Dive or Not? Arena Bar and Grill Tests the Dive Bomber

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Robin Wheeler
Can a bar be a dive if it has flowers planted in front and offers issues of local foodie magazines? Can a dive bomber be a dive bomber if she goes to a bar and drinks nothing but iced tea?

Yes, if I'm having lunch at Arena Bar and Grill. This tavern on the bottom level of a rambling old house on the edge of Dogtown epitomizes the all-American neighborhood bar, with friendly bartenders, regulars and a little corner in the back with a sign that reads, "The Little Kitchen That Could".

It's nice enough that my first reaction wasn't, "I need a beer to make this palatable."

I ordered an Italian beef sandwich with pepper jack instead of Provel, a side of fries and an iced tea, since this is the first bar I've visited where the iced tea didn't look like sewer water. I might have done a smidge of day drinking had I looked at the selection of cheap bottled beers before ordering my tea -- a fine spread of the best American cheapies beyond InBev. I'll always get excited about having Stag at lunch, but not this time.

Although Arena's tiny with lots of alcohol, I questioned its dive status. That is, until I saw someone pour Inglenook chardonnay into a Styrofoam cup. The cup didn't leave the building. Anywhere wine is being consumed from Styrofoam is the right place for me.

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Robin Wheeler
My lunch was more Philly cheesesteak than Italian beef, covered in lightly sautéed green peppers and onions. Still, quite tasty, especially when I removed the bun, dumped the beef, cheese and veggies on the thin, crispy fries and drenched the whole thing in au jus. Would a beer have made it better? Absolutely.

It probably would have been even better if I'd turned my attention away from my phone while I was eating. I was there during the supposed hostage situation in Jefferson City Since bar talk centered on the mini-series Band of Brothers and Britney Spears' lip-synching controversy, I tried to find news updates on my own while eating.

"Quit texting!" yelled the bartender. "Your food's gonna get cold!"

Having been admonished, I knew I was in the right place after all.

Robin Wheeler writes the blog Poppy Mom and is a regular contributor to Gut Check. She also has a strange attraction to drinking establishments with jars of pickled -- or possibly fossilized -- eggs. She reports on these dives every Thursday.

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