.Winter Libations—Drinking on the Cheap

Dive bars are cultural treasures, as all cultured individuals know. And while we can all agree that dive bars all share the characteristics of offering cheap drinks to cheap people in cheap settings, I would argue that not all dive bars have no beer on tap, but all bars with no beer on tap are dive bars.

Which has little, but something, to do with today’s Press Pass.

A glorious trifecta of dive bars exists within a flop and a crawl of Santa Rosa’s College Ave–Mendo Ave intersection, just off Highway 101. A lifetime ago, when I studied journalism at Santa Rosa Junior College, I occasioned to frequent two of them.

music in the park san jose
music in the park san jose

The first of them, the 440 Club, located at 434 College Ave., boasts a daily Happy Hour from—that’s right—4:40 to 6:40pm. The first time I entered this enduring institution, I was gripped with the vague fear I might get jumped by the other patrons. But after exchanging furtive glances with the glorious letches propped around me I apparently passed muster, because the fear waned and I staggered away two hours later without getting spanked.

The second establishment, the Dirty Dive Bar, located just up the Ave at 616 Mendo, is a visual catastrophe to behold. I’ve never set foot in it, however its website minces no words with the proclamation: “Santa Rosa’s Oldest Bar … a Speakeasy in the 1930’s, a Gay Bar in the 1970’s … Blaw blaw blaw History stuff.” If the Dirty’s facade and expletive-laden website don’t adequately scream “dive bar,” then consider the fact that it and its immediate neighbors, Faith Tattoo and Citrus Smoke & Vape, form a veritable sub-trifecta of sin for the wayward party monster.

Gary’s at the Belvedere, located in the basement of a Victorian at 727 Mendocino Ave. and the final watering point in the dive-bar trifecta, is my favorite local bar. Nothing pleases me more than downing shots of cherry-flavored vodka at its dimly lit subterranean counter and then smoking old-fashioned cigarettes outside on the patio and then repeating the process until last call and the inevitable Lyft ride home.

But no discussion of North Bay dive bars would be complete without mention of Smiley’s Schooner Saloon, “the oldest saloon west of the Mississippi,” located in the heart of greater downtown Bolinas. The last time I stumbled into Smiley’s, it glowed with the same age-old, down-to-earth warmth that characterizes Bolinas itself. I’m told the entire building underwent remodeling in 2020, and may no longer fit the definition of a dive bar—but I’m proud to say I frequented Smiley’s back when it only sold beer in bottles.

Mark Fernquest lives and dives in the North Bay.


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