The Dive Team completes its investigation of Brady's Yacht Club. (Photo by Chip Scheuer)
The season is upon us. The days are now longer, the nights are warmer and the college students are about to leave—although the few who stay will soon discover the perfect summer pastime and (if they’re lucky) may even assimilate into this local tradition themselves. Summer is the time of dive bars. It’s warm enough for a pitcher on the patio or to simply walk to your next destination. You can always get a table.
But where to start? Let’s open with a few simple parameters, beginning with what makes a dive. It usually boils down to good drink prices and friendly people. Pool tables, dartboards, a jukebox and a slightly smoky atmosphere don’t hurt a bit. A good dive usually has more grumpy old men than the Sentinel’s online comments page. And while occasional live music is allowed, the diveyness of the bar itself must remain the top attraction.
When we embarked on our tour, we wanted to create the perfect scoring system. Like a good beer, we broke down each bar by smell (outward appearance and first impressions), mouthfeel (its inner feeling and collective mood) and taste (drink variety, prices and any food). See Dive Bars Scoring Criteria for more on the scoring system. Ratings are out of a possible 5.
We learned some important lessons along the way. First, with more than 15 dives in a county of 260,000 people, Santa Cruz is well represented in this department. (It used to be even more well represented; for a few kind words about dearly departed dive bars, including The Avenue and the Silver Bullet, click here.) Second, many dives come in geographically close pairs (Sir Froggy’s and JJ’s; Callahan’s and Jury Room), but oftentimes devotees of one wouldn’t be caught dead in the other. Third, the best bars really are neighborhood bars, where, as the Cheers theme song famously puts it, everybody knows your name.
Last, going to every dive bar in Santa Cruz County might sound like a lousy mission. Well, maybe it is. But you meet amazing people on the journey.
Readers who think they’re ready for their own tour should first get a designated driver. Avoid making early Sunday plans just in case the escapades lead to more of a feature-length Hangover-esque adventure. And consult our study sheet before taking any chances.
Brady’s Yacht Club 413 Seabright, SC
Smell 4.5; Mouthfeel 5; Taste 4.5; Overall 4.7
Jake: People at Brady’s are outgoing and mostly friendly. Some nights are rougher than others, though. On one occasion I was twice put into a headlock in mid-conversation by a coked-out, washed-up surfer dude (I talked my way out of both moves, of course). What’s difficult to say is whether this bar and its divey atmosphere excel in spite of such elements or because of them. And it’s worth noting the hilarious irony in calling this a “yacht club,” a term usually reserved for highly organized nautical elitists with day jobs.
In a close match we lost a game of pool to a sunglasses-wearing Gordon Lightfoot lookalike who might have stepped out of a time machine, or maybe a 1970s surf documentary. People in every corner of Brady’s, from the back parking lot to the bathroom sink, ask others how their night’s going. And bartenders like the always-charming Jesse Lillifjel take good care of their customers.
Robert: Brady’s is an awesome place to hang out with old friends and meet new people. It’s got everything: a heavy dose of tattoos, smirks, toothless grins, drunken scowls, foamy beards, Torpedo on tap and some drunken surfers who can barely stand up but somehow still kick your ass at pool. To me it’s the perfect dive bar because it has the intimidation factor mixed in with some chummy commiseration. Definitely the place to be when last call comes around.
Monty’s Log Cabin 5755 Hwy 9, Felton
Smell 4.5; Mouthfeel 4.5; Taste 4.5; Overall 4.5
Jake: It took guest judge Ray Montezuma a half hour to offer his analysis of Monty’s, which keeps its outdoor Christmas lights up year-round. “Hey man, this place feels like a house party in a cabin,” Montezuma pondered, “but in a good way!”
The people at Monty’s have stories to tell. Across the street from Henry Cowell Redwood State Park, it is one of the friendliest dive bars in the county, but it can be shy at first. Sometimes it takes a little time and initiative to make mountain introverts want to open up and talk to someone new. Once everyone is libatiously lubricated, though, people are more than happy to share perspectives over a game of pool or at one of the bar’s two outdoor fire pits.
Of course for most of us, this dog-friendly Felton destination is a long drive from civilization, and a trusty designated driver might be hard to come by. Lucky for Monty’s regulars, though, most patrons seem to live within a couple blocks of the bar—part of what gives this neighborhood joint its flavor.
Robert: Monty’s wins the best first impression award by far. Why? Because it’s an actual log cabin, complete with two fire pits in the back. You mean to tell me I can drink good beer and hang out by the campfire while swapping horror stories with locals, and I can bring my dog? Next time I’m going to bring my sleeping bag. I’d give the Log Cabin two thumbs up, but I’ve forgotten which direction that is. So has everyone else, and they know what I mean anyway, so just come and see for yourself.