[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.]
More dives around Orange County need to have swinging saloon doors at the entrance. And more taxidermy. Luckily, the Tustin Inn–which doesn't seem to have been freshened up since the Ford administration–has both. This gem, along with neighboring Godfather's, looks out of place on the side of a sterile strip mall in Tustin. One could imagine Hunter S. Thompson stumbling in and proclaiming he'd found the American Dream–then getting his ass kicked by Hells Angels.
Taxidermied wild boar heads are perched behind the bar, with silly hats and headbands hanging off the tusks and ears; across the room, a buffalo's head stares them down. A painting of John Wayne (the same image Wally George had on The Hot Seat, actually) sits in the corner by the entrance; various state flags line the top of the walls. A cigarette machine stands in the middle of the room and the light-up advertisement on top proclaims, "Winston. America's Best." There are stacks of this infernal rag on top of the machine.
I went one weekday afternoon, and the crowd appeared to be the mostly after-work bunch, as indicated by the loosened ties and men in business attire. The bartender served me my draft beer with a smile, then went back to dishing with the man to my right. "You know how much that tattoo cost?" she asked him before answering a whispered, "$800."
"That's how much tattoos cost?" said buzzed-cut businessman. "People pay that much for hookers!" Priorities.
While I sipped my beer, I texted the friend who first told me about the Tustin Inn. He gave me one piece of advice: "Don't fuck with their shuffleboard table. They get angry." I looked over at the table. Sure enough, on the wall next to it, there was a large, handwritten sign saying just that. Funny!
A nondescript man stood up from where he was sitting at the end of the bar and sat to my left. "Are you here by yourself?" he asked, introducing himself as Tyler.
"Hi, Tyler; I'm Taylor," I said.
Then silence. I asked him how he was doing today. "Good," he said, looking at me wide-eyed. Then nothing.
"How is your beer? I've never tried Black Crown before," I said, taking another stab at conversation.
"Good," he responded again, still staring.
I looked around the bar, trying to ride out the awkwardness. Out of nowhere, he stood up and quickly shuffled out the front door, not to be seen again. Bye?
A little while later, the bar shift switched over and a new bartender came on–her name was Jill, I think. After serving me a second beer, she asked if I wanted some bruschetta. It was a surprising question because the bar doesn't have a kitchen and didn't seem to serve much more than chips, pork rinds and fresh popcorn. But it actually smelled good, and it was free, so I figured I'd be adventurous and try it because that's what I do for you fine readers.
She returned with a basket of soggy sourdough sandwich bread topped with cheese and what appeared to be canned tomato chunks that had been thrown in the microwave for a few seconds. I took a bite. It was pretty bad. But you know what? I ate it all. It was free, and I didn't want to insult Jill's hospitality. Besides, if you accept an offer of food from a dive bar that doesn't even have a kitchen and expect it to be good, you're missing the point.
BEST LINE OF THE NIGHT: "They like to have dinner at Ikea. Can you get any more white trash?"
FAVORITE PIECE OF FLAIR: The big, badass buffalo head on the wall.
Tustin Inn, 440 E. First St., Tustin, (714) 731-3446.