Who says you have to wait until the sun goes down to have a good time?
"What are you lookin' at, girl?" A man in sunglasses asks me through the window of a beat-up gray van (complete with closed curtains in the back windows) as he slowly pulls up to the doorway of St. Elmo's Bar in Bisbee.
I point to the sky. "There's a big bird flying around up there."
"That's a buzzard," he informs me after sticking his head out of the window. "He's lookin' for somethin' that's dead. I'm lookin' for somethin' that's alive."
He sports a toothy grin a mile wide. "You know what I'm talkin' about," as he nods his head. His passenger, hidden up until this point, leans forward and grins, giving me a subtle wave.
Yeah, I know what he's talkin' about. He's talkin' about the best road trip day drinking joint in Bisbee, St. Elmo's Bar, and I'm only on my second beer.
Thirsty for a few cold ones after the three-hour drive to this former mining town turned eccentric hideaway, I came upon St. Elmo's completely by accident. Walking inside and seeing the long, wood bar, walls covered with taxidermy, vintage photos, and old maps of Arizona, I knew I was in a day drinking must-do and ordered up promptly.
Heather, my green-eyed, curly-haired, bubbly bartender was intently eyeing a small TV where the Boys and Girls Club of Bisbee Telethon was in full swing. Surrounding me were telltale signs of the Midwest: Michigan license plates, a Minnesota pennant, an Indiana University poster, and a WGN announcement for the Chicago Cubs. Directly in front and behind the bar, a hand-drawn sign hawked cigarettes, including the option to buy as singles for 75 cents or as a two-for-one special at $1.25.
"You been in here before?" A white-haired, blue-eyed man who introduces himself as John asks me, obviously noticing my marveling.
Over a few more beers, John tells me all about Bisbee. How he lived there for a while and then came back when then snows of Madison, Wisconsin, were too much to bear. He tells me how much he enjoys the town, the people, the artistic slant, everything. I like Bisbee too, and for an instant wonder what it would be like to pack up and live there.
Suddenly, Heather the barkeep starts jumping up and down shouting, "We won! We won!" after a delivery of a trophy in a paper sack. The entire bar whoops and hollers, raising glasses and smiling at each other. An old-timer throws on some Freddy Fender on the juke.
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"What's happening?" I ask.
"St. Elmo's won the prize for most money donated to the Telethon," she says excitedly. "I even gave up half my tips!"
Deciding to join in on the celebration of St. Elmo's generosity, and knowing I was not the back-to-Phoenix designated driver, the rest of my day-into-night drinking was a bit of a blur. Talking to taxidermy, calling out to the regulars I had identified in a collage photo hanging by the pool table, popping coins into the erotic goods dispenser in the women's bathroom to see what delights "Pandora's Box" would hold (answer: none), and dancing in the aisle with two white-haired Helens to 50's rock and roll. A damn good time.
Headed to Bisbee soon? Make sure to stop at St. Elmo's Bar for a taste of the good life, and watch out for a man in sunglasses driving a beat-up gray van.