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Photo above by Brian Addison.
Long Beach has pride in many things but one unparalleled sense of pride it holds is for its dive bars. Unapologetic, unfettered, unwavering, Long Beach’s love for dive bars is one that shouldn’t be messed with.
Surely, there are the common divey joints like the hipster-driven Red Room (where I witnessed a gun go off inside once), Joe Jost’s and Pike Bar & Restaurant (misnomered as dives but more like staples and legends), Ashley’s on 4th (joining a ton of others on the same street, some on this list), Que Sera (a place that still has some of the best music ever), Poor Richard’s in East Long Beach, Blondies near the Traffic Circle…
To be honest, there are too many—so this list isn’t a comprehensive one nor is it a Best Of list (because those aren’t fair no matter how you dice it). This is just a list of classic, seedy, underbelly-like, wonderful, sometimes dangerous, stucco ceiling-filled, popcorn machine-ready, questionable health code ethics-laden Long Beach dive bars that deserve the dried-out lime light like any other watering hole.
Eagle 562 (2020 E Artesia Blvd)
I open with a queer bar because, well, queer bars are an essential part of the Long Beach fabric and if you aren’t man enough to handle some assgrabs and dudes in chest harnesses, you’re hardly a man at all. This bar not only comes with massive history but is completed with an outdoor urine trough/fountain so gay men and drunken straight boys alike can play swords if they’re willing to piss in a fountain. (Please do not.)
More importantly, though, is the massive history.
This joint used to be Pistons (and several other bars before that), a 51-year-long leather icon that closed last year. It offered patrons who willingly or accidentally wrong turn-ed off the 91 a place to question one’s character, masculinity levels, and overall dignity. And I mean this in the best way possible.
Fearing the loss of history, Paradise and Falcon owner Michael Barber bought the joint, renamed it Eagle 562, and kept all its leather’n’daddy glory. The gigantic patio exists, sometimes paired with a boot shiner by the name of Allen.
That leather ain’t worn out enough until you’ve been to the Eagle.
The Interlude (1710 Clark Ave)
Tucked into a strip mall off of Clark near Atherton, The ‘Lude was the first dive bar I ever went to in Long Beach.
It’s the low-stucco ceiling kinda joint. It even once adorned a hot dog and popcorn machine that have sadly gone astray. It still reeks of smoke, stuck forever within its haunted walls. It has an odd array of games. It has mirrors that remind you of how little you’ve achieved by being a patron.
It used to have the kind of bartenders that got annoyed when you ordered something like Grey Goose or Maker’s Mark because they “can’t keep up with that new crap—why don’t you just drink Jack?” But, for a reason I will never have the heart to ask, they’re gone and now have the younger bartenders that have come to replace them but not lost the respect of The Dive. It might be a new generation but The ‘Lude lives on as the same unruly beast it ever was.
The Annex (4300 E Stearns St)
Long before schooners became a thing, there was The Annex just outside the Traffic Circle toward the Lakewood exit.
Sure, it has the sturdy and noble shuffleboard. Yes, it has the obligatory digital jukebox thrown in for the sporadic visits of the I-can-drink-til-I-puke-legally-now crowd of CSULB and LBCC.
But most importantly is the freezer. It used to be a straight-up, delivered-from-home, white vinyl fridge that has now been upgraded to a French-door stainless steel freezer. It is home to the schooners that have been used for decades, serving PBR long before it became a staple amongst dreaming musicians and shaggy 20-something vinyl collectors.
Crow’s Cocktails (5728 E 2nd St.)
This Naples dive essential is truly an incredible sight to behold as the throngs of white trash that gathers here provides entertainment of priceless value—and given I am part white trash, I am not only in the right to discuss them but also know how to enjoy them in the tiny space that is this bar.
My friend and fellow writer Aaron Carroll once wittily told me that Crow’s the kind place that “doesn’t really become enjoyable until you’ve already been there for an hour.” I laughed because that should be applied to almost every dive bar—but for Crow’s, it is particularly true. The sheer lack of space forces you to overhear conversations, ones that range from exes stealing money to old-timers still lamenting that you can’t smoke in bars.
The bartenders? Well, depends on what you’re looking for. Keep to yourself, you’ll be fine. Try and pick up on them like every other meanderer and you will get, per a Yelp! review, the “rudest, most vile bitches posing as bartenders.” I say that guy deserved it—just me.
