Imbibe

Bar:  Imbibe

Address:  3101 Central Ave NE

Here’s an oddity: a smoky bar.  Seriously, people smoke in here, legal and everything.  There’s some sort of weird grandfather clause to the indoor smoking ban for cigar bars and retail tobacconists.  This is the only such place I know of in Albuquerque that also sells alcohol. Indoor smoke is such a throwback, such a classic dive characteristic, that we had to see how Imbibe stacks up on the dive scale.

They scored right away on the décor.  There’s a shoe-shine bench just inside the front door, followed by a walk-in humidor.  But what really tickled me was an upper wall dotted with cigar boxes, all different sizes and heights.  It was a little like those blocky features walls sometimes have to deaden noise, and maybe the effect was the same because it definitely was a quiet place.

Patrons were mostly smoking cigars, but I saw a few cigarettes.  I’m guessing they are all regulars, because if smoking AND drinking indoors at an establishment is your thing then you’re going to wind up here.

The drinks are not in line with a dive.  I actually bought a $10 drink, because the artistic minded bartender (Oscar) creates his own Old Fashioned recipe and ages it in sherry casks.  And the best part?  A sweetened black cherry rather than the vile radioactive red maraschino.  I have to say the Old Fashioned was worth the price.

There is a great rooftop area with its own bar and nifty, urban view. Rooftop, I think, is not a standard dive element.  It smacks of trendy and has no hope of being dark in the daytime.  But since I wouldn’t begrudge a dive an outdoor patio I shouldn’t let a rooftop bother me either.

On the dive scale Imbibe scores a 4 out of 10.  Definitely not a dive. But definitely a cool place that meets some dive needs.

 

The Chart:

Cheap drinks Definitely not
PBR Not a PBR type of place
Floor irregularities Beautiful, artistic floor
Dark Main bar area is dark enough
Bathroom deficiencies Besides the small basic one-holer on the ground floor there are fancy, full bathrooms up a short stair.  They have square sinks that aren’t sinks.  More like a box with a trough around the rim.
Forbidden Fru Fru Drinks Drinks here can get quite fancy
Regulars The smoking crowd appears to be regulars
Pool/darts Nope
Quiet Good and quiet
Questionable décor Cigar box wall counts

Howie’s Sports Page

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Bar:  Howie’s Sports Page (sign on Montgomery says: “Howie’s Sports Bar”)

Address:  12500 Montgomery Blvd NE # 133

Howie’s wasn’t originally on our list, because we aren’t looking for sports bars, but somebody in Molly’s told us it was the darkest damn bar they had ever been in, so of course we had to go.  Howie’s is dark, really dark.  Probably because the windows are completely blocked off and they don’t use the lights.  The only source of light in here seem to be the TVs, which were surprisingly not overbearing given it is a sports bar, and beer signs.  I think all the light at our table came from a beer sign.

The walls are covered with sports themed photos, and they managed to find some sports content for half the TVs even though it was 4:00 on a weekday.  The volume was low, and other than a few ear bleeding moments where a group of screechy children sang the national anthem, the sound level in here was okay.  I imagine it’s an entirely different story on a Sunday afternoon or Lobo game day.   But despite the sports bar feel the place definitely has most of the required dive elements.  Dark, cheap, quiet, pool and darts.  I almost gave a failing score on the bathroom, which was baldly plain but functional, until my finger got wedged between the stall door and the asswipe dispenser because somebody didn’t think to leave more than a quarter inch clearance.  I think I left some skin behind there.

The score?   Howie’s manages a NINE if we count the garden gnome on the microwave. Perhaps we need a sub category, like “sports dive”.

The Chart:

Cheap drinks Just qualifies with $3 Bud and Bud light during happy hour
PBR Yes, but it cost us four bucks
Floor irregularities Nope, the carpet had some stains but it was all in good shape
Dark It’s almost too dark in here
Bathroom deficiencies Watch your fingers
Forbidden Fru Fru Drinks Basic bar stock
Regulars They might have all been regulars
Pool/darts Both
Quiet Plenty of quiet
Questionable décor Dave says we have to count the gnome

 

Zinc Wine Bar and Bistro (The Cellar)

zinc-wine-bar-001       zinc-cellar-entrance

Address:  3009 Central Ave. NE

So okay, long time no dive, and then Dave and I go here.  Yes, we know Zinc is not even a dive candidate, it’s fine dining for loves’ sake.  But beneath Zinc is another bar, the Zinc Cellar Bar.  It’s accessed by a narrow, dark stairwell so of course we cannot in good conscience stay out of there.

