Ode to a dive

Mercantile Saloon

1928 L Street, (916) 447-0792

In the heart of Midtown lies a place where the drinks are strong and the price is right. Plus, bartender A.J. has the most respectable mustache you’ll ever come across—seriously. Each bar has its perks, but the Mercantile Saloon, known as the Merc in Midtown, is a place where Sacramentans can enjoy favorite alcoholic beverages and a lively crowd.

Brandishing a whimsical handlebar mustache, A.J. pours shots of vodka and tequila for a customer and recalls crazy bar stories. “I had to kick somebody out because they were having sex in the backyard,” he says. “I asked them three times to stop and they wouldn’t stop. So I told them, ‘You’re out. Get out for the night.’”

With 13 years of bartending experience, A.J. has several drink creations and doesn’t mind sharing his favorites.

“One of my best [drinks] that I do is a pineapple upside-down cake, which is vanilla vodka, amaretto, pineapple juice and a little bit of grenadine at the bottom,” he explains.

On the flip side, nothing irks A.J. more than demanding customers. So brush up on those bar manners.

“What I don’t like is when I have a line of people and [customers] come in on the sides and start barking their orders at me,” A.J. says. “I have this person and this person before you, and then it’s you. But they come in and bark their orders and expect me to run over. I hate that.”

A.J., who prefers Jamaican pirate rum straight up, also has some friendly drinking advice for both newbies and regulars alike.

“Don’t let your friends talk you into getting too wasted, that’s all I can say. They all want to get you wasted, and that could be a real nasty thing and ruin your time.”

Round Corner Tavern

2333 S Street, (916) 451-4682

On the corner of 23rd and S streets, neon pink and green letters faintly illuminate the words Round Corner Tavern. Eight-year bartending veteran George Loera paces back and forth in the dimly lit tavern, refilling everyone’s drinks, popping off bottle caps with one hand while taking cash with the other.

“A lot of pool players obviously come here,” he says. “What it is is a neighborhood bar, you know what I mean? I always tell people it’s always black, white, rich, poor, young, old, blue-collar, white-collar—it doesn’t matter. They all hang out at the same place; it’s just their bar here.”

Aside from the “Kumbaya”-esque vibe, Round Corner is a pool-players hangout where nothing too exciting happens, according to Loera.

“I kind of don’t want to reveal too much,” he laughs. “More arguments get started over pool or names on the pool board. Everyone gets into tiffs because their name got skipped or their name got erased.”

A man who prefers his vodka on the rocks with a squeeze of lemon, Loera started as Round Corner’s doorman and says he was later trained as a bartender “from the inside.” He freely admits to never attending a formal bartending school, but says that if you know what’s in it, he can make it—but quickly adds that Round Corner is more of a beer and shots bar. “Not too many fancies,” he adds. And of course, there’s always Loera’s specialty shots.

“I have done a cherry-watermelon shot: It’s cherry vodka, watermelon sour, sweet and sour and 7 Up. Some people know it, and the bubblegum shot was done here, too: 99 Bananas, triple sec, sweet and sour, a splash of cranberry and a splash of [7 Up].”

And if you have a shot too many, Round Corner is located right behind a light rail station, the perfect designated driver.