[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.]
After serving us our bottled Pacificos, the Patriots-T-shirt-wearing bartender walked around the bar to sit on the other side, between a young woman with glasses and a 30-ish man with a baseball cap. “You guys are crazy,” she said, diving back into her banana split and large McDonald's drink.
“Oh, come on,” the young lady replied. “You know we're your only source of entertainment every Sunday night. Everybody else is fucking boring.”
And while I suppose I was included in that generalization, the girl wasn't too far off. I walked into the Signal Lounge in Orange at 8:30 p.m. on a Sunday to the sounds of silence, faint chatter and billiard balls clacking. Just across the street from Fred Kelly Stadium in El Modena, the place is about twice the size of your traditional neighborhood dive and very . . . brown. A long U-bend bar snakes through half of the room, while pool tables are placed on the other half, with bathrooms in the middle. A personalized vintage cigarette machine, stocked with a variety of Marlboros and Camels, is tucked into the far corner of the bar–a rare and fleeting relic.
The bartender turned on the sound to the one flat-screen TV, tuned to The Real Housewives of New Jersey. The sound was low enough that I could ignore it, but it was harder to ignore the trio's conversation about the Kardashians. It was the same general conversation I've heard about them every time they seep into casual conversation: “I only watch it to laugh at them.” Right.
Then, at 8:46 p.m., the silence stopped. “It's about time!” the bartender yelled. Three Rubenesque women walked in the back door and sat at the U-bend of the bar where some unattended drinks sat. One gal resumed drinking out of a full pitcher with a straw. My kinda woman.
It appears they'd been at another Orange watering hole, Marty's Cocktail Lounge, because one woman kept yelling, “Let's go back to Marty's!” I was glad they didn't because they really seemed to liven the place up, including our bartender–whom I learned is named Melinda.
Later in the evening, Melinda gave me some perspective on the straw-swilling pitcher-drinker (a.k.a. my new hero). “You see that lady at the end of the bar? She sits at the end and stays till the end,” Melinda explained. “That's her spot.” Apparently, the uninitiated will occasionally sit in her spot, a misdeed met with dirty looks. Sometimes, they'll get it and move; other times, they won't and will be pelted with smart-ass comments until they do.
Melinda turned out to be quite the character. She came here on her 24th birthday and just sorta never left: 15 years as a customer, eight as a bartender.
“When she was a kid, my daughter said she was never going to step foot in here–and I said the same thing–but she came here on her 21st birthday,” Melinda said. “That's her right there.” She pointed at the aforementioned young lady with glasses. Dive bars: bringing mothers and daughters together.
There are only a few beers on tap, and the bottled selection runs pretty standard with Bud and Coors, the most exotic brand being Pacifico. It does carry liquor, but don't come here expecting much variety unless it's Dekuyper liqueurs, which it stocks more flavors of than what you'll find in the backpack of a Mater Dei coed. Speaking of . . . as I was getting ready for my last drink, I asked Melinda for a Washington apple shot. She came back, giving me two rather full shots. “Sorry, I pour heavy,” she said with a shrug and turned around.
No need to apologize, Melinda. No need at all.
BEST QUOTE OF THE EVENING: “Careful–it stinks in there,” said the lady exiting as I was waiting in line for the restroom. She wasn't lying.
FAVORITE PIECE OF FLAIR: The semi-hidden, giant, sparkly, purple goblet proudly displaying the word “Bitch.” Some customers bought it for Melinda's aunt, who they call “Queen B.” Melinda says she wants one–in blue.
Signal Lounge, 3804 E. Chapman Ave., Ste. F, Orange, (714) 532-9035.