I am sitting, as I write this, inside Long Beach’s newest neighborhood dive, The Hawk, elbows digging into its bartop’s freshly lain vinyl elbow pads.
In front of me is a highball glass of brown liquid — High West Double Rye — poured with care by The Hawk’s owner Kyle Flavin, who explained that the spirit ($8 a shot, way below suggested retail price) earned its name (and rich, spicy flavor) from a combination of 16-year-old and 2-year-old rye bourbons.
“High West is the only distillery in Utah,” Flavin said excitedly as pool balls clacked nearby. “They were one of the only places at the time to admit that they were buying already aged distillate until their own barrels matured. They embraced it instead and built their brand on releasing all sorts of crazy, interesting blends.”
Knowledge-dropping like this is why Flavin — who, like most of his staff, helped open the underground East Village whiskey bar Blind Donkey — is my most trusted whiskey guru.
The fact that the Long Beach native now has his own bar, with a spirits list vast enough to intrigue even L.A. snobs and prices low enough to make fast regulars out of us all, is why this is the third time I have been to The Hawk in the week since it first started pouring. It replaced the occasionally open, always-smoky dive The Nugget on a stretch of Anaheim Street along the northern tip of Wilmore.
From the outside, The Hawk — with its new coat of dark paint and neon green and purple signs — looks like Highland Park-level gentrification. But as soon as you walk in, you’re greeted by a chorus of Midwest hospitality and a long bar that extends one one side to the CD-stuffed jukebox (Frank Ocean to Vicente Fernandez) and, on the other, to two pool tables (50 cents a game!). With a double-sided bar that lets you order from the pool area in the back, The Hawk’s size and layout isn’t unlike that of 4th Street’s Fern’s (coincidentally, Flavin mentioned that the same guy used to own The Nugget too).
It’s a mellow Wednesday night with groups cycling in: a couple drinking Beachwood Citraholic at a high-top in the corner here, a group of pool playing friends with pina coladas from the boozy slushie maker over there. Some of the people I recognize from other bars (like Stache) around town. Others are Long Beach lifers I have yet to meet. A man wearing his embroidered work shirt walks in for a $3 bottle of Bud Light and says hi to everyone, as he has during my other two visits (he had a killer pajarete recommendation this time, too).
Someone paid to play the majority of the Death Row Records Greatest Hits album from the jukebox and everybody in the bar looked around for the culprit before giving up to groove together. So much drama in the LBC…
As Flavin talks his way up and down the bar all night, pouring $4 well drinks and suggesting affordable local craft beers while fielding “Oh, shit” reactions from former Nugget customers (they seem most surprised that it doesn’t smell like weed smoke inside anymore), I can’t help but be reminded of the same question I fielded when The Good Bar first arrived on 7th Street. Who knows where dive bars come from? Like thoughts (according to the movie Empire Records), they just appear.
But maybe they don’t just appear out of nowhere like a flash of light, plopped ready to serve in a neighborhood that needs it. Perhaps they are built, however quickly, by a community of people who choose to make a particular bartender their forever drinking guru and a particular bar their home away from home. I’m still sitting at the bar, sipping on a shot of coveted Ballast Point single-malt whiskey (another Flavin rec), when two guys come in, admitting it’s their first time at The Hawk.
“I’ve been to your other place, but I live right here,” one of the guys says.
“Well, thanks for coming by,” Flavin replies, extending his hand over the bar. “I’m Kyle.”
468 W. Anaheim St., Long Beach; (562) 337-8873