[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.]
Santa Ana (or SanTana, as we like to call it to annoy people who prefer nostalgia to having a life) will forever remain the most polarizing city in Orange County. Most of the county still thinks of it as a reeking cesspool of Mexicans, proof that OC is no longer the bucolic wonderland of yore. Hipsters see it as a no-man's land worthy of gentrification; yaktivists aim to keep it in a sort of strange stasis, wanting not business development but community centers and more resources for young people given the city remains one of the poorest, fattest, most crowded big cities in America.
The truth, of course, is more complicated. I've loved the city ever since the Weekly world headquarters moved into town a decade ago (unfortunately, we're now in boring old Costa Mexico) for all the reasons above, because SanTana is tough, rundown, luxurious, electric and endlessly providing great copy. But as a native Anaheimer, I always love to discover remnants of the city's past, when working-class whites still roamed and lived an uneasy existence with Chicanos, while Mexican immigrants kept coming and coming. It's that SanTana where my father first lived in the U.S., in the 1970s in an apartment complex off Standard and McFadden avenues. And it's that SanTana that's still alive at Jaspers Bar.
I never even knew about the place until recently, though I've long patronized the various businesses in the massive shopping complex (the one across the street from South Coast Plaza) that houses it. When a group of us arrived, there were no more than seven people inside Jaspers, all huddled around the bar, all watching a replay of the final game of the most recent Stanley Cup finals. And that flat-screen airing the game was the youngest thing in the bar by 30 years.
The décor hinted at a previous life as a Western saloon, with wood paneling and ceiling, stained-glass chandeliers, and cowboy art hanging on the walls seemingly ordered after watching a Time Life infomercial. A digital jukebox blasted music of someone's longed-for youth, from "Promises" by Guns N' Roses to "September" by Earth, Wind & Fire (I threw in "Maggie May" and "Okie From Muskogee" just for the hell of it). A large stage and dance floor stood empty.
We sat in one of the Naugahyde booths and imagined. Two Japanese women waited on us, slinging tumblers filled to the brim with Tullamore or watered-down margaritas. "Jeez, we should call Bar Rescue," said Revel, himself a former bartender at the legendary La Cita in Los Angeles. So he and the others began proclaiming what Jaspers needed as we scarfed down chili cheese fries that used Hamburger Helper meat and Buffalo wings that came sans sauce.
"It's a well-kept place," my chica noted. She was looking at the ancient lamps that hung above us, so dim that two Budweiser neon signs provided far better lighting. "Someone is dusting and taking care of everything."
"They should move that TV from the table and hang it on the ceiling," Carolina pointed out.
"Won't happen," Revel replied. The two are set to marry in November (yay!) and are leaving in August to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (boo!). "That would cost money–and bar owners hate to spend money."
"Then how do they keep open?" I wondered. The atmosphere was dead, dead, dead–as dead as I've ever seen a bar in Orange County. But Ben handed me its salvation in the form of a flier advertising a metal show.
"The youth hold a lot of punk shows here," Ben revealed. "This place gets packed later at night–all kids from Valley [High]."
Sure enough, a stream of hip-hop heads strolled in around 10 o'clock: the future coming in to colonize the past and drive out the present–what a metaphor! We could've stayed, but that wasn't our SanTana–but we still loved it.
BEST QUOTE: "I got one more song left." Slurring man to me after taking advantage of what I thought was an unlimited jukebox. His last song? "Mean Mr. Mustard" by the Beatles. Life imitating art?
FAVORITE FLAIR: The perpetually broken toilet in the men's room–heads up!
Jaspers Bar, 3672 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 751-4604.