Zinc and its Cellar open at 5pm, which is a shame for those of us attracted to the type of mid-day darkness only a windowless bar can offer.  The place has a great feel, so cool and dark it definitely feels underground.  And it’s a little tricky to find the door, which is a common dive parameter although not specifically on our list (the door to the Cellar is in the small foyer between the outer door and inner, so if you go all the way into the Wine Bar and Bistro part you won’t find it).

But there the dive semblance stops.  We did not even attempt to drink beer here. We ordered some tasty, fancy taquito things from upstairs, and since it was Martini Monday we went right for the martinis.  They were pricey even with the Monday special, but good sized and served in an actual martini glass, you know one of those upside-down cone shaped things.  And the glass was frosted.  Just don’t forget, a martini is not really a mixed drink, there’s no non-alcoholic mix.   It’s alcohol mixed with alcohol with an olive thrown in..  One of the Zinc martinis impacts like two PBRs and you may wind up having to hang out longer than you meant to. Which, as pleasant as it is down there, is not bad thing.

The Chart: (what the hell, let’s see how it stacks up)

Cheap drinks Maybe not a bad value for the $, but nothing in here qualifies as a “cheap drink”
PBR Uh… no.
Floor irregularities Nope, good floor
Dark It is fabulously dark down in the Cellar
Bathroom deficiencies Nice bathrooms
Forbidden Fru Fru Drinks The normal drinks here are on the Fru Fru side
Regulars Patrons way to polite to be regulars
Pool/darts Nope
Quiet Plenty of quiet
Questionable décor Frighteningly tasteful ambiance

Score?   The Zinc Cellar gets a TWO (if we tried to apply the dive scale to Zinc upstairs it would have gotten a zero).  The Cellar looks and feels a little divey, but is almost completely a non-dive.  It’s a FAUX DIVE!  (Frankly we love those, too.)

Low Spirits

 

Bar:  Low Spirits

Address: 2823 2nd Street (A bit north of Menaul, on the west side)

Holy crap this place should get bonus points for beer prices.  The regular price for 16oz industrial brews in a can is $2.50, and happy hour gets you $1 off.  So yeah, $1.50 tall boys.  Dave and I had had matched set of PBRs and speculated about the stage.  It was small—the whole place is just tiny—but nothing about the stage and soundboard area seemed second rate.  More like squared away and well loved.  In fact the whole place nicely kept up.  It definitely has that dive feel, but somebody here is maybe working harder than they ought.

The exterior kind of makes up for it, though.  It’s a bleak, painted block building tucked into an industrial neighborhood.  I drove past it on the first go, but the outdoor seating area gave it away.  I didn’t get a chance to observe the outdoor seating in action, but you have to admire the economy of a bare concrete pad with a smattering of chairs and a metal railing.  Dave called it a corral.  And yes, we had trouble finding the front door. It’s on the opposite side of the building as the small parking lot.  The door that opens to the parking lot is for the band. It’s good for getting out of the place; not so good for getting in.

We’ve been here twice so far, and once there was no music at all save the immanent band doing some sound checks, which suits us quiet-mongers fine.  Another time they were cranking out some metal playlist too loudly for us to talk when we arrived.  We were about to nix this bar for future visits, especially since Dave hates metal (seriously, I don’t know what’s wrong with him) but after about 20 minutes it switched over to 80’s pop at a very tolerable volume.

The ladies room was a bit of a disappointment from the dive bar perspective.  It was nice.  Pristine tile floor, clean base molding, a large mirror that had one corner and side artistically cut away in a cascading wave with a pretty, sparkly treatment on its edge.  The toilet saved the day, however, with a bowl full of dark brown streaks. I believe they were rust stains and not some other, uh, problem, but it definitely gave me pause.

This place appears to have a pub dog, a friendly, medium sized mutt.   Dog is not one of my dive bar criteria, but it should be.

So is Low Spirits a dive?  This place might possibly get a 10, depending on how you feel about my fudging on the chart.  It definitely deserves at least a 9.    It’s a DIVE!

