[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.]
"This used to be a smoker's haven," a young man in a paperboy cap named Ryan told me. "I know people from out-of-state who've heard of the Iron Mule just because you could smoke inside." He recalled this excitedly, with an electronic cigarette in hand. In what was a completely unsubstantiated story (what else is bar gossip?), he and his former Marine friend (whose name I've forgotten--sorry, and Semper Fi) explained to me this was the main draw of the Lake Forest bar up until about six months ago, when the bar came under new management.
The bar gossip continued. The new boss supposedly went to the sushi restaurant and Subway next door and told the workers there to complain about the smoke so he wouldn't look like the bad guy when he told the bartenders and regulars to stop lighting up inside. Whatever the case may be, there was no smoking inside when I went to the hole-in-the-wall one Saturday at about 9 p.m., save for several patrons with e-cigs.
Looking around the L-shaped room, I thought to myself how dissimilar it was to those few OC bars left that still allow smoking inside (which I won't name 'cuz I ain't no narc). The Iron Mule isn't straight outta the Golden Age of OC Bars, with red-vinyl chairs, mini-chandeliers and regulars stolen from an All In the Family episode.
The decoration here is minimal, unless you count exposed insulation on the ceiling as décor. There are four pool tables, two dart boards and one long, L-shaped bartop. A few televisions were tuned to the LA Kings game that night, and a patron a few seats down had an issue with the female sportscaster. "Women have no place in hockey," he announced to the room, and isn't that a nice thought? Womenfolk were sparse that night: me, my mom, a lady pool player and a girl wearing a get-up reminiscent of Julia Roberts' in Pretty Woman.
The bartender that evening was a young man in a hoodie. Questions were answered with a small hint of 'tude. Dunno if that was just his South County accent or the fact I was a first-timer. This is a beer-and-wine bar, though no one seemed to be there for the wine, with most folks drinking giant mugs of draft beer--12 on tap and 17 bottled. No Blue Moon here, so I had to drink Dos Equis and Coronas dry. "We don't serve cocktails, so we don't have any of that stuff," the bartender explained when I asked for a lime.
Mom and I were there for several hours, but the level was as sleepy as the rest of Lake Forest past sundown. We played a rather bad game of pool together, hoping for some thrills the game never delivered. There was a pool team to our left, and one of the guys with salt-and-pepper hair came up to me after finishing his game. We had never spoken before.
"Do you know who that guy is?" he asked. "The Asian guy? He's the Florida state champion [of pool]."
"Yeah, did he kick your ass?" I asked.
"No, I'm a 14-time world champion," and before I could respond, he zipped up his cue bag and walked out the door.
BEST QUOTE: "I live just down the street, so I tie [a rope to] my waist to the fire hydrant and follow the rope back home," said young Ryan.
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BIGGEST MYSTERY: The toy mule in a noose hanging from a rafter.
Iron Mule, 21212 Bake Pkwy., Lake Forest, (949) 586-6853.