Long Beach has pride in many things but one unparalleled sense of pride it holds is for its dive bars. Unapologetic, unfettered, unwavering, Long Beach’s love for dive bars is one that shouldn’t be messed with—and with that, this annual list honors the highlights of our city’s fine array of dives.
You’ll see some additions from last year while some new-but-still-legendary joints have creeped their way onto the 2018 Edition.
Surely, there are the common divey joints like the hipster-driven Red Room (where I witnessed a gun go off inside once), Joe Jost’s and Pike Bar & Restaurant (misnomered as dives but more like staple taverns), Ashley’s on 4th (joining a ton of others on the same street, some on this list). Also, because you should be able to order a glass of vodka at a dive bar, beer bars like the Annex and the Thirsty Isle are also, sadly, off the list.
To be honest, there are too many—so this list isn’t a comprehensive one nor is it a Best Of list (because those aren’t fair no matter how you dice it).
This is just an annually-updated list of classic, seedy, underbelly-like, wonderful, sometimes dangerous, stucco ceiling-filled, popcorn machine-ready, questionable health code ethics-laden Long Beach dive bars that deserve the dried-out lime light like any other watering hole.
Poor Richard’s (6412 Stearns St.)
Colloquially known as Broke Dick’s, this dive is an East Long Beach staple that sits in the charmingly beige strip mall at the southeast corner of Palos Verdes and Stearns where every single shop has a window—except Dick’s.
The only thing welcoming you into this east side hole-in-the-wall are the smoking stools sitting outside and a green door adorned with an elaborate logo, beckoning you into a place too dark to notice the dingy ceiling and bathrooms so tiny that they hang the toilet paper on the stall wall (which is, admittedly, rather convenient in terms of reachability).
Jessica—the bartender with an almost impossibly ubiquitous presence, along with Kameron and Nikki—will happily offer you $5 double-pours of Fireball along with Rolling Rock because, well, being poor doesn’t mean you can’t be fancy.
[pictured at top]
Broadway Bar (1100 E. Broadway)
Make no mistake: Broadway Bar is the quintessential gay dive bar of Long Beach—so I am going to get a bit personal with it and echo what I’ve already said about the bar because the Broadway Bar was the first place I realized what these darkened spaces, what these dives, what these dimly lit hideaways meant to a generation of LGBTQ folks I wasn’t directly connected to.
Broadway Bar was the first bar I had experienced a wake at.
There stood older men and women—queers who lived through a time I can’t imagine, plagued by a lack of understanding and a survival-based need to hide—and they celebrated the life of someone who passed at the bar because the queer bars were their churches. They covered the pool tables to make way for a ton of food, encouraged everyone and anyone to come in, eat, and even if they were strangers, take a glance at someone that was important to them.
The Broadway Bar is more than a dive bar; it was a place of worship and protection for an entire generation of humans who saw more struggle, frustration, misunderstanding, stereotypes, and challenges than any gay white dude nowadays could comprehend.
Que Sera (1923 E. Seventh St.)
In 1975, Ellen Ward saw what was then called The Monarch Room on 7th just west of Cherry and she had a vision: a openly lesbian-centric bar dedicated to those who had long fought for spaces where they felt both safe and welcomed. It was time to overturn the monarchy.
While the lack of windows might have been a turn-off for most investors, Ward felt it would offer much-needed protection that, though the 60s had offered a semblance of acceptance of the LGBTQ community, many queers still faced the dangers of haters and attackers, especially if they were easily seen.
By the early and mid-1980s, Ward had created what many called the nicest damn lesbian bar around, complete with a fireplace, couches, and a weekly appearance by a then-unknown Melissa Etheridge, who still credits the bar to this day for launching her career.
Though Ward sold the space in 1996, it’s all black facade—now adorned with British artist and cultural icon Shantell Martin’s artwork thanks to Pow! Wow! Long Beach’s mural festival this year—is still one of the more sacred spaces in Long Beach, catering to a constant need for music-centric nights and dark, dingy spaces to sip a dangerously strong drink.
The Interlude (1710 Clark Ave.)
Tucked into a strip mall off of Clark near Atherton, The ‘Lude was the first dive bar I ever went to in Long Beach.
It’s the low-stucco ceiling kinda joint. It even once adorned a hot dog and popcorn machine that have sadly gone astray. It still reeks of smoke, stuck forever within its haunted walls. It has an odd array of games. It has mirrors that remind you of how little you’ve achieved by being a patron.
It used to have the kind of bartenders that got annoyed when you ordered something like Grey Goose or Maker’s Mark because they “can’t keep up with that new crap—why don’t you just drink Jack?” But, for a reason I will never have the heart to ask, they’re gone and now have the younger bartenders that have come to replace them but not lost the respect of The Dive.
It might be a new generation but The ‘Lude lives on as the same unruly beast it ever was.
Blondie’s (2259 Lakewood Blvd.)
Blondie’s—what many would venture to say is the liquor-driven sibling of The Annex across Lakewood—has long been one of the safer dives of Long Beach (and not to its lack of character).
It’s bright red fluorescent sign is not only one of the coolest in the city but sits above a comfortable, clean patio guarded by a bouncer that keeps the Law of the Dive in order so as to only witness fights migrate elsewhere.
In fact, if anything, Blondie’s stands out as the anti-dive dive, a space where you can still score $9-ice-cold pitchers of some type of beer, have decently trashy or considerate conversation depending on your mood, but not have to worry about if the popcorn machine has been cleaned in two decades.
The V-Room (918 E. Fourth Street)
Like Fern’s—just down the way—The V-Room is the western-most tip of the famed (or shameful, depending on how you look at it) 4th Street Crawl.
