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City That Drinks

Don’t Judge a Bar by its Bathroom

A gross bathroom does not a dive bar make.

Photo: Jenn Ladd, License: N/A

Jenn Ladd

The measure of a dive bar, to many, is the bathroom: Does the lock work? Is there toilet paper? Are there puddles? Conventional wisdom would indicate that the shittier the bathroom, the divey-er the bar. But a recent tour of Hampden dives disproves this theory. We found tidy ladies’ rooms at every turn (OK, Frazier’s was borderline). But these bars were no less divey than, say, Mount Royal Tavern. A gross bathroom does not a dive bar make.

At Zissimos (1023 W. 36th St., [410] 467-4707), we craved a gin and tonic with Bulldog, but top shelf was Tanqueray (two for $11). Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” had a lady in scrubs drunkenly swaying across the linoleum. The bartender explained that the liters and half-pints—“big boys and little boys,” as she called them—sell at a good clip. “Smirnoff, Bacardi, and Absolut go like you would not believe.”

To the unfamiliar, Dimitri’s Tavern (3820 Falls Road, [410] 889-9545) cuts an intimidating figure. Grizzled patrons linger outside from 6 A.M. to 2 A.M., smoking and, often, arguing. When we entered, it was surprisingly quiet, but we were soon joined by a longtime Hampden denizen who said his father had purchased property in the area “before it got expensive.” Later, he launched into a set of push-ups on the bar’s floor. When we tried to pay our tab for a Johnny Walker and a Bud by card, the bartender solemnly shook his head. The ATM is in the dining room.

In Clipper Mill Inn, aka the Bloody Bucket (1619 Union Ave.), we quizzically regarded the decent selection of craft beer ($3.50 for a Union Balt Alt), nicely varnished tables, and baskets of purple flowers. But when a man with a half-horseshoe of teeth entered and started hawking razor blades, Aleve, and watches from plastic bags, we knew we were in dive-bar HQ. He asked the cost of a can of beer. “Two-fifty, hon,” the bartender replied. “Two-fifty! For 12 ounces of beer?” he quibbled. And then he left.

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