Tired of the same old $10 martinis and BMW key chain-swinging nightclub crowd? Boy, have I got a fun game for you — one guaranteed to put the “hop” back in your bar-hopping.
I call it “dive bar roulette,” and it’s a little thing I do when the swank sameness of the Scottsdale nightlife scene becomes too much. It’s pretty self-explanatory, actually. You simply get together with some friends, pile into a car or taxi and drive around until you find a bar that none of you know anything about.
The joint in question should be seedy-looking and, if possible, windowless. You know, shady. The sort of down-market grog shop that opens at 7 a.m. and lets you pay your tab with payee-endorsed welfare checks.
Like Russian roulette, the notorious game of chance enshrined in Michael Camino’s 1978 drama “The Deer Hunter,” you never know exactly what you’re going to get.
There’s always a slight possibility that you could end up like Christopher Walken in the movie — i.e., with various important organs splattered on the wall behind you.
In fact, I’ve had some meaningful and edifying experiences while spinning dive bar roulette’s figurative wheel of chance. A few years ago, a girlfriend and I cruised Seventh Avenue in Phoenix and popped into a place called Misty’s. Turns out, it was a lesbian bar. We got some curious looks, sure, but overall it was a welcoming vibe.
The visit ended with an arm-wrestling match between me and a female Army Reservist. See what I mean? That kind of cross-cultural bonding never happens at Devil’s Martini.
The problem with playing dive bar roulette in Scottsdale is manifest: There aren’t that many dive bars. In fact, a large percentage of the city’s home-owning population pays handsomely to ensure that no dive bar comes within umpteen commercial zones of their doorstep. (Yes, Kierlandites, Grayhawkers, I’m talking to you.)
Undeterred, I recently did a round of roulette on the sometimes not-so-fair streets of south Scottsdale, where dive bars are comparatively plentiful. At the risk of spoiling the fun for future rouletters, here are the results:
JJ’s Sports Cantina (409 N. Scottsdale Road): Sometimes, one-star hotels offer the best dive bar action, so I take a chance on this grotty little number, located at Hospitality Suites just north of the Red Mountain Freeway. Not bad, not bad. I like that the framed posters feature Arizona Cardinals players who haven’t seen a snap since the first Bush administration. And the Chuck E. Cheese-style bowling machine probably predates Pong. Still, the place is a little too well-kempt to achieve true dive status.
Pranksters Too (7919 E. Thomas Road): Jammed into a corner of a cruddy strip mall just off Hayden Road, this cavernous sports bar has all the outward symptoms of a classic dive — cheap beer, low-rent neighbors and no shortage of sullen solitary drinkers. But it also has multiple flat-screen TVs, live music and cute girls. Bleh. I’ll go to Sky Bar if I want cute girls. Time for another spin ...
El Dorado Bar and Grill (8708 E. McDowell Road): Backtracking down Hayden, I find this dirty gem. As any schoolboy knows, El Dorado is the mythical city of gold hunted in vain by Spanish conquistadors. Well, if there was ever any gold in this El Dorado, it was loaded onto a flatbed and replaced with moldy, buckling ceiling panels and a nicotine-stained lady bartender who looks like Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood in a blond wig. It’s karaoke night, and a chunky brunette with a Dorothy Parker bob is strangling the high notes of “Talking in Your Sleep” like they were defenseless kittens
As they say, eureka.
Of course, the “roulette” portion of dive bar roulette has a completely different connotation if you fail to elect a designated driver. But don’t fret — this is the kind of bar-hopping that makes being sober less sobering.