[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 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.]
It's a stretch to call Shooter's a saloon, but that's what this Mission Viejo bar calls itself. The run-of-the-mill bar is nothing special to the non-local but manna to Mission Viejo, a city best classified as a suburb in search of any working-class people to boot the hell out of town. The dive sits on the left corner of a secluded strip mall, tucked among the row of car dealerships that runs parallel to the 5. A store called Intimate Obsessions currently advertising "DVD 4 for $20" on its window is right next door, making this as racy as it gets in South County–
SNORE. . . .
But you can't hold it against Shooter's. The night I went, when I walked in, I was immediately hit with a strong odor of what could be charitably described as "man musk." Hello to you, too! The front and side doors were open wide, and a large, industrial floor fan was going strong, so perhaps the staff were airing out the olfactory ghosts of nights past. It took about an hour to get used to the smell, but I made the mistake of going out for a cigarette, only to be reminded of it when I came back inside.
No one else mentioned that smell while I was there, but a different kind of smell caught the nostrils of the three young, tank-topped, heavily tattooed men sitting to my left.
"Dude, do you smell that?" one asked. "There it is again."
"Okay, who keeps opening up their sack in here so we can smell it?" the largest of the three asked. "Someone's wearing Chronic by CK."
They each loudly made quips about the smell of fresh buds that evidently had been popping up in the bar throughout the day. It was as though they were a gang of McGruff the Crime Bros, with each guessing which of the other 20 or so patrons in the bar had the greens. It was obvious they'd been at the bar for some time today and were getting ready to take the party back home. "Hey, let's call up Travis; tell him we need some chron-tons," one said.
Another McGruff kept asking the pretty blond bartender Jen to go with them to "Saddleback" after her shift was up. I'm assuming they meant the mountain ridge or the nearby college, not Saddleback High in SanTana, a city Mission Viejans have only heard about in crime reports or from their baby-sitters. Jen took the frequent requests in jest. "I'm not going anywhere at 2 a.m. except for home," she repeated, as she washed bar glasses with her yellow kitchen gloves.
I don't know if Jen has kids, but she's, in a word, a MILF–the blond hair, the expensive jewelry, the big, ahem, tips. You may also know her from nights at the Swallow's Inn in San Juan Capistrano. She ran the bar alone, but with precision, attentiveness and friendliness. I asked Jen to make us her specialty, and she returned with a Washington Apple shot. There's an average liquor selection and no beers on tap. No food either, but often bartenders will heat up some bar snacks in a crock pot for day-drinkers. The night I went, the finger food du jour was meatballs. They must have been good because they were gone by the time I got there. Again: SNORE . . . but nice.
Later in the night, I heard a guy enthusiastically shout, "Let's go to the titty bar after this!" A guy at the bar next to me leaned over and asked, "Where's there a titty bar in South County?"
"I have no idea," I said. "Captain Cream's?" I joked.
"Ah, Captain Cream's R.I.P." he said, also joking. But at least we'll always have Shooter's.
FAVORITE PIECE OF FLAIR: The sign on the ladies' room is a wood cutout of a gal crossing her legs in an attempt to "hold it in."
BEST QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: "I'm not a gynecologist, but I'm happy to take a look."
Shooter's Saloon, 28752 Marguerite Pkwy., Ste. 9, Mission Viejo, (949) 364-1514.