Depending on how far you stretch it, it can go from O’Connell’s to The V, with a variety of higher end drinking holes (like Lola’s and Social List) to mid-level joints (like Pike Bar) to the dives: Ashley’s, Fern’s, Red Room, and good ol’ V.
I chose Fern’s and V-Room over Ashley’s and Red Room because they are the most dingy in a sense—with V-Room definitely taking the cake on sketchiness and lack of decorum. They open proudly at 6 a.m. to let patrons shoot the breeze until they stumble or play pool with an unknowing pool shark. (No joke: you might get whooped by a random stranger who magically pulls his own stick out of a secret compartment after he offered to play a game with you; you’ll never have the table back.)
Old, cavernous, and experimental—they sometimes infuse their own liquors for drink specials like Hawaiian Mules—The V-Room is the place you’ll be for hours.
Crow’s Cocktails (5728 E. Second Street)
This Naples dive essential is truly an incredible sight to behold as the throngs of white trash that gathers here provides entertainment of priceless value—and given I am part white trash, I am not only in the right to discuss them but also know how to enjoy them in the tiny space that is this bar.
My friend and fellow writer Aaron Carroll once wittily told me that Crow’s the kind place that “doesn’t really become enjoyable until you’ve already been there for an hour.” I laughed because that should be applied to almost every dive bar—but for Crow’s, it is particularly true. The sheer lack of space forces you to overhear conversations, ones that range from exes stealing money to old-timers still lamenting that you can’t smoke in bars.
The bartenders? Well, depends on what you’re looking for. Keep to yourself, you’ll be fine. Try and pick up on them like every other meanderer and you will get, per a Yelp! review, the “rudest, most vile bitches posing as bartenders.” I say that guy deserved it—just me.
The 3636 Club (3636 E. Broadway)
Lovingly dubbed “The Dirty Thirty,” 3636 is a dive set in the middle of one of Long Beach’s most idyllic neighborhoods, Belmont Heights, and like any respectful dive, it is cash only.
Lit up like only a tacky, aging Las Vegas club could, its iconic neon sign welcomes those into its cavernous space only to be much-more welcomed by Misty and Erika, the two ladies that every HB Bro in there is dying to kiss and every gay men is dying to befriend. (Speaking of the bros, it is often hard to tell whether they’re lingerers from a skate career that never had a chance or if they are genuinely from Huntington Beach—either way, they’re white, kinda trashy, a bit brutish, and not so bad once you just force them into conversing about the pleasures of going to Reno [the city, not the bar listed below] or The River.)
Reno Room (3400 E. Broadway)
This place is ttached to a small, pseudo-Mexican food joint dubbed Cocoreños—I firmly believe this place exists solely for drinking post-Reno Room but they have gotten better with some more accomplished chefs on the tiny grill.
Expect nothing fancy. You won’t find mezcal or odd bourbons. Top shelf is Sauza Hornitos Reposado and Maker’s. You’re encouraged to talk at will or be a wallflower. You can play pool or not play pool. You can be a social butterfly or a loner. The Reno Room is what you make of it—just like Long Beach.
Fern’s (1253 E. Fourth Street)
Fern’s is your dive establishment with zero natural light. It’s even hard for sunlight or streetlamp light to creep in when the front door is open. And for that reason, it has been a long-feared establishment for those that have never dipped their toes inside.
For the unfamiliar, it is a part of Sublime history. (Part of the “Date Rape” video? It was filmed here.) If that doesn’t get a Long Beach-lover to step inside, then there’s something wrong with you—but more importantly, it is time to conquer your fears and just step inside.
O’Connell’s (2746 E. Fourth Street)
Some consider Ashley’s the beginning of the 4th Street Crawl on the east end but for me, it has always been O’Connell’s.
This Irish-for-the-sake-of-being-Irish bar has nothing really Irish about it other than its permanent $5-a-shot Jameson special—and that is part of the glory of this joint, with its glass blocks adorning its 4th Street-facing side, a few pool tables and shuffleboard, and a jukebox that will get you kicked out if you play Sublime. (Well, sometimes—depends on the bartender.)
Their $3 Bloody Mary special—$4.50 for a double—advertised on a hanging sign that has been there since I moved here nearly 15 years ago.
Muldoon’s Saloon (5646 Paramount Blvd)
Since 1973, this North Long Beach watering hole has been a pub haven for the lovers of the dives, sorting through Irish owner after Irish owner.
Its newest head honchos are Patrick Conlon and John English and while they might’ve thrown up some flatscreens, painted the joint, and expanded its offerings, the Muldoon’s crew happily and proudly accepts its dive status while also becoming an essential part of the community. They’ve hosted none other than All Flavor No Grease on a residency that is deeply missed. They’ve hosted No DAPL fundraisers.
Perhaps the best touch? Patrick and John care about every single person’s experience—to the extent of covering someone’s Uber fare when they thought Muldoon’s was open at 6 a.m. (sorry, kids, gotta go to V-Room for that) while also defending his employees against unruly customers who attempt to falsely call them out on Yelp!.
In other words, it’s the dive that dreams are made of.
Sweetwater Saloon (1201 E. Broadway)
At the Sweet, everyone is welcomed—but don’t get it twisted: lesbians rule the day and for that, I love it.
From pool leagues to football games, one enters through its hokey swingin’ Western doors, takes a deep breath of that cleanser chemicals that attempted to douse the shame laid on its surfaces the night before, and goes for the ride.
Whether it’s Terry over-serving you like any good bartender does or enjoying the shows people provide from the outside, not knowing that the mirrored windows gives the inside audience quite the entertainment, the Sweet—affectionately dubbed Swampwater amongst its most valued patrons—will always remain a queer staple.
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