Take The Dive

Posted on September 2, 2010 – 8:18 AM | by OldManFoster
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by Sarah Singleton photos by Scott Duncan

I am a proponent of the Dive Bar. A true dive bar has a few distinguishing characteristics.  1) Dive Bars open in the morning.  2) cheap beer  3) a good crowd of regulars, including a decent  “old fart” quotient.  4) dim lighting.  5) cheap beer.  A Dive is comfortable, the people are friendly and the atmosphere is relaxed.  If you’re lucky, you’ll find a joint with a real jukebox full of records so you can have a cheap beer and wile away the afternoon listening to Freddy Fender or Merle Haggard and chatting with the bartender.  A good dive is a home-away-from-home, even if you’re not a regular.

What really makes a dive bar great is having some good chow available.  Not just bar food, but a decent lunch that’ll either see you through a day of drinking the aforementioned cheap beer, or for when you’re just craving the atmosphere and want to stop in and have your midday meal.

Here in Midtown and nearby locales, we’ve got a decent, though dwindling, selection of Dives to seek out a nice luncheon.

One recent mid day found me at the Round Corner, only to find out that the kitchen was closed.  After careful consideration, I made my way to P Street and headed for the Zebra Club.  I had heard the Zebra made some killer breakfasts, but I wasn’t sure what was in store for me on the lunch front.  After my eyes adjusted from the summer sun to the dim interior, I was pleasantly surprised to find tables set with bright red paper placemats and cutlery, inviting me to sit down and peruse the menu.  They’ve got your standard lunchtime fare of burgers, sandwiches, wings, a few salads and tacos.  I had a club sandwich — too often clubs are substandard fare, but this was a nice example with flavorful turkey and a decent amount of crunchy bacon.  It was served with good crisp fries that were obviously straight from the fryer.  Onion rings were good too — the battered kind, my favorite.  Our server was a doll and kept my iced tea full.  Breakfast and lunch daily.  Old fart quotient:  Good.   (1900 P Street)

Calling this next place a dive is a real stretch, but it does have its faithful regulars, dim lighting in the bar and cheap beer.  The place is Old Ironsides and they’ve got a great lunch going on-withvaried menu for meat eaters and vegetarians alike-they’ve got salads, burgers, sandwiches and pasta.  The burgers are juicy and cooked to order and the meatloaf sandwich was extremely flavorful and packed with onion and herbs.  Where Old I stands out is the daily specials — or what they call their “old timey lunch specials”.  Tuesdays serve up a grilled tri-tip with blue cheese sauce, Wednesday has the Swiss steak and Friday is calamari steak day.  I’ve had the Swiss steak, which is a big meaty portion, served with gravy and garlicky mashed potatoes and glazed carrots. The carrots are overly sweet but the rest is a hit.  The calamari steak is another hit, and Friday is one day that you might be battling for a table.  It’s a good-sized piece of squid, sautéed and served with marinara.  When the weather turns cold, Old I brings back the famous lamb shank on Wednesdays — one taste and you’ll be hooked.  Lunch M-F.  Old fart quotient:  Excellent.  (1901 10th Street)

It was a pleasant surprise to find out that The Flame Club is serving up a mean lunch!  No set menu here—just walk in, sit at the bar and ask for lunch.  You’ll just get what’s cooking.  On my first visit, I was started with a big salad, then a patty melt with pasta salad, and finished off with a Klondike bar.  On my next visit, I got a salad, Mediterranean chicken with rice and veggies, and a chocolate and caramel cake.  All three courses are always $6 — a steal.  After chatting it up a bit, we found out that a customer favorite is the barbequed ribs, and I’ve heard rumors that the tacos there are also worth seeking out.  The Flame has a friendly and attentive staff and a room full of happy regulars. Be aware that sitting at the end of the bar by the front door is known as “Perverts Corner”—could be a good thing or bad, depending on how you look at it.  Lunch M-F.   Old fart quotient:  Good. (2130 16th Street)

Chargin’s in East Sacramento is also a good stop for either a shot-and-a-beer or lunch —or maybe even both.  Lunch is servedon a big elevated area on the opposite side of the room from the big curved bar.  Sit on the comfy vinyl banquette and watch the regulars play dice while you wait for your food.  They’ve got a large selection of lunch items, including several salads, burgers and sandwiches.  I tried the Reuben sandwich—a nice sized sandwich full of tender and lean corned beef that had been crisped up on a flattop, with a not-overwhelming amount of Thousand Island and sauerkraut.  All sandwiches come with fries, green salad, coleslaw or potato salad.  Very affordable for $7, and the parking’s no problem.  Breakfast and lunch available daily.   Old fart quotient:  Fair. (4900 J Street)

Also just outside of midtown, but not far from my heart is South Land Park’s popular dive, Brownie’s.  Situated in a delightfully un-updated mid-century shopping center, Brownie’s has been serving up a hearty lunch for years. The bar is always filled with daytime regulars, talking smack and laughing.  If you’re lucky you can snag a seat at the bar, otherwise slide into a booth and take a look at the placemat menu.  While the menu isn’t long, there are plenty of choices, from shrimp cocktail to steak, to a variety of sandwiches and specials.  On my last visit, lunch included a French dip sandwich and one of the Wednesday daily specials, the sausage and sauerkraut, both served with potato salad, sliced tomatoes and pickles.  The French dip sandwich was a thick slab of braised beef, not unlike pot roast—mercifully not trimmed of all the fat so the meat stayed flavorful and juicy—and it was served with a big bowl of dark and beefy jus.  The sausage special was enough food for two—2 big and mildly spiced sausages, smothered in sauerkraut.  It is served with toasty garlic rolls so you can make a sandwich out of it if you wish.  Other specials include ribs, their world famous corned beef (available with cabbage or as a sandwich) and “sea-food” on Fridays.  Lunch M-F, 11:30-2:00.  Old fart quotient:  Excellent.  (5858 South Land Park Drive)

Ultra lounges and mixologists are fine, but for some of us, the local joint is where it’s at.  Get out there and support your local dive bars before they all disappear.  Grab a cheap beer, put a few quarters in the jukebox and play dice and talk smack with the regulars.  And have lunch while you’re there—the food is excellent.

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