Because our desert-gobbling sprawl is so huge, I often ask friends and strangers alike, "Do you know of a good dive?" They usually throw out a name I know, so I ask again, "Do ya know a shit hole that you've seen but never had the courage to go into?" This usually yields some great finds, like the Fox Hole and R&R Stix, and some other creepy-sounding places on my list that I haven't crawled into — yet.
What I have found is that the overwhelming response to my first question is "the Palo Verde in Tempe." It usually goes like this: "Yeah, you haven't been to the Verde? Dude, it's the best and oldest dive in Tempe. I went there when I was barely 21. Shit, it was the coolest place, then it became the hipsters' hangout and uncool . . . like, it wasn't a dive, but a place you went to make you feel like you were in a dive, man. I got wasted there for two years straight."
I'm generally turned off by popular places, so I never really considered checking it out. But that was well over a year ago, and from what I've heard, the poseurs have all started to swill over at the Time Out, leaving behind the true drunks at the Verde. I sure hope so, because I'm about to head out to meet Katey, my free-spirited bartender from Shady's, who has been drinking since puberty at the Verde (because it's close to home).
My phone chirps. It's Katey: "Cash only!"
Sweet! This journey is getting off on the right foot.
I show up at the place late, a tad after 6 p.m., and Katey and Sam, her hung-over friend and longtime drunken sister, are smoking, covered in sweat and water from the misting system in front of the Verde. We exchange some damp hugs and dive right in. I can't believe the darkness, the smell, and the desperation that old places like this just emanate. It reminds me of Tempe's long-lost dive bar the Sun Club (it had a dirt floor).
The Verde is a block building on the corner of Broadway and Beck, which is between Priest and Hardy. It's an old, industrial part of Tempe, and like some of the older businesses, this place has been here for 40-plus years. It's a watering hole for the working class, and it's next to an old liquor store that would sell you your neighbor's daughter if it could.
I'm at the bar, facing an inked-up barkeep named Heather. If you are drunk, no worries — her name is tattooed on her right arm to remind you. Heather has a '50s pinup style: bright red lipstick, ponytail, and funky, short black skirt. Simply put, Heather is a dream — all mean on the outside and all sweet inside, like a cherry cordial (hey, let a pig have his fantasy). Heather has a heavy hand like the Hulk; her drinks are able to tame the green monster in any of us.
Heather is like a roller derby broad, but she's too hot to don a pair of skates. Damn, before you know it, Katey, Sam, and I are on our fourth round of vodka death. Seriously, if you want a drink that is going to make you forget you're married, or have a job, or live in Hell, then this is the place. After four drinks at the Verde, you can be anywhere on Earth.
At the three-hour mark in this dank place, an Indian dude falls off his bar stool. It looks as though he has peed his pants as well. Turns out, it's just beer (Heather smelled it to make sure). They don't even kick him out; they just walk him over to a seat closer to the ground and give him water.
Then I see a crazy lady in her 40s, wearing a nightie and mascara-painted cat whiskers on her face, playing pool. I swear I can see the steel bars from her nipple piercing through her lace top. Fucking awful.
The two pool tables are occupied by drunkards and are near two coin-operated games, bowling and golf (surprise). There is also a Terminator 3 pinball machine and a dartboard. The highlight of the coin-operated machines (besides the jukebox and salty-nut machines) is a new boxing game, with an inflated bag to hit with and everything. I'm thinking I've seen it all — that is, until I go to take a leak.
I swear I'm in pig heaven. If you are at the bar and looking south to the rear entrance, there is a small hallway with bathrooms at the end. There's a switch on the wall that works a ceiling light labeled "Code Brown." I ask, "What the hell is Code Brown?" I'm informed that there aren't any doors on the stalls, so if you're going to shit, you turn on the light to let the bar know you're dropping the kids off at the pool.
We all laugh at this, and Katey informs me that she's had to piss outside on more than one occasion because of failed (clogged) plumbing.
The men's room is the hands-down winner for any shit hole award. The stall door is missing, there is graffiti everywhere, and the one toilet is rigged with a jump rope. Yeah, I said it: jump rope. The rope is tied to the flush handle, runs up to the ceiling and through a screw eye to a blue, kid-like handle that dangles in the air. You can pee, balance, and flush by pulling this thing over your head. It's beautiful.
The men's room is tops — it even has a condom machine — but the little girls' room is pretty stunning as well. Sam and Katey drag me in to see the graffiti orgy. Sam has her pants down and is doing her biz while Katey shows me the makeshift kitchen sink that is attached, via duct tape, to the faucet. Sam finishes in a flurry and even shows me the Sharpie-written scrawl — "do coke here" — on the old, scarred seat.
An hour or so slogs by, and Sam is digging through her purse to find some dollar bills to pay for the $1 Pabst. I have just spent $40 on vodka and more vodka; my screwdrivers were just a hint of yellow — perfect! At any other bar near this place, we'd be $100 in the hole.
The gals keep going out back to smoke, so I'm left with Pat, a handsome, 77-year-old man. Pat has been coming to the Verde for more than 40 years, and he tells me, "My wife gets older; I get younger." I buy him a drink that costs near $4. I haven't paid more than $3 for anything since I've been here, and I wonder what's in it. Hell, I don't want to know.
I look around and the place is just dirty. Shit, there are holes in the ceiling, and there isn't a 90-degree angle anywhere to be found. Even though everything is downright old and rotten and falling apart, Sam, Katey, and I are rock solid and going strong. Journey is on the jukebox, and Roadhouse, starring Patrick Swayze, is on the two small TVs. It's all tacky in this old beat part of Tempe.
I've been lost most of my life here in the desert, but I feel right at home in this hole in the wall. Superstar-poseur hangout at one time — I don't care. It's all dive class up in this joint. Sarah, the hot new nightshift barkeep, gives us free chips, Katey is blaring Oingo Boingo on the jukebox, and I take one last pull off my drink while watching a young gal in tacky golf shorts bend over for a shot on the faded green pool table, her tight college ass strong as iron against the aging cotton. The old Mexican guy next to me spits a phrase in my face, and it takes everything I've got not to blow my load on his sunburned brow.