Saturday, March 25, 2017

We Walk into a Cantina in Old Town Clovis

Henry's Cantina in a hundred year old building, Old Town Clovis, California
Henry’s Cantina, Clovis, California
“Hey, what are you doing?” Someone was yelling inside Henry’s Cantina. We couldn’t be sure if he was talking to us, but there was no one else around. We were outside, taking pictures of the place. So we went inside.

“We thought somebody was about to get served,” the bartender said, but she wasn’t the one who yelled. There were only two other people in the bar, a couple. We introduced ourselves, and learned that the couple was Den and Maria, and the bartender was LoLo. LoLo had been curious about the guy taking pictures outside, so Den had taken it upon himself to find out the story.

On the street outside Henry's Cantina in Old Town Clovis, California
So we told them about our project to visit a bar and a church every week, and that this month’s bar visits are dedicated to Old Town Clovis since I’m working in a hotel there.

We learned that Henry’s has been around for awhile; the building is 150 years old. All three people in the bar quickly assured us that if we’d come at another time, we’d have found more people there. After ten minutes or so, other people did come in. And when they came in, LoLo greeted them effusively, usually giving them a hug. (We didn’t get a hug, but then again, she didn’t know us yet when we walked in.)

I ordered a bourbon and water and Mindy asked about ciders. LoLo suggested a Peach Bellini. Mindy said sure, though she wasn’t entirely sure what she’d get. Turns out it’s a malt beverage in a bottle.

When we came in, rock music was playing and World’s Most Amazing Videos (naked skiers, geek fight club, grisly soccer injuries) was playing on the TV. But after a while, LoLo asked Den if he’d like the channel changed when The Walking Dead came on, remembering he was a fan.

I sat next to Den and Maria, and they told me they were in the neighborhood to see their daughter, but she wasn’t home, so they came to Henry’s. Good grandparents that they are, it wasn’t long before they were telling me about their grandchildren. I heard about a grandson who was learning karate and a granddaughter who was into hip-hop. Maria showed me pictures of her granddaughter in a recent performance, and, yes, she was adorable.

An old guy in a cowboy hat at the end of the bar asked for country music and Lolo checked with everyone else to see if they were okay with that and she made the change. (Particularly, he requested Marty Robbins’ “The Streets of Laredo.”) Another man said, "No karaoke tonight, then?" Lolo said no, not this week.

Eventually I asked Maria and Den the two questions we always ask, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?” (Many times we phrase that second question with the preface, “Whether you go to church or not,” but Den and Maria had already mentioned that they’d been to St. John’s in downtown Fresno.) Den said a good bar should have “friendly conversation. When you walk in you feel welcome. You don’t feel looked down on.”

It was important to Maria that “the waitress is friendly.” They like LoLo. LoLo also bartends at the Outlaw Tavern in Clovis, and Maria and Den said they follow her where she goes. Maria said she goes to a bar as a “stress reliever;” she wants to go to a place where she can relax and talk with people.

Maria told me about a bad experience at another bar. She’d had a tough day at work. She wanted to go out for a drink, but she was too tired to get dressed up so she just threw on a sweatshirt, an Oakland Raiders sweatshirt. When they went up to the bar, the bartender said, “We don’t serve Raiders fans.”

Den said there was no indication that the guy was joking, but even if he was, people shouldn’t joke like that if they don’t know the people they’re dealing with. Maria knew Den would react to what the bartender said, and he didn’t disappoint. Eventually the manager tried to smooth things out, but clearly, the two don’t want to return to the place anytime soon. (Henry’s Cantina, on the other hand, has signage to indicate it is a welcoming place for the Raider Nation. I admitted I was a hurting 49ers fan, as all 49ers fans are these day, and Den offered nothing but sympathy.)

Den also said a good bar was makes accommodations for guests -- for instance, changing the music or TV for people, as Lolo had shown she was willing to do. Maria mentioned that a good test of a bar is whether they make a good Bloody Mary. (LoLo popped into the conversation at that moment saying, “A Bloody Mary is a good sign.” She mentioned she’d learned how to make good Bloody Marys from Sherry, the bartender at Outlaw who she greatly admires and works with on occasion.)

