Tag Archives: dive bars

Leo: Oct. 15, 2013


Showing my affection for the AMI City Pier.

And thus I present an analysis of today’s horoscope, based on the fact that I got to leave work early in order to drink a couple beers at one of my favorite places in the world, accomplishing work stuff and even getting quotes in the process, only to have my car sputter and die on the way home, leaving me stranded in a surprisingly questionable neighborhood for AMI, being eaten by mosquitoes and noseeums, waiting an hour for a tow truck and pondering the probable expense and my already skyrocketing credit card bill.

Horoscope for Leo, Oct. 15, 2013: “This is a time for you Lions to do things in a very basic and practical manner.”

Yes. I don’t really have a choice, but perhaps that’s what you meant.

“It’s essential to focus on building your own self-worth, both financially and psychologically.”

See, here’s where I have a problem. I’m failing to see how I can build my financial self-worth by incurring a horrendous expense. And, frankly, that makes me feel bad, psychologically. Perhaps you’re suggesting that I was on a work excursion, and thus should be compensated for a new transmission? Well, yes, that would make me feel quite clever.

“However, your fires of inspiration may be dying down today as Mars leaves lively Leo to enter efficient Virgo.”

I feel like Katy Perry wrote this part.

“It’s not the end of the road…”

Heh, fucking true story. This happened smack-dab in the middle of the road.

“…but rather a transition into a time when considered actions have more impact than the obvious and noisy ones.”

Did you mean a transmission…? (*rimshot?)

Well, I definitely made some obvious and noisy actions upon going all max-RPMs/no-horsepower on rush-hour Gulf Drive (as did my car)—and yes, those were made to no avail. But, having had time to consider, I…still don’t know what action I should take. I’m-a go look for some tea leaves or a Magic 8-Ball or something. If all else, fails, well…I guess I’ll just see what tomorrow’s horoscope has to say.

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Birthday Week Recap



Pretty good birthday week. Generous fam gifts of an end-of-the-month San Diego excursion to visit Thing 2, with a customized tour of SD microbreweries to boot. (Also: Edward Gorey Dracula puzzle. Badass.)

Hit some snags, though, too, in quiet moments. Visits from the Ghost of Birthdays Recent Past.

Also, crutches still suck. A lot.

But Friday afternoon was all about a five-hour fried chicken tour of Sarasota, which ended with a couple pints of Cigar City IPA among super-smart people. Gotta feel pretty accomplished when your job involves stuff like that.

What I’ll write about, though, is Wednesday.

Wednesday involved a pretty fantastic trip to McCurdy’s—free tix for me and six friends (with the usual two-drink minimum). An exceptionally well-run business, they regularly give free tickets to people who’ve signed up for their list, which I did, like…eight years ago? Usually it’s eight free tickets, almost always for birthdays and generally another two or three times a year. I rarely take advantage, but it winds up being great motivation to bring a ton of people in there to spend a shit-ton on booze and snacks. I imagine the comics appreciate the full houses, too.

Work friends and hockey friends and friends with whom I’ve generated countless shenanigans: Dinner at Broadway, laughs at McCurdy’s, after-show drinks at Bahi Hut. Dinner was great—introductions and reunions and food; the comic was great—I don’t want to jinx it, but I’ve never, ever had a bad time with a headliner there; Bahi Hut was…exactly what it’s supposed to be: potent and awesome.

It just felt…good.

Among my most joyous experiences, from childhood on, has been seeing people come together from different parts of my life, and having them enjoy each other. The latter doesn’t always happen, but I feel like, the moments when your friends like your friends…those are the times when your own qualities are multiplied—when you’re liked (or even just tolerated) as a person across a few different planes, and suddenly those planes intersect. And in those moments, all of your different identities—the different persons you become in different places around different people—assemble into a single, liked being.

And you are a social Power Ranger.

That’s actually a pretty self-centered assessment, but whatever: It’s my birthday.

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My love of dive bars is well e-documented. As is my love of burgers. So since our nasty-ass clogged kitchen sink forced us out into the world for dinner, I was happy to cross Council’s off my list of must-visit burger joints.

