makes up games, like the one where customers ball up their tips and try to shoot them into a glass bowl as she circles it around her head. Someone bought me a whiskey & Coke; someone else gave me a stick of gum; and yet a third patron gave me a Swisher Sweet cigar for the road. The bar opens at 6am.
The Bears Cocktail Lounge
220 W. Alma Ave, San Jose 408.292.0270
Ken's only 54. But he's old enough to remember when the Bears crowd was all roofers. Ken's a roofer. He refers to himself as a dirty old man and to Bears owner Tony as "Hey, asshole."
Mr. Asshole enjoys the colorful language. "If there's no ladies present," he tells me, "then we'll really talk funny."
HOW TO TELL IT'S AN OLD-MAN BAR: The Lotto machine is the most popular thing in the bar. Nothing matches on the wall, from the bear head to the James Dean poster to the war-plane posters to the picture of the naked woman who looks like Ken's first wife. A bald man with a white handlebar mustache occupies one bar stool. A guy named Chuck walks in and wins $7,000 on a scratcher game. The bar opens at 6am.
98 Almaden Ave, San Jose 408.995.6220
Someone new just bought the Caravan, says Joey Francisco, 62. But the dim bar that's tucked under the kitschy Plaza Hotel sign and a tropical tree in downtown San Jose probably won't change too much, with bartender Francisco holding down the day-to-day show. Francisco's been in the bar biz since 1969. He observes the trends. "With some of the newer clubs, you get a younger crowd--the upwardly mobile, if that's still politically correct," Francisco says. "Now it's white zinfandel and a lot of frou-frou drinks. ... And the bartenders have gotten a lot younger."
HOW TO TELL IT'S (SORT OF) AN OLD-MAN BAR: The bartender is (kind of) surly. Patsy Cline, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra still have spots on the jukebox. (But, like most bars these days, the jukebox plays CDs, not 45s, and it's packed with "alternative" college-rock, too.) There's a nautical clock on the wall. A retired merchant seaman/Caravan regular gave the clock to Francisco one Christmas. The bar opens at 6am.
Bars that open at six have always been important to me back in my drinking days... I worked in printing Newspapers and most of them are delivered in the morning so we work at night... Not unusual for the crew to go out for breakfast, then Hit the bars till noon or so... In my youth and before I became a supervisor... lol... it was some times an all day afair and would go back to work with out ever going home... Don't ask me how I still have all ten fingers even though six are very bent from being smashed in the press... I can't believe how many times we would meet before work to knock down a few then at lunch go back to the bar and drink a couple of pitchers of beers with a couple of shots, we would buy our pints at the liquor store on the way back to the shop to drink till we got off in the morning... I did this for the majority of ten years... It's a wonder that I never got in an accident or a drunk driving arrest... I saw many of my friend die, kill others and lose every thing they had... I finally realized it was just not worth it.... But I still like the boozy smell of an Old Gentleman's Bar...
You know the ones, they have only one TV and might be on during the Super Bowl... For sure it would be on for the World Series... Dice are thrown playing Games like Ship Captain Crew or Six's for buying rounds... I liked the old days of smoking in the bars and a bar that the bar tender smoked a cigar while pouring a drink was OK for me...
and they all opened at six AM
|add a comment|
|Thanks for this Scotty! The dive bars have always only been a two or three drinks a day habit for me, but I sure recognize all the characteristics of these old-man bars in San Jose. Could be Santa Cruz, San Francisco, or Sonoma (the only places I'm familiar with them....|
|It says six minutes between my Post and your comment, but that can't be right, I clicked post and there you are already making a comment... I am Flummoxed...!|
It might be your computer's clock. Back in the day, I used to notice that, but with my last couple computers the time is all GPS synchronized. Otherwise, I don't know!
Oops! I need a drink!
yeah.. where the hell are the old women bars.. really I'd prefer a co-ed bar when I get old. I don't like hanging with a gaggle of women.
I like a dive bar from time to time..but I cannot stand this bar near me where the old men bang those dice cups ridiculously loudly. It runs everyone (particularly women..maybe that's the point) out of the place except the very very inebriated and hard of hearing. It's like having a firecracker go off every minute or so..they do make a stiff drink there though..I drink less and less but when I want a Vodka Tonic..I wan't a *vodka* tonic...so there's the up side.
Gen and Tonic for me, it helps fight the Malaria... but now and again a little Cutty Sark , or Pinch when I am in the Mood.... Water Back of course...
Maybe light up a good Virginia Blend Dunhill International red-pack while having some good conversation about Old Dogs and the Love of Old Loves...