The 3636 Club (3636 E Broadway)
Lovingly dubbed “The Dirty Thirty,” 3636 is a dive set in the middle of one of Long Beach’s most idyllic neighborhoods, Belmont Heights, and like any respectful dive, it is cash only.
Lit up like only a tacky, aging Las Vegas club could, its iconic neon sign welcomes those into its cavernous space only to be much-more welcomed by Misty and Erika, the two ladies that every HB Bro in there is dying to kiss and every gay men is dying to befriend. (Speaking of the bros, it is often hard to tell whether they’re lingerers from a skate career that never had a chance or if they are genuinely from Huntington Beach—either way, they’re white, kinda trashy, a bit brutish, and not so bad once you just force them into conversing about the pleasures of going to Reno [the city, not the bar listed below] or The River.)
El Paraiso (2802 E Anaheim St.)
It has two octagon windows, one of which is permanently sealed, and an awning with lovely 90s Microsoft Publisher-set font letting you know where you didn’t mean to go, where you check in “eating alcohol,” and if you’re fragile or delicate, think you might lose your life in this pisa bar.
This was the first place I got asked by hooker for favors and, upon discovering I didn’t bat for her team, enjoyed a thorough conversation about how the world’s first profession has a bad name. But beyond these cheering qualities, what I love most about El Paraiso is that it is a true dive who sticks to what it does best: strong drinks and cheap prices.
Just don’t be a jerk and you’ll get a damn good michelada as well.
Broadway Bar (1100 E Broadway)
Make no mistake: Broadway Bar is the quintessential gay dive bar of Long Beach—so I am going to get a bit personal with it and echo what I’ve already said about the bar because the Broadway Bar was the first place I realized what these darkened spaces, what these dives, what these dimly lit hideaways meant to a generation of LGBTQ folks I wasn’t directly connected to.
Broadway Bar was the first bar I had experienced a wake at.
There stood older men and women—queers who lived through a time I can’t imagine, plagued by a lack of understanding and a survival-based need to hide—and they celebrated the life of someone who passed at the bar because the queer bars were their churches. They covered the pool tables to make way for a ton of food, encouraged everyone and anyone to come in, eat, and even if they were strangers, take a glance at someone that was important to them.
The Broadway Bar is more than a dive bar; it was a place of worship and protection for an entire generation of humans who saw more struggle, frustration, misunderstanding, stereotypes, and challenges than any gay white dude nowadays could comprehend.
Reno Room (3400 E Broadway)
Attached to a small, pseudo-Mexican food joint dubbed Cocoreños—I firmly believe this place exists solely for drinking post-Reno Room but they have gotten better with some more accomplished chefs on the tiny grill—the Reno Room is a place where dustings of cocaine are permanently found across every surface in the bathroom and one of the few dives where you can score a full-on, pleated leather booth.
Expect nothing fancy. You won’t find mezcal or odd bourbons. Top shelf is Sauza Hornitos Reposado and Maker’s. You’re encouraged to talk at will or be a wallflower. You can play pool or not play pool. You can be a social butterfly or a loner. The Reno Room is what you make of it—just like Long Beach.
Thirsty Isle (4319 E Carson St.)
Much like its counterpart, The Annex, Thirsty Isle was servin’ up beer in 32 oz. glasses (this time in Gibraltars over formal schooners but they’re still called schooners) long before they became popular—and it’s probably because Thirsty Isle lives on a mantra of serving the coldest beer in Long Beach. In fact, they’ll make sure you know it: after your eyes momentarily adjust to the windowless space, you’ll soon notice that the red glow permeating the room emanates from a digital thermometer that proudly displays the temperature of the beer being poured.
It hovers between 28 and 29 degrees Fahrenheit, to be precise.
Don’t fall—even for a remote second—for their own description as a “rustic tavern.” (I think it’s a joke on their behalf.) Thirsty Isle is in a bland-as-hell beige concrete block of building with a colorful yellow awning to lure people in from the outside. But once inside, you’ll actually be impressed by the outside-Bud offerings they have.
The Prospector (2400 E 7th St.)
Much like Broadway Bar, the Prospector holds personal value given that, at least in my opinion, it’s a Long Beach staple in the purest of terms—and to an extent, it is hard to call a dive when it serves some of the best fried chicken in town and the story of its owner is one I never tire of telling.
