Last year when we were traveling to bars in every state, we found some very interesting and strange places. We walked into a bar that proclaimed itself a refuge from the zombie apocalypse, a bar that claimed to be the geographic center of North America, and even a bar that met in a church (or was it a church that met in a bar?)
If we had only known that the Fresno area has some of the country's strangest and most unusual bars we might have saved a lot of time and energy! This month, without leaving Fresno County, we plan to visit some of the most bizarre bars in the United States, if not the world.
For instance, in Clovis, across the street from the statue honoring Festus Haggan, the character played by Ken Curtis in the TV series Gunsmoke, you can go through the swinging doors into Miss Kitty’s. It’s a little chilly in winter, and dang hot in summer, but the bar is a fairly good replica of the bar in the TV series. During the day you can take the kids in for a sarsaparilla, but after 8:00 pm, Miss Kitty’s is for adults only, They specialize in whiskeys and other “real drinks for real men (and Calamity Janes).” During Rodeo Days each spring, stuntmen stage barroom brawls for the entertainment of the crowds. For a fee, you can try your hand at the shooting range out back.
A long time locals’ favorite in downtown Fresno is Manny’s Reptile Bar and Grill. Don’t worry, the reptiles don’t go on the grill (except for the annual “Rattlesnake B-B-Q,” a fundraiser for Valley Children’s Hospital). But there are plenty of reptiles in residence. Acrylic table tops cover herpetariums, allowing guests to observe the lizards and snakes living in the tables..and under them. (If you have a large group, you can even reserve the table with a giant monitor lizard!) Earlier residents, now dead, are preserved on the walls in very fine examples of the art of taxidermy. Manny himself passed away thirty years ago (and no, he is not stuffed and displayed on the wall), but his granddaughter Gretchen is the current proprietor. Snake Dancers are a highlight on the weekends -- and some of the serpents are brought out to join the act!
Back in the 1980’s, when the California Raisins were all the rage, Lou Mannette took advantage of their popularity and opened Raisin Hell in the tiny town of Minkler. It’s a bar featuring the sweet taste of the wrinkled fruit; a raisin beer is one of the most popular offerings, but there are a number of raisin-themed cocktails as well. The extensive wine list is labeled, “Immature Raisin Beverages.” For a time in the ‘90’s the bar experimented with a garlic theme, but the idea never bloomed.
One place in Fresno County is only a “bar” four times a year, but what a bar it is! At the Kerman Tropical Aquatic Park, one of the kiddie pools is turned into quite the “adult” pool at the solstices and the fall and spring equinoxes. The pool is filled with beer; for only $150 those with proper I.D.s can take a swim. For sanitation reason, a wet suit is required and provided by the park. Guests are able to imbibe through their snorkels. Of course, these events are closely monitored by trained lifeguards.
We’ll begin our tour of Fresno’s unusual drinking establishments next week with a visit to a bar called Goldstein’s Mortuary and Delicatessen. You may doubt there really is a bar with such a name, but that’s what Google is for.