 

The Chart:

Cheap drinks? Yep, $1.50  for 16 oz industrial brews (can)
PBR Yep
Floor irregularities There was some duct tape
Dark Deliciously dark and cool
Bathroom deficiencies Seriously cosmetically challenged toilet
Forbidden Fru Fru drinks Dammit I forgot to ask. But the bar stock looks basic so I’m giving this one a passing score.
Regulars I’m counting the dog
Pool/darts There’s a weird little room off to the side with one red pool table right in the middle and bar stools all along the wall.  I wondered if you could actually sit in there without getting skewered with the back of a cue.
Quiet enough Uneven.  Can I give half scores?
Questionable décor That wall of skulls is cool looking, but weird enough to creep me out a little

Copper Lounge

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Bar:  Copper Lounge

Address:  1504 Central Ave SE

Someplace I read that Copper Lounge is a dive.  It certainly seems like it could be; It’s got that look from the outside.  It’s been there FOREVER, it has a nifty little package store attached that you have to exit and follow a starkly blank brick wall to find the side door  (provided you alert the bar tender to unlock the door for you, the package store doesn’t seem to have dedicated staffing so normally they just keep the door locked.)

Inside it’s cool, dark, and I scored $3 pint during happy hour.   The ceiling is low, although quite fancy.  And other things about this place are definitely non-dive.  The floor has an expensive treatment, that acid-washed concrete stuff.  The drains in the bathroom floor have mosaic tile sunbursts type around them.  There are pool tables, but the felt is a beautiful burnt orange color I’ve never seen on a pool table (“copper” colored, anyone?)

So how does it score on the dive bar scale?  Due to sloppy testing on our part we can’t be sure, but Copper scores anywhere between 4 and 7. I’m pretty sure this isn’t a dive.  I think this is… a lounge.  It feels “loungy”, like old school rat-pack days sort of loungy. Yes, I know it has “lounge” right in the name, I guess that should have given it away.

The Chart:

Cheap drinks $3 beer during happy hour
PBR I don’t know and blame Dave for not collecting this data.  What was he thinking, ordering a Fat Tire?  I think the ambiance affected his brain.
Floor irregularities Nope, floor was outright artistic
Dark Not only dark but a weighty, low ceiling
Bathroom deficiencies The bathroom was so nice it was sort of a shame to pee in there.
Forbidden Fru Fru Drinks I suspect plenty of Fru Fru available, it looks fully stocked.  I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to accidentally drink a fancy drink.  So this one’s on me.
Regulars Patrons were kind of subdued.  Didn’t notice anyone who acted like a regular.
Pool/darts Pool tables with copper colored felt
Quiet Plenty.  Odd assortment of music, from modern pop to Frank Sinatra, none of it too loud.
Questionable décor Giant multi-gallon sized empty liquor bottles lined the header above the bar and continued to the flanking walls. Think the kind of giant bottles found in duty-free shops.  While unusual looking items, not sure if it counts as “questionable”.  The other art on the walls was kind of classy – old style advertizing posters and classic art prints.

 

Leo’s

 

 

Bar:  Leo’s

Address:  1119 Candelaria Rd NW

Leo’s, Leo’s, Leo’s.   To be truthful we’ve been here a bunch of times already.  Everyone in town agrees this is a dive, so it better score at least a 7 or there’s something wrong with my system.   Although they are hurt by Dave’s arbitrary Pabst mania. That’s right, NO PBR.  The first time we visited Leo’s a friendly patron told us never fear, there were other places to get PBR.  But here at least drinks were $2 during happy hour.  All their well drinks, including their well tequila, which, by the way, is Patrón.  Effing Patrón.  We thought for sure he was pulling our leg.  Then he said ‘hell, you can have a Long Island for $2’.  Which was what he was drinking.

We haven’t tested the $2 Long Island, but we’ve since then ordered plenty of the $2 Patrón.  Dave questioned if it was really Patrón, because how would we know, not being tequila connoisseurs?   I can assure you it’s not got that drinking paint thinner experience that cheap tequilas seem to all have.  And they certainly go through enough Patrón if the “decorated with empty Patrón bottles” is any clue. Some industrious person even made a string of lights out of the things.

