Saturday, July 29, 2017

We Walk into an(other) Old-timey Saloon

“I wish I could have one drink, just one,” Ryan the bartender said as he rushed from one end of the bar at the River City Saloon to the other.

The saloon is heart of Old Sacramento, which feels like the Old West town in an amusement park. Before going in, we’d wandered the neighborhood a bit, and we saw a statue dedicated the Pony Express, with great self restraint we forwent donuts from a little bakery where you could watch the donuts swim the stream of grease, and we watched salsa dancing in the street, hosted by a local radio station.

We walked down the wooden sidewalk, noting the Hot Dog Palace was closed -- along with its promise of $1.99 hot dogs and ice cream. We read plaques with interesting factoids, such as the elevation of the buildings and streets ten feet higher from what they were a century and a half ago when they’d had to deal with flood waters.

Outside the saloon is one of those benches with a plaster Old West figure, always ready to pose with tourists for photos. There is a similar figure sitting at the bar inside and a standing figure that looks rather like Doc Holliday. Also right inside the door of the saloon is a chandelier constructed of Jack Daniels bottles. There is gaudy red flocked wallpaper and decorative tiles on the ceiling. There were also pool tables and video games. The TVs were playing music videos from the eighties and nineties, including Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” featuring George Wendt (NORM!), Macaulay Culkin, and Tess Harper -- along with lions, African tribesmen, babies, Cossacks, cowboys and Indians.

The saloon was hopping; we later learned the bar gets many patrons from the “Underground Sacramento” tours, which finishes up at River City Saloon, and members of the tours receive coupons for drinks at the saloon.  Ryan the bartender was rushing back and forth taking care of people saying, “I’ve got to hand it to me.” He did get help for a little while from another employee who dropped in to say “Hello,” and was corralled into helping.  “It’s nice working in a family type atmosphere,” Ryan said. “Where people are willing to help each other.”

He had been expecting help from another employee that, according to his memory of the schedule, was supposed to come in at 8:00 pm, but hadn’t shown. “Maybe it was 9 o’clock,” he said. Nine o’clock is also the time when children are no longer welcome at River City; they are throughout the day when they can enjoy sarsaparillas locally brewed for the saloon. They sounded so good, we ordered sarsaparillas for ourselves instead of adult beverages, even though we’d arrived too late in the day for $ .25 glasses.

Eventually things calmed enough that we could ask bartender Ryan our two questions:
“Do you want just one thing or a lot of things?” he asked. We assured him any answer was fine.
“The vibe of the place comes from the atmosphere and the staff. And really, the staff makes the atmosphere. If people get along, that’s our peers. If people are getting along and having a good time, nine times out of ten the drinks taste better.”

“Whether you go or not, what do you think makes for a good church?”
“I was raised Mormon. In a good church they would use their money for charity and the community rather than for glorious buildings. I want my mother to see that I said that.”

A tourist bar is different from a neighborhood bar. In a tourist bar, it’s less likely for a community of patrons to grow, but sometimes a community can grow among the staff -- though when we left a bit after nine o’clock, Ryan’s co-worker still was yet to show.

Prospector outside River City Saloon in Old Town Sacramento

Saturday, July 22, 2017

We Walk past a Lot of Bars

California State Exposition, Sacramento, California
Bars of the California State Fair, Sacramento, California
Really, someone must have been a marketing genius. Someone must have been pondering, how can we sell more cold beer, how can we make it an irresistible item?

Then maybe someone said, “Well, if we could get people out in the hot sun of Sacramento on a summer day, if we could somehow get them to spend hours out in the century-plus heat, we’ll be onto something big.”

Maybe some of you doubt we should be count the California State Fair as our bar for the week, but we saw places labelled “Pub” and “Saloon” -- and they surely couldn’t do that legally if they weren’t actual bars, right?

hard lemonade stand next to the Gospel Celebration at the California State Fair
Admittedly, many of the places selling cocktails were just booths, and most had no seating (let alone barstools), so it would be difficult to call these places actual bars. But places like the Wine Garden have plenty of seating. And some of the drinking locations have musical acts playing.

We didn’t chat with anyone at any of the bars because -- well, I’ve been cautious about talking to people at the fair ever since my friend Janet back in high school let a couple of strangers know where she lived and when she’d be at the fair again, and they burgled her home while her parents were out of town. (I’m really just telling this story so I can use the word “burgled,” which you don’t get to use everyday.)

