[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.]
A few of you gentle readers and watering-hole owners have questioned our use of the term "dive bar" to describe some of the places I review in this fine column. "Well, it's actually more of a sports bar" or "That's not a dive; it's a titty bar" are the most common objections, and I confess to the crime of mislabeling. But it's my column, and I go where the booze beckons me. And to satiate you whiners, try this: Tony's Place in Costa Mesa. I defy anyone to challenge me on whether it's a dive–I'll splinter your argument like an Anderson Silva shin, I will.
It's located in the back of a Newport Boulevard strip mall, a stone's throw from the beautiful-people haunts at Triangle Square and across the freeway from the Fairgrounds. Walk in, and it's dark as hell (less fuss needed on décor that way, right?), with the drinks poured by a gal and the crowd divided: lone men sit at the U-bend bar, and younger groups congregate on the opposite end of the bar around the pool table, e-darts or the Golden Tee golf game. An Internet jukebox controls the tunes, and even though they're now commonplace at drinking establishments, it seems too current for this dark, brown beaut. Have there been knifings here? Yep: There was a grab-'n'-stab back in 2011. But as long as you don't confront 55-year-old men who inappropriately grab your girlfriend (trust us on that), you'll be fine.
I visited on a recent Saturday night. Penny the bartender greeted us, and I asked for one of the bottled beers. The bar selection (and stiff pours) says it all: No beers on tap, with the closest thing to a craft brew or cocktail available down the street at Yard House. The dank bar doesn't take plastic, not even with a $10 minimum as with most other dives–cash only, thank you.
An older gentleman sat near me, alone. I asked how he was doing tonight. "How are you?" he grumbled back.
"Not too good, man," I replied.
"Right there with you," he agreed.
"What are you drinking?" I inquired. It was a vodka soda. "How's that treating ya?" I asked.
"Well, it's doing what I want it to do," he said, tilting the glass. "That's all you can ask for!"
Come to find out Richard is in Costa Mesa on business–bank business–and staying at a nearby motel. He comes to Tony's when he's in town because it's within walking distance. I asked if he goes to any other nearby bars, naming off a couple in the area. Then Penny leaned in.
"He doesn't need to go to any other bars. He's fine right here." Yes, ma'am!
Let's change topics: He told us he was married once for 20 years–20 years ago, but never again. Now, he travels all over for work, but he calls upstate New York home. The holidays were kind of a bleak time for him, and while I was bumming for other reasons, I was surprised how talking with Richard, exchanging sad-sack jokes and anecdotes, accompanied with sips of dive-bar swill, really seemed to lift both our spirits.
Putting aside the disregard for décor, the boxed wine in the fridge and what the locals joke about as a "two-teeth minimum," what makes Tony's a dive is the ability to unite two completely different people who probably wouldn't have struck up a conversation in any other circumstance and let them both leave with a smile on their face and a buzz in their brain for less than $20. And that, gentle readers, is what this column's all about.
BIGGEST QUESTION: Who's Tony?
FAVORITE PIECE OF FLAIR: The VCR.
Tony's Place, 2052 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-3091.