We sometimes find it a bit too loud in here for true dive atmosphere.  I was a little in fear of my dive scoring system when it looked like the  bathroom score would make it or break it.   Dave said there was no hot water in the men’s room, which technically counts as a deficiency, but turns out I didn’t need it.  When I sat down in my stall the seat ring slid half way off and almost dumped me on the floor.  I was pretty delighted by this until my bare arse came in contact with cold porcelain.  That’s normally something I try to avoid. Also, as I was leaving I took a gander at the sink I hadn’t used.  It had a large, ragged hole in it, like someone had got to it with a ball peen hammer.

BTW there’s a whole second half to Leos that we’ve never seen open.  I peered in there, looking for a pool table (nope).  There’s another bar in there, and the booths have curtains on them, like you’d see in old-style mobster movies or something.  And a couple of candy dispensers, the kind that sit on a post and kids put coins in.  What is this strange room?  Is it used during peak times?  We may never know.

So is it a dive?  Leo’s scores 7 out of 10 (good news for my scoring system).  It’s a Dive!

The Chart:

Cheap drinks $2 drinks, including well shots during happy hour
PBR Uh oh… no PBR
Floor irregularities Plenty (but the dance floor is NICE)
Dark Dark enough.  In fact I’m not sure it has windows
Bathroom deficiencies A couple of doozies
Forbidden Fru Fru Drinks Normally I ask but since their entire stock was easily visible and I could see nothing like chocolate liqueur or birthday cake flavored vodka I’d say we’re clear on this one.
Regulars Patrons were regular AND friendly.
Pool/darts Nope
Quiet It’s a little too loud
Questionable décor I doubt anyplace else has a string of lights made from Patrón bottles over the bar.

Dragon Horn Tavern

 

Bar:  Dragon Horn Tavern

Address:  2906 Juan Tabo Blvd NE  #A

Dave found this little gem by using Google Maps.  “Did you know there’s a bar attached to the Albertson’s across from the gym?  It’s called Dragon Snout,” he said.

“You’re shittin’ me,” I said (or something to that affect).

Because what would a bar be doing attached to a grocery store? Let alone one called Dragon Snout?   Well, it turns out there is a small strip center attached to that Albertson’s, with things like Sushi, a nail salon, and yes, a bar.  Not Dragon Snout but Dragon Horn, you can see how Dave could get that confused.

For all the times I have tooled up and down Juan Tabo, I never noticed this bar.  It’s really tucked in there and I don’t think they have road signage.  To top it off they have camouflaged the glass door by covering it in the same type of advertising plastic as the windows.  This is great for keeping it dark inside, but this seems to be a theme with dive bars.  Can’t find the door?  Might be a dive!

It’s plenty dark in the Dragon Horn.  I squinted at the half full bar for a good thirty seconds before I was convinced Dave was not already seated. As a woman walking in alone I generated curiosity from the patrons, who stared boldly back at me.  And why not?  They knew I couldn’t really see them.

I ordered a $2.75 pint of Bud on draft and Dave did the same when he arrived.  Dave thought the beer was a tad stale.  It seems unlikely given the general popularity of Bud and the fact that it’s their Happy Hour draft.  But who can tell?  Not us, I’ve been spending all my beer tasting energy the last five years on craft IPAs, and Dave doesn’t care for Bud.  Our next round was Pabst in the bottle, and you know what?  It was light, clean, and crispy.  Perhaps I’ll make a PBR fan yet.

And btw Dave still insists on calling the place Dragon Snout.

So is Dragon Horn a dive?  With a 9 out of 10 it’s definitely a DIVE!

The Chart:

Cheap drinks $2.75 draft pints of Bud or domestic long necks
PBR Yep
Floor irregularities At least one bit patch of what appears to be missing tile
Dark No shortage of dark here
Bathroom deficiencies Bathroom wasn’t pretty but was in good working order
Forbidden Fru Fru Drinks “Ha, no, we don’t have anything chocolate. We don’t even stock vermouth!” said the very friendly bar tender
Regulars Definitely.  One patron even bought a round for the bar
Pool/darts Serious pool and darts, they have leagues here
Quiet We sat right in front of the speaker and still managed to talk
Questionable décor The place is FILLED with weird dragon art.  Dragon heads, dragon claws holding up shelves or lights, dragons with horns.  And what looked like a nautical figurehead copping a feel of her own left boob.