So, yeah, we’re going to call the Fair a bar. Sometimes you need to go some place really hot to appreciate a cold one.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

We Walk into a Bar (but Some People Were Dancing)

Di Cicco's Lounge in Clovis, California
Di Cicco’s Lounge, Clovis, California
We’ve often said the reason we went to a church and a bar in every state was because those were the two place we could go in almost any community where we could have conversations with people. This bar visit reminded us of something else about bars and churches: they’re two places you can (almost) always find music.

Mindy and I are not concert goers. We like a variety of music -- classical, rock, the American Songbook. We love many songs and bands. But we have limited stamina for listening to music while sitting in one place. We get antsy if we have to sit and just listen after a half hour or an hour.

But most any church you go into will have live music. Some denominations frown on musical instruments, but there’s still singing there. And some bars have no live music, but there’s always at least Pandora overhead. Or a jukebox that hasn’t been updated since the Clinton Administration, but there is music.

Fortunately, there are also churches out there with great worship bands, musicians, and/or orchestras and choirs, and there are bars with live music.

Di Cicco’s, an Italian restaurant in Old Town Clovis, has a lounge with live music. We were there for Wednesday’s Hump Day Blues hosted by Richie Blue, and when we came into the Lounge there were just two seats available at the bar -- but there were two seats. The band was playing “Route 66,” which is the essence of cool.

We ordered a Strawberry Lemonade and a Chocolate Martini. We also ordered a cannoli (if you are a guy of a certain age, can you not think of The Godfather when you encounter a cannoli?). All were very good.

The band, a couple of guitars (bass?) and drums, and one guy doing vocals were pretty good. There were couples on the dance floor, almost all of them eligible for Social Security. But there was one younger trio next to us at the bar, and they were dancing as well. The guy was in his late thirties or early forties, and the two women, who took turns dancing with the guy, were probably in their late twenties. There may be a story behind this, but we didn’t hear it that night.

We didn’t talk to anyone at the bar that night, and we didn’t ask our questions. Because the music was loud, it wasn’t easy for Mindy and me to hear each other, let alone start a conversation with other people.

We also couldn’t hear the TVs, which was fine as there were just two network playing. There was Centric, a network I’d never hear of, playing the movie Set It Off. And ESPN was playing a Drone Competition. I had no idea that Drone Racing was a thing, but of course it’s a thing.

So bars do provide a place, along with churches, to listen to music. And bars provide a place to dance. There are a few churches that provide a dance, but not nearly as many. (Go to Africa if you want to dance in church.) And this is good thing.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

We Talk about Walking into Bars

We walk into an icon and are unimpressed: Cheers, Boston
We’ve been talking about bars, Dean and I. Trying to figure out when to go, where to go. We’ve been to a couple places we’d be happy to think of as our own neighborhood bar, but we’re starting to run out of ideas for new and interesting bars (although we’ve got a month planned for visiting bars with friends; we haven’t got the timing for that worked out just yet).

So we need your help. If you’re in California, or you’ve been to California, maybe you can recommend something. Is there a dive where the beer’s in cans but the customers talk philosophy? A cocktail lounge where the Manhattans and gimlets haven’t changed since the sixties (and most of the customers are the same, too)? A neighborhood pub that functions as everybody’s living room?

Dean checks out a former bar in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
Tell us about it! We’d like to get out of Fresno now and again (especially while the temperature’s over 100F as often as not). Comment on this post, send an email to, or find us on Facebook (@deanandmindybar), Twitter (@dean_min_travel) or Instagram (@mldate). We can’t wait to hear from you.

In the meantime, we’re thinking fondly of a few places we visited last year:

The first time we heard a bartender credit a church with who he is today:

The time Dean made a bartender cringe:

Glengarry Inn, Michigan
The inexplicably popular post:

Harry's Chocolate Shop, West Lafayette, Indiana
And possibly the most disappointing bar, if only because of the name:
Sweetwater River, Wyoming

Saturday, July 1, 2017

We Walk into a Bar with Rhinos

Kopje Lodge, Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Fresno, California
Kopje Lodge near sunset, Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Fresno, California
It was Friday night, we were listening to karaoke, and drinking a variation on Long Island Iced Tea -- you’d figure we were in a bar, right?

Turns out we were at the zoo. But like a bar, there were a variety of alcoholic beverages available, and I’m sure that your average bartender could find a number of similarities between the residents of the zoo and a number of their customers.

From the fact that we were drinking at the zoo on a Friday night, you can tell we’re beginning to need help choosing bars. If you have a bar to recommend (in California), we’d love to hear from you.

We’re also working on our book about last year’s trip to a bar in every state, so if you have opinions on what you’d like to see in the book, let us know about that too.

For now, here are some photos of animals we saw last night, along with drinks you could make named after them.

What do you think?