Kicking It Old-School at SanTana's the Quill Lounge
[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 weekly 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.]
One Friday at the Quill in Santa Ana, a group of guys were gathered around the lone dartboard near midnight. The elderly bartender leaned over and hollered, "It works better if you put fucking money in it." To which one guy replied, "We were just messing around!" "Fuckin' right," the bartender replied.
This guy serves, speaks and swaggers as though he were John Wayne. He serves stiff and takes no bullshit, Pilgrim. I asked him to make me his specialty. "I don't got a specialty," he said.
"Well, what are you known for, or what do you like to make?" I asked.
"I'm known for arriving late and leaving early," he said. One thing I know he's good at is never letting a customer go dry. He has a new drink ready for you before you even get a chance to ask.
Now, whenever I mention I review dive bars in Orange County, the Quill invariably comes up. People speak of it as though it's a mythical place, and it's held in the hearts of drunks from all over--not just the ones who live within stumbling distance. This love is partially because it's the dive that time forgot. Relatively fancy for a dive, but tough.
The Quill possesses an old-time flair with a dark element. It has had the same name since 1959 and owns one of the oldest liquor licenses in OC. The cash register is from 1944, and the back of the bar is lit by a classic green banker's desk lamp. Ornately framed golden mirrors line one wall, beneath a high shelf holding antique books. It's the kinda place where if you squint just right, you can see Frank Sinatra smoking in one of the black-leather booths, drinking a Manhattan or Daniels on the rocks.
The décor may be relatively fancy for a dive, but don't go in expecting any beers that a blue-collar grandfather hasn't heard of--or any on draft, for that matter. The selection focuses on liquor, and there are even different styles of glasses for specific cocktails--fancy! The bathrooms aren't identified by blue signs with white icons, but instead hand-painted wooden plaques reading, "Ladies" and, "Gentlemen."
Despite all these nice touches, what keeps this bar in the dive realm is the clientele, with its median age of 45; the exclusion of anything close to craft beer or liquor; its location in SanTana; the surly but loveable bartenders; and low lights. There's a couple of smaller TVs and an Internet jukebox that consistently churns out good classic rock, blues and country.
The younger guy who works there makes sure you're consistently comfortable, offering polite conversation and always ensuring your complimentary popcorn basket is full. Oh, and it isn't the microwave crap; there's a popcorn machine in the back corner. As nice as he is, he still knows how to dish with the old, salty types, and you've gotta have balls to work in a place like this.
BEST LINE OF THE NIGHT: Bartender: "Hey, Marty, how's it going? You gonna give me shit tonight? You were a handful last time." Marty: "Eh, I'll give you shit tomorrow."
The Quill Lounge, 1630 Maybury St., Santa Ana, (714) 558-2744.
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