I first heard about Council’s from a Facebook-generated article we put in our December visitor’s guide a year or so ago. Since then it’s come up in conversation a few times, mostly with Beaucha (who, though he’s quite a few years younger, is basically my Bradenton mentor for all the northerly things I missed in my Sarasota-oriented upbringing).

First impression: Yep, dive.

In fact, it’s so much not about appearances that it almost seems like they’re trying too hard to maintain their dive-bar status–from the oddly blocked off front “window” that half-displays/half-masks the old sign, to the unmaintained black bar and its cluttered backdrop of signs and snapshots and decrepit cash registers, to the double-row of pool tables stretching into the back, lit up like an interrogation room by florescent lights.

Second impression: Awesome. I like it.

Well, except for the collective side-eye we got from the crowd when we walked in, led by the portly, ponytailed bartender. (That guy looks like he might be related to the second-generation Bahi Hut bartender who, last I checked, was slinging drinks at Broadway.) Reminded me of the reception we got when we walked into a considerably more frightening bar in BFE East Jesus, Tennessee, where we met a very nice man whose name I can’t quite remember–Trigger? Buckshot? Jackhammer?

Anyway, no menus–the chalkboard above the fridge lists hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chili, chips and beer prices. I ordered a Bud Light and immediately got a half eye-roll from the bartender. “Bottle?” he jabbed, grinding his teeth in the direction of the taps, which were Budweiser and Budweiser. “Um, yeah, please,” I responded, wanting to add, “I don’t give a shit, I ain’t gonna drink that that hangover gravy draught, even if it is cheaper.”

The bar, the beer, the limited food–it’s all very Hi-Way-esque, which certainly works for us so long as we’re not being viewed as interlopers. We ordered a couple of burgers, and the bartender grabbed some patties out of the fridge directly in front of us and took just one step over. This is when I realized that there was no kitchen “in the back”–just a griddle that looked to be about one-foot-by-two-foot.

Ok, that’s one of those tiny details that just encapsulates the awesome character of a place. That, and the sign over the fridge that says, “We’ve been cooking burgers since McDonald’s was just a farm.”

And I’d believe it. A few minutes later, the bartender plopped our burgers in front of us on the bar, half-wrapped in a napkin–no plates or nuthin’–and in one bite I was reminded of Duffy’s. Prooooobably not quite that good, but I’ll give it “Duffy’s East.” Next time I’ll order two, since I could eat the first one in about three bites out of sheer enthusiasm–juicy, meaty, crispy iceberg, chopped onions and tasty bun. (I asked for no tomatoes, but if you want ’em, they sit fresh in a little row on tiny shelves in the tiny window next to the griddle.)

Yep, we’ll be going there again. I’m sure they’ll love us–once they get to know us.

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Hmm…so perhaps we don’t have to move after all?

Landlord might want to sell. We’re talking bargain-basement here. Of course, there’s a lot of work to be done, home ownership’s greatest hits: roof, electrical, plumbing. Still, it is under heavy consideration.

I’m developing a chronic case of whiplash from changing plans so quick and drastically. For the past month I’ve been visualizing life in different neighborhoods—gated, manicured and fresh-wind-blown from the river; quiet, sunwashed, blocks and blocks of 60-year-old stucco; busy, central, a walk to Publix, a bike to downtown.

I’d already started packing, dammit…

Getting to know your neighborhood follows the same timeline as getting to know a coworker. You’ve got your own space, but you see her every day. You learn little things here and there—she has a lot of dog-walkers, she’s close to a great little café, she floods when it rains. And then one day, bam: You realize that she’s got a juvenile detention center, say, or a sewage treatment plant.

It was a few months into our year and a half residence in Gillespie Park that Little J and I realized our yard was a throughway for questionable characters headed to and from the park.