As for what makes for a good church, Maria quickly said the priest. Den said there are two faces to religion. There can be an ugly side that judges people, but there is also a side with openness and understanding where people speak from the heart.

Maria then asked for no more questions, but I still asked her to tell me more about her granddaughter (who will be in a dance show at the Saroyan Theater soon). Maria said that Den could talk to people all night long.

Meanwhile, Mindy was talking to the man next to her at the bar. Lolo had asked about his motorcycle and his new baby when he came in, teasing him for not coming to the bar for awhile. He introduced himself to Mindy as Anthony and told her that a way to know a good bar was when the bartender was “somebody like LoLo. She always remembers what you want” and will probably have it ready by the time you sit down. Aside from that, he said, the important thing was whether the bar fits you. “I like small. Classic rock, chill, people my age or older. I don’t want a bunch of punks who want to fight.” If all that’s good, he says the price isn’t as important.

When Mindy asked what made for a good church, he said, “I went to Christian school.” In those days, he also attended a local megachurch. As he got older, “my understanding of how things work changed.” He particularly didn’t like the big church’s emphasis on money. Now, he said, he likes Cornerstone.“You can be who you are”

He talked a little about wearing fancy clothes to church to show honor to God. “In my opinion God doesn’t care what you wear, he cares about who you are.” He mentioned a weekly men’s meeting at Cornerstone where a free meal is served, followed by worship. “It’s pretty awesome.” He said he also likes Lifepointe.

So, to answer Den’s initial question, “What are you doing?” We were having a great time with the fine folks at Henry’s Cantina, even though they didn’t do karaoke that night after all.  

Saturday, March 18, 2017

We Walk into a Saloon in Old Town Clovis

Old Town Saloon, Clovis, California
Old Town Saloon, Clovis, California
“Are you the bloggers?” a woman asked shortly after we arrived. Admittedly, we had been taking photos of the walls of the Old Town Saloon in Old Town Clovis, but we were surprised. The woman introduced herself as Jenn and told us that she’d read all our posts since hearing we’d written about the Outlaw Tavern the week before.

We think this was a first. We don’t remember hearing anyone say they'd read our blog before we arrived at the bar (unless we’d set up the meeting). We hadn’t told anyone we were coming, since that’s not something we do. But when Jenn looked at us, she thought we looked out of place somehow and guessed who we were. Even more amazing, she seemed really pleased to see us. (She even asked to take a selfie with us.)

Before we left the car, Mindy had thought for a bit about what she wanted to order. Mindy is rarely quick with an order in a bar or in a restaurant unless she’s had a chance to think about it ahead of time. So she decided to decide what she wanted before she went into the bar. She remembered that last year on St. Patrick’s Day in Florida, she’d wanted a grasshopper (the only green drink she could remember other than green beer). The Irish pub we’d visited that night was all out of creme de menthe and couldn’t make her the drink. Since we were visiting the Old Town Saloon on St Patrick’s Eve, she decided to try again.

Don't forget your ID. They card at Old Town Tavern in Clovis, California
The bartender asked for our I.D.s when we sat down. (We look so young.) She later said that she checks everyone’s I.D. because the A.B.C. has been cracking down. She told us she’d even asked for I.D. from a friend she’s known since kindergarten, because she just can’t make any exceptions.

When the bartender asked for our order after that, Mindy didn’t hesitate. She asked for a grasshopper.

And the bartender asked, “What’s in that?”

Mindy said, “It has creme de menthe…” and realized she didn't really know what was in it. She just knew it was green and minty.

The bartender (we later learned her name is Tisha) had already started looking it up on her phone and assured Mindy she’d find out. A couple people of people at the bar mentioned various ingredients. After a moment, the bartender said,  “Oh, it’s like a Dirty Girl Scout! Every drink has five different names. I can make that.”

I went with a rum and Coke because it’s easy for everyone.

