Most of us love a good dive bar, and I’m no different. Cheap drinks, bad lighting, nasty bathrooms, and a jovial atmosphere are par for the course, be you in Bangkok, Trondheim, or Pardee, Idaho. Normally, I wouldn’t bother highlighting a dive bar, given the seen-one-seen-’em-all nature of the beast, but I was sufficiently impressed by the sheer dive-i-ness (divity?) of this bar I visited on my trip home for the holidays that I felt compelled to share a couple of pictures. I’m going to call this bar The Duke.
The Duke has been around for a while, long enough to be something of an institution. Its unapologetically seedy exterior and relative lack of windows have led many to mistake it for a fourth-rate strip club or an abandoned building (I have heard both), but it is, in fact, a hardcore drinkers’ haven by day and a draw to college students by night.
The Duke has a reputation for the strongest Long Island Iced Teas around, which is no mean feat in my hometown. It is also notable for being one of the few establishments to escape the city-wide smoking ban, and so has enjoyed a resurgence among the middle-classes of late, which is why I was summoned there on Christmas night for drinks.
I’d been to The Duke several years ago, but it had never been a regular hangout for me, seeing as there were always cleaner dive bars to patronize, with actual ventilation systems. After over two years in the UK, where smoking indoors is prohibited, it was a shock to the system to wander into an old-school, unfiltered smoking bar. The urge to belly-crawl across the floor under the eye-watering fug of smoke was strong, but ultimately overpowered by a closer inspection of said floor.
I found my friend at a table with two regulars, directly beneath the flat screen television (sports, obviously), beer bucket near-empty and ashtray overflowing. All pretty typical. I did end up locking my recently drycleaned coat in the trunk for its own safety, and wrapped my friend’s jacket around my purse as a defensive shield, so strong were the fumes (this coming from a smoker, herself). We hung out and played the jukebox and drank local brew until 2:00 am rolled around and the cops were outside. All in all, an unremarkable dive bar night!
What made The Duke special for me was the restroom. Obviously, standards of hygiene and interior design in dive bar restrooms are lacking at best. This is a prerequisite. This particular ladies’ room was furnished in faux-wood paneling, in keeping with the general décor. The majority of the grafitti seemed to be of the Greek variety, and was not only scrawled in permanent marker and ballpoint, but also scratched directly into the wood, speaking to the dedication of the artists. The phone number of a girl called Amanda was heavily featured, along with assurances that she could “eat pussy all night” and similar sentiments.
The next thing you might notice in the powder room would be the unusual nature of the stalls. To the left, a swinging saloon-style door fails to protect the modesty of the guest given its dimensions and unfortunate positioning (I think it goes without saying that there is no lock, but there’s scant need for one when it becomes instantly clear whether the stall is occupied). The second, creative option, is the shower curtain toilet which at least provides some visual, if not aural, privacy.
Believe me when I say this above photo doesn’t do it justice. The cherry on top was revealed when I went to wash my hands and discovered that a fellow gentlewoman had relieved herself of her stomach contents directly into the sink, apparently unable to contain herself long enough to push aside the shower curtain three feet away (warning: if photos of puke are enough to make you gag, scroll past this one fast).
At least the offender was thoughtful enough to toss a paper towel on top of the mess and leave the tap on trickle. Who wants a Long Island Iced Tea now, baby!? I know I do. In conclusion, I found the The Duke thoroughly satisfying in that it not only met but surpassed my expectations, and pronounce it worthy of a Dive Bar Gold Star. Feel free to tell me about your favorite dive bars, or worst dive bar experiences, in the comments.