Actually, Gillespie Park had a great personality. (And as you know, that’s code for “your neighborhood is fat.”) It had the Mexican neighbors who spoke little English but were generous with beer and laughed with us for hours as we stood in their dusty driveway; the gazebo over the pond in the park that took the place of previous neighborhoods’ bay views;  the sketchy apartment complex, the police substation, the “Ring of American Heroes” or whatever—gilded busts in the far corner of the park sitting in a circle, staring at each other in perpetuity.

One time I was awakened by knocking at the door. It was 8:30 on a Sunday morning, and I ignored the knocking until the person turned to tap on my window, which faced the front porch. At that point I figured it was the landlord and shuffled blearied to find the key (the deadbolt required a key inside as well as out—fire hazard, no?).  But I quickly realized it wasn’t the landlord when I heard an unfamiliar voice say (or so I thought), “Did I wake you?”  I swore under my breath, Yeah you frigging woke me it’s 8:30 a.m. on a damn Sunday who the hell keeps knocking when nobody answers—

I opened the door to a diminutive man holding up a tinfoil bundle partially wrapped in a dish towel. “Barbecue?”


It’s hard to predict what idiosyncrasies we’d encounter if we moved. But after dreaming of new neighborhoods for a month or so, changing plans and pondering staying put has given us new appreciation for our little corner of the south downtown Bradenton ghetto. Sure, there really is a sewage treatment plant four blocks away, and yeah, our whole world smells like burning orange peels when Tropicana’s in full tilt, and yes, there’s drugs and crime and those two kids who overdosed a few Christmases ago. It’s a homely little area, but homey, too.

“I was gonna miss McKechnie,” CCB admitted yesterday. I’d been dreaming of granite countertops and grounded outlets and roads safe for biking, but yeah, I agreed: I like being able to walk to baseball games. I like the bicycle ice cream man and his bell; I like the whistle of a pre-dawn train delivering oranges; I like strolling to the Red Barn for Maria’s tacos on Sunday mornings, darting across First Street to Banana Bob’s tiki bar, traversing the car lot to buy beer at the gas station, and all of the incredible examples of humanity at those locales. I like how, when the wind blows just right over the laundromat on the corner, the whole neighborhood smells like fabric softener.

Last night, we sat on the front porch, looking out over the neighbor’s yard full of cars, the barren duplex next door and the frightening apartment complex beyond that, and we watched an incredible fireworks display from McKechnie throwing gold and green and purple over every weedy yard and broken street light. Opening day. Here’s to closing.

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The Dolphin Lounge

I like me some dive bars. Like strip clubs and hockey locker rooms, they satisfy my craving for social adventure. I like summoning up the courage to go into a new place with seemingly rough people, and then trying to kick back like I belong.

But, being not actually very bold, I treat dive bars like when, as a kid, you’d try to get close enough to a grand adventure to be excited—without actually being so close as to be in real danger.

Most of the time, this works out pretty well. Locker rooms are my home away from home; the Hi-Way’s pretty well old hat for us now; all the local strip joints have served their purpose insofar as letting me feel brave, rebellious and seasoned—well, “seasoned” is probably not a word I want to be using there…ew—without involving any of the things you’d see in an anti-strip-club PSA: muggings, drug addiction, human trafficking, etc.

(Hah, I was just reminded of this after-school special from, like, second grade, where this old witch in the park scared all the children, until one brave family took her in and gave her a bath, and then she was a nice, pretty lady. Like, “See, she’s not a witch! She just needs better grooming habits!”)

(I don’t know why it never occurred to me how weird it is to just up and decide to bathe a stranger.)

In fact, we’ve had such luck exploring disreputable haunts that we sometimes forget that, well, witches do exist. And we probably ought not fuck with them.

Which brings us to the Dolphin Lounge.

The Dolphin Lounge is a windowless, flesh-colored, standalone bomb shelter of a building on Bradenton’s Ninth Street, a busy, pedestrian-heavy two-lane road banked by a tangle of power lines, tiendas, used car lots and abandoned buildings. We’d long had it on our list as a potential neighborhood watering hole, since it’s only 10 blocks or so from the baseball field. So one night after a game, we had the gumption to stroll on over and give it a whirl.