After she’d gotten our drinks, Tisha asked if people needed anything, since she was going to step outside for a moment. (She was holding her phone, as opposed to the many bartenders saying they needed to step out for a moment while holding a pack of cigarettes.) A man at the bar teased her, “Going out for a break? I need a beer, lady!”

through the looking glass at Old Town Saloon in Clovis, California
There were around a dozen people in the bar when we walked in around six in the evening, but it was nothing like the crowd that would be coming a few hours later. Like every Thursday, it was college night. We heard that later in the evening, the college crowd would come and there would be line down the block. (When I passed the place later, on the way to work, I saw this for myself.) Apparently, weekends are very busy, as is Tuesday Karaoke Night. I’m sure that St. Patrick’s Day fills the place to capacity.

Someone at the bar encouraged us to look up the history of the building. She showed us a photo of long ago Clovis. This same building had been a bar even way back then, and she said there had been a secret passageway to a brothel, but we’re pretty sure that doesn’t exist anymore.

We were happy to see a popcorn machine, and Zach down the bar filled a cup for Mindy. We always ask our two questions at a bar, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What, whether you go or not, would make for a good church?” Nobody’s ever told us that a popcorn machine is required for a good bar, but in our experience free popcorn goes a long way toward improving a bar experience. We’d advocate for more popcorn machines in churches as well.

When we asked Tisha our questions, she told us that she’d done a survey about what makes a good bar. She’d been taking a class, and everyone was supposed to survey a group about something, so she decided to use her work. She asked people at the bar what they looked for in a bar. “The biggest ones were location and atmosphere, and I think prices were next.” I asked her what she meant by atmosphere, and she said, “It’s different things for different people, Some people are looking for a sports bar with big TVs and music. Or looking for something like this, a dive bar.”

I asked her what she likes in bars and she said she likes dive bars, “because they’re chill and relaxed and laid back.”  She doesn’t like it when there are big crowds and you have to yell in order to talk to people.

As for what she thinks makes for a good church, she admitted she doesn’t go. She used to go to Catholic churches when she was young. She said that a church should be “welcoming and open.” She said it shouldn’t be judgmental, and she told us an experience with a judgemental church; when she was a teenager, she went to a church in Modesto where a woman came up to her and told her she was going to hell for wearing shorts and a tank top to church. Tisha said that people should just be glad young people are rather than judging them. She said churches should be comfortable, like home.

We asked Jenn our questions, too. She said the most important thing in a good bar was a good bartender. She also likes dive bars, which she says baffles her friends. She said that when she visits a new place she Yelps dive bars. She likes a bar where the people are friendly, but “not too friendly, not creepy.”  And she emphasized, “The divier the better.” She connected this to being a Clovis girl born and raised.

As for what makes for a good church, she said, “Definitely the Father, like the bartender.” She’s Catholic and has gone to Our Lady of Perpetual Help since she was baptized there. She mentioned that the priest who baptized her eventually left the priesthood to get married.

We were able to ask our questions one more time, of Kaitlyn and Zach. Kaitlyn said, “I love this bar. I’m 21, and this is the first bar I went to.” She said, “Customer service is important; if the bartender is nice, it makes me happy.” She and Zach very much like Saturday nights at the place, “There’s a DJ and lots of dancing and that makes me happy.”

As for church, she admitted she hadn’t been for a long time. Zach jumped in and said it was important for people in a church to be genuine. “They shouldn’t be going because they have to go but because they are happy to go.”

And we were happy to be at the Old Town Saloon. “Celebrity blogger” really should be an oxymoron, but thanks to Jenn, it was fun to feel like famous people for a little while.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

We Walk into a Tavern in Old Town Clovis

Outlaw Tavern, Old Town Clovis, California
Outlaw Tavern, Clovis, California
People greeted each other with an abundance of “Sweetheart”s, “Honey”s, and “Dear”s. At Outlaw Tavern, people had obviously known each other for years and enjoyed each other's’ company. Just as obviously, we were not part of the crowd.

This month, our project is visiting the bars near the hotel where I work. There’s a twofold purpose to this. I’d like to be able to answer guests’ questions about local Old Town Clovis drinking establishments, and we want to continue visiting a new bar every week, as we’ve been doing for over a year now.

typos in Old Town Clovis
But continuing this project has challenges, and this is as good a time as any to tell you about them. Last year, we visited a new bar in a new state every week. When we went into a bar and talked to people, there was often a kind of shared excitement. We might be talking to a personat the bar, and they’d tell the bartender, “Our bar is going to represent the whole state!” People wanted to tell us about other bars (and occasionally churches), and to ask about where we’d been and where we still needed to go. (“So are you even going to Alaska and Hawaii?”)