It lacks pretentiousness, it is utterly warm, and it is part of my beginning history with this city. It was the first place I saw a band in Long Beach. (Limbeck to be specific, one of Long Beach’s best and most underrated bands ever.) It was one of the first places I drank way too much publicly. And for this Big Bear-born boy, its wood-paneled walls and old-school decor reminded me of the family steakhouses my grandparents would call the best.
Beyond its prime rib and fried chicken, wonderful pours, and cheap prices, The Prospector also remains one of the most ardent supporters of live music—a place where you can see some shitty and great bands all at once.
Fern’s (1253 E 4th St)
Fern’s is your dive establishment with zero fucking natural light. It’s even hard for sunlight or streetlamp light to creep in when the front door is open. And for that reason, it has been a long-feared establishment for those that have never dipped their toes inside.
For the unfamiliar, it is a part of Sublime history. (Part of the “Date Rape” video? It was filmed here.) If that doesn’t get a Long Beach-lover to step inside, then there’s something wrong with you—but more importantly, it is time to conquer your fears and just step inside.
The V-Room (918 E 4th St.)
Like Fern’s—just down the way—The V-Room is the western-most tip of the famed (or shameful, depending on how you look at it) 4th Street Crawl.
Depending on how far you stretch it, it can go from O’Connell’s to The V, with a variety of higher end drinking holes (like Lola’s and Social List) to mid-level joints (like Pike Bar) to the dives: Ashley’s, Fern’s, Red Room, and good ol’ V.
I chose Fern’s and V-Room over Ashley’s and Red Room because they are the most dingy in a sense—with V-Room definitely taking the cake on sketchiness and lack of decorum. They open proudly at 6AM to let patrons shoot the shit until they stumble or play pool with an unknowing pool shark. (No joke: you might get your ass whooped by a random stranger who magically pulls his own stick out of a secret compartment after he offered to play a game with you; you’ll never have the table back.)
Old, cavernous, and experimental—they sometimes infuse their own liquors for drink specials like Hawaiian Mules—The V-Room is the place you’ll be for hours.
O’Connell’s (2746 E 4th. St)
Some consider Ashley’s the beginning of the 4th Street Crawl on the east end but for me, it has always been O’Connell’s.
This Irish-for-the-sake-of-being-Irish bar has nothing really Irish about it other than its permanent $5-a-shot Jameson special—and that is part of the glory of this joint, with its glass blocks adorning its 4th Street-facing side, a few pool tables and shuffleboard, and a jukebox that will get you kicked out if you play Sublime. (Well, sometimes—depends on the bartender.)
Their $3 Bloody Mary special—$4.50 for a double—advertised on a hanging sign that has been there since I moved here nearly 15 years ago.
Muldoon’s Saloon (5646 N Paramount Blvd)
Since 1973, this North Long Beach watering hole has been a pub haven for the lovers of the dives, sorting through Irish owner after Irish owner.
It’s newest head honcho is Patrick Conlon and while he might’ve thrown up some flatscreens, painted the joint, and expanded its offerings, the Muldoon’s crew happily and proudly accepts its dive status while also becoming an essential part of the community. They’ve hosted none other than All Flavor No Grease on a residency that is deeply missed. They’ve hosted No DAPL fundraisers.
Perhaps the best touch? Patrick cares about every single person’s experience—to the extent of covering someone’s Uber fare when they thought Muldoon’s was open at 6AM (sorry, kids, gotta go to V-Room for that) while also defending his employees against unruly customers who attempt to falsely call them out on Yelp!.
In other words, it’s the dive that dreams are made of.
Sweetwater Saloon (1201 E Broadway)
At the Sweet, everyone is welcomed—but don’t get it twisted: lesbians rule the day and for that, I fuckin’ love it.
From pool leagues to football games, one enters through its hokey swingin’ Western doors, takes a deep breath of that cleanser chemicals that attempted to douse the shame laid on its surfaces the night before, and goes for the ride.
Whether it’s Terry over-serving you like any good bartender does or enjoying the shows people provide from the outside, not knowing that the mirrored windows gives the inside audience quite the entertainment, the Sweet—affectionately dubbed Swampwater amongst its most valued patrons—will always remain a queer staple.