Dive bar or neighborhood tavern?: Iowa tavern sandwiches

You’ve just gotta listen to this week’s music video. 

Blake Shelton Garth Brooks, Dive Bar

I ate my first enchilada in the late 60s at the Half Moon Inn. The Half Moon, three dramas short of a dive bar, was a neighborhood tavern across the street from the stockyards in Sioux City, Iowa. Somehow children were allowed, so we took our son and daughter, two and six, and met high school friends who brought their nine year old son. The kids played on the floor among the peanut shells, with the ruckus of pool cues, loud voices, and jukebox rock and roll playing in the background.

Giddyups, in Austin, Texas, is difficult to box in. Is it a music venue, a honkey-tonk, a neighborhood tavern, or a dive bar? A trusted source told me that it’s a mix of the best parts: listen to Speedy Sparks, Rusty Traps or The Pearl Snaps, sing a little karaoke, play some shuffleboard, sit on the back patio, eat a bucket of Austin’s best fried chicken, sample a few Texas IPAs, compete in a gumbo cookoff—all possible at Giddyups.

Like $10 haircuts and vacuum cleaner repair shops, authentic dive bars are in danger of disappearing as gentrification spreads. Even the term “dive bar” has been appropriated by those who would buy a hole in the wall, spiff it up by sweeping the floor, and install a large, cheesy, juicy menu. Genuine dive bars have gruff old bartenders, gruff old regulars, the sour smell of desperation, no eatable food, condom vending machines, at least one patron asleep on his or her arm, and a slight sense of danger. What’s not to love?

Neighborhood bars (think “Cheers”) are boisterous watering holes with functioning toilets and real food. In Olympia, The China Clipper, open since the 50s, is the downtown dive bar/karaoke hot spot/neighborhood tavern/incidental Chinese restaurant of choice. I heard a story about a gruff, old bartender who, in the 60s and 70s, would rouse a patron, asleep on their arm or face-down in their chop suey, by rubbing ice cubes on the back of their neck.

Parkway Tavern

Look familiar?

Tacoma has some great neighborhood taverns and probably some great dive bars as well. In the Stadium District, there’s the Parkway Tavern; in the McKinley District, it’s the Top of Tacoma. The Top has characteristics of both a dive bar and a neighborhood tavern. It’s in a gritty part of town, has cracked flooring, original neon, plenty of street parking but also, great food, young, hip, web-conscious patrons wearing black and sporting tattoos, rows of draft IPAs, and a full menu of strong specialty drinks. Didn’t see a condom vending machine.

Look familiar?

Last weekend, three mature ladies (wearing black, not sure about tattoos) in the neighborhood buying yarn for a baby hat, stopped by for lunch. The place was packed to the wooden rafters with twenty to thirty somethings, wearing black—men sporting facial stubble—everyone with tattoos, phones at the ready. One television was showing a Bonanza marathon, the Golden Girl Betty White giggled on the second TV, and at the end of the bar polar bears roamed the frozen tundra on the Nature Channel. We chose gleefully from a large juicy menu: one pork belly banh mi, one pork belly Cuban sandwich, one lamb gyro, passed on roasted cauliflower this time, and had a side of fries instead. What’s not to love?

Ruth Fitzpatrick’s Heelan High Taverns

  • 1 lb ground chuck, ground round or ground sirloin  
  • 1 Tbs. lard or Crisco (if meat is round or sirloin)  
  • 2 tsp. salt  
  • 1 onion, chopped fine  
  • 1 Tbs. yellow mustard (not Dijon) 
  • 1 Tbs. cider vinegar (not Balsamic) 
  • 1 Tbs. sugar (not Stevia) 
  • Water to cover  
  • Salt and fine ground black pepper (not coarse ground), to taste 

Melt fat over medium heat and lightly salt bottom of cast iron skillet. Break ground beef up in skillet and start crumbling it with the back of a wooden spoon. Add chopped onion while browning meat. Keep working with the back of spoon to break up meat. When meat is cooked and lacks any pink, drain off any fat. Add mustard, vinegar, sugar, and enough water to cover meat Simmer until water has evaporated–30 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve on warm hamburger buns with pickle slices, mustard and Lay’s Original Potato Chips.

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2 Responses to Dive bar or neighborhood tavern?: Iowa tavern sandwiches

  1. Bridget Salem Batchelor says:

    I remember the Half Moon Inn! And taverns—different than sloppy joes, for sure, from The Tastee Inn and Out. What a blast from the past, Mom! Thanks for that. ❤️

  2. Ginny Nichols says:

    The tastee has the best onion chips! Always stopped when we were cruising the “ones”. Also-rocky mountain oysters at Franks

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