We were pleased and surprised at how often people would go out of their way to make us feel welcome, and for that night we felt like we’d become part of their community and even part of their lives. We’re still in contact with people we met in bars on the trip. (Thanks, Facebook!)

What shouldn't surprise us is that this year, people don't express the same excitement when we explain, “We live here, so we’re writing about bars in the area.” This is especially true when we’re in a bar that’s full of regulars seeing their friends. Hanging out with friends is one of the reasons people go to bars.

Outlaw Tavern is a dive bar -- and we don’t say that as an insult. It’s just a very casual bar without any pretense of being what it’s not. We visited late on Wednesday afternoon, and the place was fairly full. A few people were sitting at a table in the outside patio area. There was a baseball game on one TV, and country music on the jukebox. I noticed a couple at the far end of the bar cuddling and smooching. I noticed one TV screen was devoted to the surveillance camera facing the parking lot.

Some nights the bar hosts events with live bands or DJs, and there’s usually a cover charge those nights. Judging by the sounds I can hear from the hotel during my night audit shifts (which begin at 10:30 pm) Outlaw Tavern can be a very lively place. We get a number of guests who walk across the parking lot from the bar after wisely deciding not to try to drive home.

After we sat at the end of the bar (the only spot with two seats together) and ordered our ciders, the woman working on a tablet next to us struck up a conversation. After we told her about our project, she told us she was a writer, too. She said she likes writing about the people and events that happen in Clovis, where she’s lived for most of her life. She told us she enjoys writing about people she knows, and she enjoys disguising their names. When we asked her whether we could know her name for the post she said, “No, no, no. I’m going to have to be jamming soon.” But she didn’t jam. She finished her drink and ordered another.

She stayed and we talked about a variety of things. She likes movies -- Gidget films with Sandra Dee, and Doris Day films like Calamity Jane, Pillow Talk, and Send Me No Flowers. She doesn’t like horror films, she said, but she does like period films, mentioning Shining Through and Dangerous Liasons. She gave us her recipe for the meatloaf she made for her dad, and said she’s trying to figure out a recipe from Like Water for Chocolate.

She still didn’t want to answer any questions, and we always need to ask our two questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what would make for a good church?”

So we asked Sherry the bartender, and she told us, “a lot of different things” make for a good bar. “The atmosphere, the people, and everything has to be at the right balance. You could always drink at home. People come for the social aspect. The bartender sets the tone.”

As for what makes for a good church, she said, “The same thing, the people. The minister has to set the tone. If the pastor isn’t friendly, the people aren’t friendly… You go to a church for inspiration. Everyone’s looking for a higher power, comfort. Just like people go to a bar for the social.”

We didn’t really talk to anyone else. They were all busy in their conversations, and we had another appointment to get to. That’s another way this year is different from last. Last year, we would usually have an evening free for our bar night. If we wanted to stay late talking to folks we could. We didn’t have a job to go to the next day.

Mindy remarked that how she was dressed maybe didn’t fit with the way other people were dressed at Outlaw Tavern. People were mostly wearing sweatshirts and work clothes, and she was wearing what she'd worn to work in an office. Who knows? No place is going to feel like home to everyone. But we definitely enjoyed being with the people finding their place at Outlaw Tavern.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

We Walk into a Bar in Old Town Clovis

500 Club Bar and Grill, Clovis, California
Reading Facebook posts from friends in New Orleans made me think it would certainly be an, um, interesting place to be during Mardi Gras season. Holly wrote about a drunk guy throwing up in a post office box, an amorous couple in a portapotty, and her own loss of a high heel shoe on Frenchman Street. Looking at pictures from other friends, I saw throngs of people in the street. New Orleans is a quite lively place to be on Fat Tuesday.

Thinking of that inspired us to go out for drinks on this odd holiday, so we went to Old Town Clovis. Where the streets were quiet and subdued.

