Wise dives

What are Sactown’s oldest holes?

The Trap opened the same year the Civil War began.

The Trap opened the same year the Civil War began.

Photo by lucas fitzgerald

The elderly man at the bar’s edge wears an eye patch. It’s noon on a recent Thursday, and he’s drinking a 24-ounce can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the American lager first served in 1844. That only seems appropriate since The Trap opened on Jan. 1, 1861.

While microbreweries thrive in Sacramento—with shiny tanks, industrial ceilings and chalkboards listing chocolate porters, hazy IPAs and sour concoctions to sour beer drinkers—the city also boasts a number of old and flourishing neighborhood bars.

There may be versions of Zebra Club, Hilltop, Club Raven and Cheater’s in cities around the country, or even more than one Socal’s Tavern or Club 2 Me. But they’re all in Sacramento and all iconic for one reason or another, even if it’s just because of a great name, neon sign or a cold beer.

No place defines that history more than The Trap (6125 Riverside Blvd.). Snake skins and squirrels are stapled to the wall above the bar. There are a stuffed wolverine, dusty baseball caps and schmaltzy signage. The padlocked wooden cold cases haven’t been used for their intended purpose for more than 50 years.

The Trap is open seven days a week, noon to 2 a.m. Get there a few minutes early, and bartender Duke may pop out of the front door as you drive up to let you know the dive-in isn’t open yet.

Within minutes, he’s a new friend, and you and a drinking companion are soon joined by a regular who’s brought a container of his best fishing lures.

Beer at The Trap is served at 33 degrees, only in bottles and cans. The 24-ounce cans of PBR are $3.50. Food isn’t offered, but the peanut machine takes quarters. So why not have a PBR and talk fishing, or hear tales of how patrons swear the walls talk?

The Trap has had its share of controversy, most recently five years ago when a new elementary school was built next door. But with its pool tables, chicken bingo and non-working neon sign (it may shine brightly again soon), The Trap endures with birthday No. 160 ahead. It’s a time warp that works.

Across town, The Pine Cove (509 29th St.) is a relative youngster. It just turned 65. Walk up the dark, narrow stairs lined with well-worn carpet, and the spacious upper floor has big windows and wood aged like the face of Willie Nelson’s guitar.

For years, it was known as a “cops and nurses” bar. The joint’s legend, says bartender Matt Long, includes an evening when the liquor store downstairs was robbed. Police drinking upstairs took care of business by pointing their guns out the windows.

Known as the best karaoke bar in town, The Pine Cove plays it simple: a half-dozen beers on tap, including Olympia. The legendary Milwaukee beer is also available in a 64-ounce pitcher for $12.

Old Ironsides (1901 10th St.) opened in 1934 and was the first Sacramento business to obtain a liquor license after Prohibition.

The front door, with its portal hole, probably weighs a ton. Inside, it’s all family-owned friendliness, comfort food and a bar with ancient tavern charm. Greek and Italian-influenced cuisine is featured, highlighted by a lamb shank sandwich on Wednesdays and a breaded calamari streak sandwich on Fridays.

The Fox & Goose (1001 R St.) is still in its infancy by old pub standards. It opened on Jan. 15, 1975. But its brick building was erected in 1913 and was the former home to the Fuller Paint and Glass Company.

With the British traditions of drink, grub and decor, the Fox & Goose pays homage to the original Fox & Goose in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, open for more than 200 years. Bill Dalton, the co-owner of Sacramento’s version, grew up there.

The Bonn Lair (3651 J. St.) is the baby, recently celebrating its 25th birthday. It’s owned by David Boyet, the former collegiate track runner and professional dancer, and named after his wife Bonnie.

Soccer is a religion at The Bonn Lair. From the World Cup to league matches, it’s rare when a match isn’t on the televisions. British pub fare rules, including a wondrous mound of decadence: British nachos. It’s chips (fries) smothered with beans and melted cheese. Guinness, Fuller’s ESB and Old Speckled Hen, among others, are on tap and all poured properly. What more could a beer-drinker want?