The Dive Bomber Presents The (Central) Westenders
My friend Sally, a native Londoner, held similar stereotypes about American bars. They were either "Cheers" or like a bar from her childhood called "The Dive Bar" at the British embassy in Moscow.
I'm still not entirely sure how Sally knows about bars in Cold War-era Moscow.
Sally's wish list for her first visit to St. Louis had three items: go to the top of the Gateway Arch, see the world's largest catsup bottle and go dive bombing with me. Who am I to argue with a friend who might have KGB connections?
She braved her first tornado warning and a level of heat and humidity that causes Brits to evaporate into fog just to visit J and A's Bar and Grill.
"I can't believe the bartender talks to customers!" she said when we left, having spent two hours comparing tattoos with the bartender/manager, discussing gun laws and high-school history curriculum and sharing labor and childbirth stories.
Which was interesting, since our bartender was male.
He knew much of the bar's century-plus history. It was a speakeasy during Prohibition. At some point, probably during the 1970s, some idiot drove a nail through one of the cherub faces carved into the bar back.
Sally's not a beer drinker, which I assumed was illegal in London. While I nursed my hipster elixir ($1 can of PBR in a frosted mug), she had a couple of vodka tonics, which were three-quarters vodka. Since smoking isn't allowed in U.K. pubs, she bought a pack of menthols and smoked one -- just because she could.
J & A's met Sally's American bar expectations: friendlier than the British version, which have all turned into smoke-free franchise crapholes with no local flavor and personality. Then she muttered something about putting sweet corn on an Imo's pizza and collapsed into a vodka, nicotine and toasted ravioli-induced sleep.
Robin Wheeler writes the blog Poppy Mom. She also has a strange attraction to drinking establishments with jars of pickled -- or possibly fossilized -- eggs. She reports on these dives for Gut Check every Friday.