We went into our bar for the week. People there were watching the Warriors game without much enthusiasm, which was somewhat understandable because Golden State was losing.

One would have to come to the conclusion that in Clovis Fat Tuesday is just, well, Tuesday.

We had a particular reason for going to Old Town Clovis this week. In fact we’ll be there all month, because I just began working at a motel just off Clovis Avenue. Since I work the 10:30 am to 6:30 am shift, guests rather frequently ask me about local watering holes. We thought we might as well explore them ourselves so I could give first hand testimony.

There’s a card room in the 500. When I asked the staff about it, they told me it used to be a more central part of the place’s appeal, but now the food is their biggest draw. When I started at the motel, I was told by other motel front desk staff about the excellence of the 500 Club’s food. (The 500 Club’s sister establishment, the 500 Casino Club on Shaw Avenue, is also said to have good food, but I think gaming is the primary draw there.)

For the last month as we went only to Applebee’s, we stuck with the same two drinks, mostly because we’d heard a lot about the chain’s consistency. Mindy got pretty good at ordering a mudslide and a Long Island Ice Tea. This week we had to actually think about what we’d drink.

But we didn’t think too hard. I ordered a bourbon and water (“Are you fine with Kessler’s? That’s my well tonight,” said Whitney the bartender), and with a little more difficulty, Mindy went with a pinot noir (after narrowing from white and red and changing her mind about the merlot.)

Clovis is the home of an annual rodeo, which is a big thing, so it’s not surprising that some the decor is rodeo related, like the statuettes of bucking bronco riders behind the bar. There are also plenty of signs with typical bar humor (such as “Beware of Attack Waitress”).

Whitney was tending bar when we arrived. She was wearing a 500 Club tee shirt, which not only has the name of the bar, but the name of the bar bedazzled front and back (Some say everything's better with bedazzling. I’m not taking a stand on the issue). Whitney has worked for the company for the last six years, the first four years with the 500 Casino on Shaw.

She greeted some of the customers by name and moved efficiently back and forth, greeting people and checking on their needs. She agreed to answer our two standard questions, what makes for a good bar and what makes for a good church (whether you go or not).

She said the most important thing for a good bar is customer service and a friendly atmosphere. “We have family ownership and usually the owner is here. But I think they have a dinner or something tonight.” She also talked about the excellence of the food at the 500 Club (and at the casino, which also has Asian food).

Whitney admitted she didn’t go to church. “I used to go to church, but I didn’t feel I needed to believe in God to go to heaven. I didn’t need to dedicate a day to it.” She used to go to church when she lived in a small town where “everyone went to church.”  She said that when you went to church there, you saw everyone you knew. She liked that.

We usually tell people that we need a name to use for the blog, and they can use their real name or make one up. The man next to us at the bar, who was eating and watching the Warriors game, agreed to answer our questions. He said his name was George Herman “The Babe” Ruth. We think it might not be his real name.

The Babe said at a good bar “the people who work there will explain to you the variety of beers, let people know about the wines. Good atmosphere.” I asked what he meant by good atmosphere. “Too much music dampens my mood. The music shouldn’t fight with the game. Sports bars won’t be playing music.” As for what makes for a good church, he said, “I don’t go, can’t imagine going. But if people go, they should be involved with their cause. That’s the most important thing they do.”

Whitney’s shift was coming to an end (it was 6:00 pm), and she was replaced by Joe, who also agreed to answer our questions. Joe answered what made for a good bar by talking about the 500, “This is a good small town bar with lots of regulars. Everyone here is kind. Everyone who works here gets along; it’s been here for forty years. All the food, everything is excellent. I’ve never got a bad thing off the menu. The grill is seasoned, they make my favorite New York steak sandwich. It’s off the charts.”

As for church, “I don’t go to church. I have gone with my sister to church, and the people were really inviting. They make you feel comfortable, even if you aren’t comfortable, if you know what I mean.”

Though Fat Tuesday was a mild party night at the 500, it was a pleasant place. Though the Warriors lost, we can’t blame the 500 for that. I’m glad I’ll be able to recommend it to others.