[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.]
There are dives, and then there are gay dives. Small, candlelit bars, such as the Tin Lizzie Saloon in Costa Mesa, which is decorated with such flashy class as velvet-accented crimson wall paper, a disco ball and chandelier. Diana Ross and Simian Mobile Disco blares from the Internet jukebox, not beer-soaked staples “Chicken Fried” and “I Love This Bar.” Classic films play on the flat-screens, not sports.
Tin Lizzie is tucked away just far enough from the ultra-hip shopping centers off nearby Bristol that it holds its own identity and is not swallowed up by LAB or CAMP culture. It has been around since the '50s and was revamped after coming under the ownership of the Memphis Group, which includes Detroit Bar and Memphis Cafe.
I walked in at 8:45 p.m. on a Tuesday, and all but two seats were taken at the bar, with a few groups of guys scattered about the room–a decent showing for a weeknight, I thought. We took the two open seats at the bar and ordered two of the 17 bottled beers (three domestics on tap) from the friendly male bartender who was working solo that night. I gazed in awe at their ample liquor selection along the back wall.
The jukebox bounced between modern EDM songs from artists such as Major Lazer and vintage karaoke tunes when ABBA came on. “Yeah! 'Mamma Mia'!” a patron yelled out.
“I actually hate this song,” our bartender said.
As the night went on, the room filled steadily, and what I thought was a decent showing for a weeknight turned into a virtual Friday night. At first, I was the only female there, but as the night progressed, the male/female ratio evened out. Customers were better-dressed than at many other dives. In fact, I was one of the few bums wearing a T-shirt and jeans, surrounded by those in ties and collared shirts.
Laughter, smiles and singing were commonplace. Everyone was socializing; no one was sitting alone. One guy jumped in another man's arm as soon as he arrives, exclaiming, “My baby!”
As the crowd grew, so did my appreciation of the bartender's service. He was the only bartender working on a very packed weeknight and still served us with speed and care, taking time to help me figure out what I wanted. I've had bartenders tell me to “order something easier” because they were too busy, but this guy did the exact opposite.
I asked him to make me what he enjoyed making, and he told me I should try the Medusa. He returned with a pint glass filled with rum, Malibu, 99 Bananas, Midori, pineapple and orange juices, and two cherries. I took one sip and knew I was in trouble. Tropical and refreshing, this was gonna go down faster than me after seven shots of Sailor Jerry's.
The regular men's room/ladies' room rules don't really apply here; men will wait in line for either. Stories of semen on someone's face and long, passionate make-out sessions are par for the course and just part of the genuine, carefree, fun atmosphere the bar fosters.
By 11 p.m., it was getting hard to hear over the Top 40 soundtrack and crowded chatter. My ride was getting sleepy, so we decided to wrap it up. As we walked out to our car on St. Clair Street, the group of young men smoking outside began singing my favorite Whitney Houston song, “How Will I Know,” and it even sounded in tune. Awesome.
FAVORITE QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “Fuck you so hard!!!” I heard from the right side of the crowd. What?
GO HERE IF: There's a really long line for the tiny Rooster Cafe next door.
Tin Lizzie Saloon 752 St. Clair St., Costa Mesa, (714) 966-2029; tinlizziesaloon.com.