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I'm standing in front of Cash Inn Country on 21st and McDowell, and I'm frightened. I'm scared for several reasons: 1) It's a lesbian bar; 2) I'm wearing a Metallica Kill 'Em All T-shirt; 3) it's a country joint. I use a lifeline and text a girlfriend: "Is it safe...
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I'm standing in front of Cash Inn Country on 21st and McDowell, and I'm frightened. I'm scared for several reasons: 1) It's a lesbian bar; 2) I'm wearing a Metallica Kill 'Em All T-shirt; 3) it's a country joint.

I use a lifeline and text a girlfriend: "Is it safe to go to a lesbian bar in a Metallica T-shirt?"

The reply: "Are you in your heels?"

I have to pee and don't want to squat between cars, so I tuck in my apprehensions and open the door. What first comes to me, as I peer around the well-lit place, is an overwhelming sense of "Phew . . . Thank God it's a Texas hold 'em tourney."

The front of the place has four poker tables, all packed with people and chips flyin', which means the bar is wide open. I grab a stool at the horseshoe-shaped bar and order a vodka soda and lime.

This hole is nicer than I expected. I have driven by the Cash Inn for three years assuming it's a prototypical dive because it's near a Food City and the outside looks like hell: a lone, green lighted sign and paint peeling on the faux Western doors.

Inside, you see it's not a textbook dive. It's big and goes way deep (I don't mean to use sexual descriptions. Really.) and the front third of the place is all bar — a bunch of high-top round tables and a little area with a pool table and video games. The back two-thirds of the place is all dance floor; nice too, like a freakin' basketball court . . . or at least the same size. It's huge.

I imagine that if I were going to do the hokey-pokey, line dance, or meet a chick who's not interested in me, then the Cash Inn would be it (turns out that's everywhere for this pig). There's even a railing around the dance floor so you can mosey up and rest your longneck. To the aft of the corral is an outside smoking area, to put some of those final nails in the coffin.

After a quick survey, I get into my drink, which is the best I've had in a while. This is just my second foray into a gay bar, and both jaunts resulted in great, cheap strong drinks. A friend of mine, Huntsman (who's gay), told me that this phenomenon is because the first thing they want to do is lower your inhibitions. Whatever the reason, I like it. I am in awe at how clean everything is. Last time I saw a place this clean was 12 years ago, when I went to a buddy's house who had fallen into a wicked meth binge, and the only thing dirty in his house was the bong water. Wow, I mean, even the register for the A/C above my head is scrubbed clean — not a speck of dust anywhere.

I bring the glass up, and I'm somehow conscious that I shouldn't drink out of silly little red straws. I opt for a manly maneuver (we've all done it): I bend the little guys over the rim (no pun) and wrap my lips around the glass. As I'm doing this, I see this big woman walk to the bathroom. I nearly spit out my drink when she/he opens and enters the men's room! WTF. I can't wait to see her/him re-emerge.

I look around and it seems the place is half men and half women. I don't have gaydar, but I'm pretty sure everyone here is living an "alternative lifestyle." I, on the other hand, might as well be wearing a fucking dunce cap that screams "afraid, curious male homophobe — don't hurt me." I'm just glad it's not a dancing night, so I don't have to see everyone undulate on the floor. Believe me, there is enough undulating at the tables; I haven't seen this much public affection in a looong time, if ever.

The downer for me, I guess, is that the people in this place are nothing like the way TV portrays gays and lesbians. What I'm trying to delicately dance around here is that these folks aren't the Hollywood hot lesbians, or the ones on the Internet you see (come on, you see).

I'm glad I'm not turned on.

I decide to do two things I never do. First, I grab a video console game thing and play trivia with the three other gals at the bar. Second, I order a hot dog with jalapeños. Cash Inn also has bowls of nacho chips and a huge cheese-warming machine . . . Yum! Third, drink please!

The bartender is awesome: She is meticulous, smiling, and informative. She's busy pouring Jäger bombers at $5 a pop. What's different in this bar isn't that bombers are popular; it's how they're served. Each Jäger bomber comes in a preformed, injected-plastic tumbler with the shot glass built in. You pour the Jäger in the middle, shallower part, and then fill the rest of the tumbler with Red Bull, and presto! An all-in-one bomber with no need to worry about chipping or breaking drinking glasses by fumbling heavy shot glasses all over the place. Because I'm an entrepreneur at heart, I love this product. But here's the rub: They come only in pastel colors. It's not good for my image.

The bar and the folks around me all make me very comfortable and warm inside (from the jalapeños, I hope). But what is overwhelmingly noticeable in the Cash Inn is the amount of sheer openness and joy (not to sound, um, you know) everywhere. It's absolutely palpable. This place is filled with laughter and male lisps and women kissing . . . What the hell is in my drink?

It's getting late. What am I still doing here at 12:30 a.m. on a work night? I'm torn. I'm happy in this place, yet I'm not really sure this is a real dive because it has dancing and other crap. But to me, it's a true dive in the sense that there is absolutely zero pretension here, and that's hard to find.

Okay, okay, I'm not going to lie. I'm losing at the video trivia game. I don't want to leave feeling stupid (I guess that's how these games work: They get you competitive, so you keep drinking). I finally crawl into second place and push the game aside, say a quick goodbye, and sneak out before I can find out what the "Cash Inn" part of the name means.

Actually, if you want the real truth, I don't have any more cash left on me — time to go home and break that piggy bank.

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