I had pretty well crossed over the “adventure” line and was easing my way into terror-tinged social anxiety, but CCB is an intimidating enough figure to ward off most troubles. I figured.

The one big room is about the size of a small house, with dim lighting, a couple of pool tables, a shuffleboard table, some random columns joined by “bars” with stools on either side. The actual bar is a massive double-horseshoe that takes up most of the long wall.

When we came in, the bar—big though it is—was mostly full, and there was a big, happy, rowdy group of middle-age people next to it playing pool. They immediately involved us in their loud conversation—saying hi, making bawdy jokes, demonstrating how someone had just poured a beer on someone else—as we waited to get the bartender’s attention. Friendly people, didn’t seem to give a damn about a couple of young punks like us in there—seemed like a good deal. “That’s what I’m talking about,” I said to CCB as I sipped my JACK and coke.

CCB relayed to me the bartender’s message, that they do tend to get bikers in there, but “You show them respect and they’ll respect you.” Uh…huh. Well, that’s a step beyond the Hi-Way and its no-gang-colors policy. Exciting.

One drink and we’d settled in on one of the supplemental “bars,” watching SportsCenter on an old 12-inch TV. Then I decided to go get the next round.

The part of the bar nearest to us was still a few people deep with the pool crowd, but I spot an opening in one of the “armpits” of the bar, in between the two horseshoes.

As I wait, of course, of course the guy sitting nearest to me—by himself, of course—strikes up a slurry conversation. “Hey, is that big guy you come in with your man?” OK, scary question, but this guy was probably about my size, mid-40s, beady eyes and a boyish face that, sometime in the last decade or so, had turned into a droopy mean mug. In the Lifetime movie “Hannah Wallace: A Dangerous Dive,” this guy will be played by Chris Cooper.

“Uh, big guy?” I ask.

“Yeah, the really big tall guy you come in with.”

“Um, well, the guy I came in with is right over there.” I wave at CCB (make sure he’s made eye contact).

“Naw, that ain’t him,” Scary Guy says. Pause. “You wanna go home and have sex?”

Shudder. Barf. Shudder.

“Uh, no, see, ‘cause that guy over there? He’s my man.”

“Oh, OK,” he says, like I’d reported on the weather. “You a cop?”

Oh dear god, I think, these are not good things he’s assuming about me.

“Nope,” I say, in panic, trying to be a sunshiny princess.

“Oh. You look like a cop.”

“Oh, no, sir,” I say all cheerful, “Nope, just…gettin’ a drink. For me. And my man.”

“Don’t call me sir,” he growls.

“Sorry!” I’m talking an octave higher than normal and smiling like a beauty pageant toddler. It’s that stupid “girls need to be super-nice to scary mean men” social construct. I make a mental note to go straight home and read The Gift of Fear.

“You sure you’re not a cop?” he presses on.

“No, sir, not a cop.” I now realize it’s better he’s alone than convincing a group of people that I’m a cop.

Don’t. Call me sir.”

He’s quiet for a few moments, then starts in on a story, his eyes fixed forward on nothing in particular. “I used to live in Fayetteville…”

“Oh! Yeah! In North Carolina! I know Fayetteville. Were you in the military?”

“Yeah.” He is totally uninterested in my recognition. “I had this buddy up there. This buddy of mine, he used to call all black people n*****s.”

Um…OK? At this point, I’ve got my drinks, but I can’t figure out how to dip out on the story.

“This buddy, his dad was real sick. And I was the only one who would go see him.” He looks at me. He’s getting intense here—louder, and his voice wavering like he’s near tears. “I was the ONLY ONE who would go see him. He was stuck in bed. He couldn’t walk. His face was all swollen up, his eyes were swollen, and they oozed and he couldn’t see. He was all swollen.”

“My god,” I say. “What happened to him?”

Flipped switch: pissed. “He was in fucking Vietnam. So you leave me the fuck alone!

“OK, sir!” I chirp, turn on my heel and sprint-walk away.

And that is why I never again want to go into any place scarier than Chili’s.


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