 

 

Molly’s

 

Bar:  Molly’s

Address:  546 State Hwy 333, Tijeras, NM 87059

OK, so Molly’s isn’t technically in Albuquerque.  But only takes six minutes to book through the canyon on I-40 East, and it’s just north off the Tijeras exit.  You’ll find it nestled in among elms and cottonwoods with a dirt parking lot.  It functions as a bit of a catch all for the East Mountain area –bar, family joint, package store and music, lots of live music. There’s no kitchen, but you can get a Trail Rider pizza from the trailer across the parking lot and they’ll bring it in for you.

There’s a nice outdoor patio, but we dive seekers stayed indoors to try and soak up that dive feeling.  The cooling at 4pm on this hot summer day was tolerable but not good. Dave wanted to add “cool in the summer” to the dive bar criteria, arguing that the experience should be akin to visiting a cave.  I told him it was too much work to change the dive criteria.  Also I think it might be at odds with the idea that a dive needs to stay cheap.

Molly’s is also a little bright what with its big windows, at least in the summer.  I guess a place like this would increase in diveyness in the cold and dark of winter.

The patrons are definitely the East Mountain eclectic, cowboy hat wearing, no-fuss crowd.  Everybody seemed to know one another AND the bartender, a combination that always makes me feel heart warmed and left out at the same time.  Ah well, I’ve still got Dave.  I’m more of a sit in a (dark) corner and scribble in a notebook type anyway.

So is Molly’s a dive?  Despite being light, bright, and kind of nice, it scores 8 out of 10 on the dive scale.    It’s a DIVE!

 

The Chart:

Cheap drinks $3 beers
PBR Yep
Floor irregularities Duct tape on worn carpet
Dark A bit too bright with summer daylight
Bathroom deficiencies NOPE everything in good working order AND it was cute
Forbidden Fru Fru Drinks Not in here, baby
Regulars I think everybody in here might be a regular
Pool/darts Nice looking pool table
Quiet You can talk in here even if there’s a band outside
Questionable décor Faux grape vine over the bar with lit and glowing bundles

What Exactly is a Dive Bar?

When I told people I wanted to write a blog on dive bars I sometimes got the question: “What exactly is a dive bar?” This question confused me, being as opinionated on the matter as I am. Yet answering is not so simple. Nobody is satisfied with “Well, when you go in, it feels divey.” This has led me to assemble some criteria, and, since this is my blog, I get to decide what those criteria are.

First, it has to be a bar. That means a full liquor license, not just beer and wine. Also, while I may drink at Applebees (and I do) I’m pretty sure that’s a restaurant. If the bar part of a restaurant is cordoned off in some way, maybe that part qualifies as an actual bar. Maybe not. I’ll have to call those as I see them.

A dive should aspire to the following criteria (actually not meeting #1 might be a game killer):

  1. $3 must get you SOMETHING, at least during happy hour. Yes I know this doesn’t exist in many places in the country but that just makes me think that’s probably what’s wrong with those places.
  2. Pabst Blue Ribbon. I get that this seems arbitrary, but since my bar diving partner, Dave, is inordinately attached to this brew it gets a spot.
  3. The floor should be sticky or uneven somewhere. Doesn’t matter where. Duct-tape on the floor definitely counts.
  4. It must be dark. Anything from ‘dark enough to induce seizure-like blinking if coming in from the daylight’ to ‘so dark your friends can’t find you until they’ve sat at the bar for five minutes’ (this happened to me once, in Paul’s).
  5. The bathroom should have some deficiency. No hot water counts, but better if parts of the toilet are missing and replaced with cardboard from beer boxes.
  6. They must be incapable of making a chocolate martini. There are many fru fru drinks that don’t belong in a dive bar, this one just sounded the most terrifyingly wrong.
  7. Regulars! Every dive bar needs ‘em. Here’s how to ID a regular:
  • They order without looking around or asking questions
  • They know the bartender’s name
  • They opt for self service of napkins, lemon wedges, or coasters by reaching behind the bar
  1. There should be a pool table or dart board. Bonus if the pool balls are a mismatched set. (I used to hang out in a bar where half the balls were #2. We played a game we called 2-ball. I miss that place.)
  2. Unless there is a band playing it should be quiet enough to have a conversation in most areas, not just the bathroom.
  3. There should be something in the décor worth a double take. Like maybe a stuffed jackalope behind the bar.

I’m thinking seven out of ten to make the dive bar cut.  And yes, that is a completely arbitrary number.