Bisbee, Arizona’s St. Elmo Bar: The Best Dive Bar in Arizona

15 Nov
2011

“Well, Cutler’s kinda a douche-bag,” I say to the guy next to me.

“Yeah, that’s exactly it. I’ve watched him in Denver, I’ve watched him in Chicago, and that’s just it.” He’s got work boots on and an camouflage baseball hat. He nods in agreement.

I’m at the St. Elmo bar in Bisbee, Arizona and I want to move here. I want to live anywhere in this town and come to this bar everyday via the crazy sidewalk staircases that crisscross the valley. I’m drinking Electric IPA and the Chicago Bears are beating the Detroit Lions on the TV, there’s a huge elk wearing a cheesehead in front of me behind the bar, there’s a buffalo behind me with a WWII metal military helmet on, the entire ceiling is peeling away, there are snide bumper-stickers plastered all over the back of the bar and guns hanging above it and on it, I just got back from the bathroom where there’s a garbage bag stapled above the urinal ceiling diverting some sort of leak from the main standing spot, and I am falling in love with this bar and this town. We will be back tomorrow for the Packers game.

Bisbee, Arizona's St. Elmo Bar: The Best Dive Bar in Arizona

Bisbee, Arizona's St. Elmo Bar: The Best Dive Bar in Arizona

“Yeah, I’m from Appleton, originally,” the gent on the other end of the bar tells me. “My sister teaches at Marquette.” Marquette is one of the big Milwaukee schools. It’s down the street from where I grew up. Mike, I think is his name, is drinking Budweiser from a can.

There’s an artist at the bar that gives me his portfolio to look at and “pass along the bar” when I’m finished. We look and compliment it and pass it along. There’s another artist who is organizing a retrospective of his life’s work (from age 13 to now, which is probably age 75) and chatting up the patrons about it. Both artists are heavily bearded and grisly.

At the Monday night game tomorrow, the bartender tells us there will be prizes and food at half time. “Nearly everybody wins a prize,” she tells us. “Because there’ll be nobody here!” the guy next to us explains. I love this town.

Earlier, I hear the bartender and a patron talking about some party at the bar. It’s going to be a potluck and everybody is invited. The bartender is rattling off all the food they have planned (dips, appetizers, snacks, chips …), but the patron wants to know what he should bring. “Can I bring a meat dish?” he asks. That would, of course, be great.

Before that, we pay for our locally brewed beers with a $20. They’re $9 total, and we get back two fives and a one. In Chicago, you get back six ones and a fiver and are expected to tip $2 (or more). Here, $1 seems fine and I feel like I’m cheaping out.

Lisa’s the only woman in the bar besides the bartender, but she’s fitting in perfectly. We’re talking Packers with the guy from Appleton.

“Yeah, my father used to drive the equipment bus, so I got to go to all the games at Lambeau. Those were the Lombardi years and it was great.”

“They’re releasing another round of shares this week. Not sure what they’re planning. The big stadium expansion was just a few years ago.”

“We just saw it,” I tell him. We were in Green Bay a few weeks earlier and saw the stadium transformed from being a big green behemoth to being a brick-clad, glass-atriumed jewel. Lisa chimes in with what she thought of it too. Now we’re all friends. We talk about the Brewers. We all dislike St. Louis.

I want to stay forever, but I’ll settle for coming back tomorrow.

Update: Packers win and the Bisbee crowd was all for it.  They served brats at halftime. A number of regulars were wearing their Packers garb. I love this place.