Ever since college, we've liked dives. In the semi-rural stretch of blustery Ohio where we spent four years reading and thinking, we eschewed the brick-walled “college” bar in the center of town and instead climbed into our cups at the gritty “inn,” where Rolling Rock glazed the card tables, knives were occasionally flashed, and “Beast of Burden” came on the jukebox every fifteen minutes. For this reason, we felt lucky to find two great dive bars on the same block of Culver City.
As far as dive bars go, seediness starts with scent. We're not finicky, but at Roger's Exciting Tattle Tale Room in Culver City, we almost met our match. When you walk through the front door, you're greeted with a heady swirl of body sweat and industrial-strength cleanser. Distinct undertones of vomit seep in for good measure. What one of our most capable drinking companions calls “the strip club smell,” this pervasive odor hangs over the room like a lampshade.
The lights are bare but low, illuminating small spheres of the curved wooden bar here and there. Half-awake bikers snuggle in booths with heavily tattooed dames. Aspiring cougars in sequins swish through the narrow spaces between tables and stools. A white guy in a black tank top hops up to rap a karaoke rendition of “California Love,” and the bikers nod along. Some patrons shoot pool in the back, but most participate in that most ancient and popular of bar-room past-times: leering, almost giddily, as they hang back along the edges of the room, scuzzy friends gathered around, grinning, sipping, and occasionally stumbling over to the bar to get another drink: a tequila shot or a 24 oz. can of Tecate.
At The Tattle Tale Room, karaoke happens every night of the week, which isn't necessarily a good thing. Hungry patrons make do with pretzels and stale peanuts. On the plus side, it's a Packers bar, the drinks are as cheap as the decor, and most of the late-night brawlers have the decency to take their scraps to the pavement outside.
A few steps down, tucked into the same parking lot, sits The Scarlet Lady Saloon, a kinder, gentler dive, where the only smells of note emanate from the tumbler-sized glasses of booze. Here, the benefits — friendly bartenders, Golden Tee, and a colorful, raucous clientele — far outweigh any drawbacks. The karaoke is taken a little more seriously at the Scarlet Lady.
On our visit last weekend, a man in dress pants and a tight-fitting t-shirt prowled around the room, bellowing out Billy Paul's “Me and Mrs. Jones” on a wireless mic. He spun and stopped and spun again, deftly avoiding chairs and patrons trying to ferry their drinks from the bar to their tables. As he sang, his girlfriend fanned her eyelashes at him from her perch near the stage and waved. He'd swoop over to her side, sing a few lines, and then bounce off around the bar like a particularly soulful pinball. There was no cover, but we would have paid for this scene. Other highlights include burlesque nights, occasional beer pong tournaments, and a four-hour Happy Hour each day of the week.