[Editor's Note: We all know local music and dive bars go hand-in-hand. So in the interest of merging the two together on Heard Mentality, we bring you our newest nightlife column Dive, Dive, My Darling. Read as our bold web editor, Taylor "Hellcat" Hamby, stumbles into the dive bar scene every week to find crazy stories, meet random weirdos and guzzle good booze.]
The second time I went to Brian's Beer and Billiards in Fullerton, I sat down at the bar and flagged down the barkeep with those wide, attentive, "Hey, I'm thirsty" eyes. Even though the young man had presumably served a hundred customers since he last saw me, he knew what beer I wanted, what size glass I wanted it in and, hell, even my drinking partner's order from last time: a schooner of Fullerton's finest, Bootlegger's Palomino.
"Hey! You have a good memory," I said, surprised. Tyler (as I later learned) smiled and shrugged it off. He may have not acted as though it were that big of a deal, but it's a gesture that goes miles with returning customers. The next thing is the bar's extensive beer selection, of course. Sure, it's a beer joint, but you'll barely miss the booze thanks to the beers on tap, bottled and canned. There are the dive-bar staples--the most popular domestics and their light counterparts--as well as brews from local boys such as Bootlegger's.
"We're not like Hero's or anything," the bartender qualifies before telling me how many beers the bar carries (16 on tap and about 30 bottled).
"Good," I said. Not to slight the fellow Fullerton bar--whose beer selection is amazing--but you can't just sit down and enjoy your beer on your own terms on a Friday night due to the large crowds blocking every walkway, not to mention feral packs of squawking coeds. Go into Brian's on a Friday, you'll find coeds, but you'll also find salty old bar flies and everyone in between.
Two things stand out about this quiet neighborhood fave: the service and the atmosphere. They have an attentive cocktail waitress on busy Friday nights--a rarity for many dives. She respects the sanctity of beer by asking you if you're done with the butt of your beer before clearing the glass.
Now for the atmosphere: If you do a scan from one end of the room to the other, you'll see the majority of patrons with genuine smiles on their face. No tears in your beers here. The walls are lined floor to ceiling with, as many dives are, sports memorabilia (including what's advertised as an actual 1922 Yankee uniform worn by John Goodman in The Babe). But here's the thing--everything is framed. Classy. Along with vintage posters, you'll also find taxidermy such as the elk's and boar's head and (fake) giant fish, which adds a little more camp to an otherwise sports-only bar. Go here to watch an Angels game, a Cal State Fullerton Titans game--even a Ducks game--with like-minded fans.
Whether you're there to watch the game and chow down or just chugging along as I was, order food from the attached Big B's BBQ. I opted for two of my favorite appetizers: fried zucchini and mozzarella sticks. The zucchini were soggy, cut thick, and modestly breaded; the mozzarella were much better. The breading was crispy, the cheese was hot and stringy, and they were served with celery and marinara sauce. I haven't tried any of the lauded barbecue just yet, but I am looking forward to some ribs.
And though the beer selection would prevent anyone from having to drink a Smirnoff Ice, I closed out the night by ordering one. I put the dreaded drink in my deep pockets and, while holding a beer and a to-go box, asked my man if he could grab my phone from my pocket because my hands were full. As he reached into my pocket, he succumbed to the great frat boy ritual known as "Icing," in which you must chug a Smirnoff Ice immediately if you find one. Obliging, he got down on one knee and took it like an Ice Man!
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BEST QUOTE OF THE DAY: Guy One: "Her sister dated [a Shark], a Giant and a 49er." Guy Two: "Oh, so she's a pro ho."
FAVORITE PIECE OF FLAIR: The black-and-white USC football team picture in the ladies' room asking if you can spot Marion Morrison (a.k.a. John Wayne).
Brian's Beer and Billiards, 1944 N Placentia Ave., Fullerton, (714) 993-1401; www.briansbeer.com.