[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 this week as our Mexican-in-chief, Gustavo Arellano stumbles into the dive bar scene to find crazy stories, meet random weirdos and guzzle good booze.]
In the middle of refugees and second-generation kids, of boba shops and pho palaces, of advertisements for the latest Paris By Night is the sight of a middle-aged white man smoking outside Gaynor's Lounge on a weekday afternoon, resting in a plastic chair and looking as if he just completed a shift at a Bakersfield oil well. No one acknowledged him; he did the same. Taking one last drag, the guy flicked the butt toward the parking lot and walked back into his time warp.
I wanted to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Little Saigon at the bikini lounge in the heart of the enclave, off Bolsa Avenue and Moran Street in Westminster, a bar with a turreted red-shingle roof out of The Hobbit that was the area's last remnant of working-class white Westminster before the Vietnamese exodus transformed it. But it's gone: Construction workers have removed the roof and are busy excavating the interior, no doubt to put another Vietnamese business in its place.
Instead, I headed to the last working-class white bar left in Little Saigon: Gaynor's, located in a Garden Grove shopping plaza off Westminster Avenue and Brookhurst Street most famous for hosting Brodard Restaurant. Its sans serif sign gets lost in a sea of neon diacritics at night; other than a worn door and the plastic chairs that host smoking regulars, the only outside indicator that a bar exists here is a neon sign, lit even during the day and behind glass, that screams, "COCKTAILS," the last four letters drooping, each more than the other, hinting at the anomaly inside.
From the walls that alternate between fieldstone and mirrors to the comfortable couches, from the stucco ceiling so low you can punch it to the beat-up Megatouch gaming console at the corner of the counter, from the no-frills cocktails to the long, swooping bar, Gaynor's acts as if Little Saigon never happened.
The clientele during the day is overwhelmingly middle-aged white men, with a few Latinos thrown in; the stout woman manning the bar resembles Ma Joad. Nighttime brings a younger, rowdier crowd, drawn in by karaoke, darts and pool . . . but still, next-to-no Viets, since the older generation is at the cafés, and the 1.5 and second-generation kids are busy slurping up crawfish. Only signs in Vietnamese in front of the men's and women's restrooms and some bottles of cognac even hint at the reality outside.
And what happens outside is torn from the same OC Book of Clashing Cultures that happened when the punks from the Cuckoo's Nest and the urban cowboys of Zubie's met outside in parking lots--sans the fights, thank God. Blitzed middle-aged gabachos stumble into the parking lot, towering over Vietnamese who just ignore them, with the look on each side's face registering bemusement at what their city has turned into. Garden Grove's gabachos didn't take the emergence of Little Saigon kindly--during the 1980s and 1990s, bumper stickers proclaiming, "Will the Last American to Leave Garden Grove Bring the Flag?" were seen around Central OC, with a Westminster equivalent as well, and there are now grumblings about efforts by Garden Grove Unified School District trustee Bao Nguyen to create a Vietnamese dual-immersion elementary school.
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But even Gaynor's understands that times change. There's now a neon sign inside advertising micheladas, the Mexican cocktail of beer, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce--after all, it's now the Mexicans who are eating into Little Saigon, and to survive in Orange County, you gotta go with the immigrant flow.
BEST QUOTE: "I don't like the guys who beat me up, so I don't like everyone," said a middle-aged man who had spent most of his time discussing brake drums. DON'T BOTHER WITH: The digital jukebox. Its offerings are as limited as the published works of Harper Lee.
Gaynor's Lounge, 9902 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 638-2800.