Hot Beef Injection

Two bars so intimidating they defy irony. And the meat they serve.

I recently read an article in a San Francisco periodical about how the dive bars there have become so overrun by young urban thrill seekers that those seeking shelter from the hipster storm are now heading to strip mall bars to do their drinking. It'll be interesting to see if Seattle's dive bar spelunkers will eventually cause such a state of saturation. I sort of doubt it: There are still a handful of bars—right downtown, no less—that are so intimidating to enter, they form a veritable shield against ironic infiltration. Some of these places actually serve food, too. With that, I give you Joe's Bar and Grill and the Turf. At these joints, by all appearances, if you're not homeless, mentally ill, drunk, or in the sex and/or drug-peddling trades, you're not cool. Other than the bartender, anyone who might be classified as "normal" by any reasonable standard simply doesn't set foot in places like Joe's, where people don't converse with one another, they shout at each other. Upon entering Joe's—a roughneck oasis in the International District—the other afternoon, I was greeted by a white guy and a Mexican guy about to duke it out over the color of their skin. Both were apparently hammered, and when people are hammered, this situation can break one of two ways: (a) They attempt to beat the shit out of one another, or (b) they reconcile and either hug or shower one another with a steady stream of I-love-you-mans. Thankfully, Option B prevailed in this particular altercation, with the white guy signing off with one of the most incomprehensibly awesome one-liners I've ever heard uttered in a bar (or anywhere else, for that matter). "I was cool before cool was cool," he said, before schlepping his laundry to the Five Point Laundromat a couple miles north. With the Marshall Tucker Band blaring on Joe's stereo while a couple pool sharks argued loudly, I made my way to the food window, where I ordered pork chops, one of maybe a half-dozen items listed on a chalkboard menu overhead. One problem: The chef didn't have anything at his disposal, save for cheeseburgers. So I had a cheeseburger. It was really fucking good, reminiscent of the no-frills patties served at the venerable Mo Club in Missoula, Mont., which has more bars per capita than just about any place on earth. Up by the Market, the Turf has long served as a safe haven for urban refugees who, were they to go about their day's business al fresco, would likely be stationary targets for lawmen, warranted or otherwise. (The Turf used to be located a half-block to the southwest on Pike, where Johnny Rockets is now.) But at the Turf, these sorts of folks can commiserate over a J&B rocks with the Isley Brothers on the stereo, which is what was playing when I walked in during lunch and ordered a hot beef sandwich, served open-faced on white bread and smothered with gravy, along with mashed potatoes and hot carrots. In other words, the sort of meal you'd get served at a shelter over the holidays. It hit the spot.

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