[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 nightlife column Dive, Dive, My Darling. Read this week as our bold editor-in-chief, Gustavo Arellano stumbles into the dive bar scene to find crazy stories, meet random weirdos and guzzle good booze.]
"This is my favorite time of the night," said the cute Latina in a neon-orange bra and ass shorts as she poured me my third Jameson on the rocks. And what could she mean by that? I was at the Pump Room in Orange, the legendary bikini bar I have passed almost weekly since my days at Chapman University in the late 1990s but only recently begun to visit. Her Eastern European colleague, wearing even tighter, skimpier clothing, purred at customers. Guns N' Roses rocked on the jukebox. Men played pool. Drunk couples embraced with increasing friskiness. It was 11:45 p.m. on a Saturday, and the place was hopping.
"What do you mean by that?" asked my best friend, Art, as he nuzzled a gin and tonic. The Latina didn't answer; she left to wash some tumblers. Art and I wondered whether a favorite customer was coming. Maybe her boyfriend, to pick her up? Were the girls going to do something skanky? Mysterious patron traditions about to ensue? Stuff even more bizarre, absolutely unprintable in this family paper?
The Latina returned. "What's your favorite thing of the night?" Art asked again, and she nodded toward a man just behind us.
"TA-MA-LES!" he barked over the modern-day hip-hop. "TA-MA-LES!"
"He's my favorite," she explained. Turns out the middle-aged Mexican regularly peddles tamales here to make a couple of extra bucks. She ordered one to save for later. "They're so good, and he's so nice. He's like a regular."
Awww, how pinche sweet! You expect the worst from bikini bars, as I noted in my review of Deva's in Tustin a couple of weeks back, but the Pump Room is as relaxed a bar as I've ever been to--and given the servers pour drinks and hand off popcorn while in their unmentionables, that's a stunning accomplishment. There are no lechers; there's no air of perversion, no attitude. It's mostly regulars of all ages, people who feel so at home they bring in pizza and other food with the knowing approval of the staff. You could take your mom here, and she wouldn't blink.
A low-key bikini bar? Yep. Craft beers were on tap and in bottles; a sign advertised a farewell potluck for one of the workers, with everyone invited. The ladies, while hot and dressed in next to nothing, carried themselves with confidence--no shaking of tits in front of men, no overly dramatic bends to grab schnapps from an impossible-to-reach place. There were no crazy posters, no random mementos with inside-baseball stories--just the girls, the drinks, the music and the entertainment (in the form of pool tables and about 10 flat-screens). On that night, one of TVs was tuned to Australian-rules football. Want to mesmerize a drunk American man? Have him watch a match. (Ask an Aussie: Why do the refs throw in the ball backward and in a motion that suggests an aborted grand jeté?)
Low-key doesn't lend itself to great copy, so Art and I drank up fast to move on to a paisa bar. But the Latina bartender's rave review of the tamalero had us wanting some before we left. I flagged him down--out of place in this bar, but running the room. He jabbered with familiar faces and did his tamale pitch for others: chicken, pork or cheese, buck-fifty apiece. My order: two queso. He grabbed them from a red cooler.
"¿Quiere salsa?" the man said over some dubstep bullshit.
Sí. I asked him to just dab a bit.
"No, mijo," he said, admonishing me like a tío. "Agarre un vaso"--get a cup. The tamales weren't the best, but they were warm, reassuring and perfect for the night, a delicious metaphor for the Pump Room. Or should it be the Latina's tasteful over-the-shoulder boulder holder?
FAVORITE PIECE OF FLAIR: The font for the Pump Room's sign--straight outta the '80s.
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THE TAMALE MAN COMES: Weekend nights after 10. Watch out for the salsa--it's as hot as hell.
The Pump Room, 1532 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 978-6010.