[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 music editor, Nate Jackson stumbles into the dive bar scene to find crazy stories, meet random weirdos and guzzle good booze.]
Even though the Clippers have been ousted from the playoffs, it's never too late for a drunken Donald Sterling rant. Especially in the bowels of white-collar Newport. As I enter the Balboa Saloon one recent afternoon, the sinking sun paints brick alleys and sidewalks a mellow shade of gold. The following salty chatter is the first thing I hear:
“He spoke his mind in the privacy of his own home,” says one guy, slamming the bar top. “Does that make him a war criminal?”
“No,” says his friend. “But trusting a hot 31-year-old makes him a fucking idiot!”
Usually, the opportunity to be just as crass and offensive as Sterling himself is the prerogative for many dive-bar day drinkers before scattering home to their wives. In this dated green watering hole–decorated with dusty long boards, mounted swordfish and various nautical flotsam–it's no different.
But I didn't come to this booze-soaked emerald on the Balboa peninsula to hear race-fueled gossip on current events. As a music fan, I came for the nostalgia. I'd heard Social Distortion's late guitar player Dennis Danell used to drink here. So did Madness front man Graham “Suggs” McPherson whenever he was in town. The INXS video for “The Devil Inside”–a cheesy, smoke-filled '80s romp–was even filmed inside these walls.
Not that daytime bartender Colby remembers any of that. He and I were both born a year before that video came out in 1987.
Shrugging off my notable references, the smiling, scruffy 28-year-old with a backward Clippers cap quickly pauses a drink order to bark at Dave, one of the regulars, who is trying to cheat his way through a game of pool.
“That don't count, ya piece a shit!” Colby yells.
“This fucking table is crooked as fuck,” Dave argues. A sneer creeps across his mustachioed lip as he points his cue at his opponent. “It's crooked, and every bartender in here fucking knows it!”
A part-time movie-theater attendant, Dave is in his late 30s and decked out in checkered shorts and boat shoes; the local is loud and obnoxious at all times. After every one of his yuk-yuk one liners, Dave lets loose a hearty “Hooo-ah!” like ” target=”_blank”>Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman–only drunker.
It's the kind of scene that has probably played out a million times in this musty dive, since the 1970s, when it was known as the Brass Monkey. Sensing I was a new fish in the pond, Colby offers me complimentary sips from a pitcher filled with a Frankenstein concoction of domestic beers. He calls it a “Balboa Sunday,” the foamy remnants of his early-evening tap inspection. “Take a sippa that!” he says, proudly sliding the pitcher my way. It tasted like frosty swill. But hey, at least it was free!
At the other end of the bar, Dave finds another friend, a burly, gray-haired package-delivery driver named Mike stopping in for a beer after work. Somehow, they begin discussing their appreciation of women. What better time, since there are none around to be offended by anything they say?
“Do you have a favorite flavor?” Dave asks, beer in hand.
“Nah, man . . . black, white, Puerto Rican–we all be freakin',” Mike answers with a laugh.
I cringe as I anticipate some racist, lecherous follow-up from Dave. Remarkably, his slurred response was anything but Sterling–it was actually pretty golden. “Yeah, if you're a real man, you show appreciation for any woman,” he says with intoxicated conviction. “And if you don't, you're a . . .” Dave pauses, glancing at me. He quickly tempers his tone as though he senses a tape recorder in my pocket. “Well, haha, I ain't gonna write a column or nothin',” he says.
Dave grins, takes a sip of beer and steers his attention back to the pool table.
BEST QUOTE: Dave makes a comment about Mike's Italia soccer shirt that he got from his ex. Dave: “You still fucking her?” Mike: “Nah, man, I just like the shirt.” Dave: “Well, then throw that shit in the fucking trash can!”
FAVORITE PIECE OF FLAIR: A lone stuffed elk's head hanging up on a post in a bar full of fake-fish wall ornaments.
Balboa Saloon, 700 E. Bay Ave., Newport Beach, (949) 673-9783.