We’ve started a new weekly feature entitled “Lehigh Valley with Love Dive Bar Confidential” where we, or even you, write about the best, or worst, dive bars in the area. Instead of a review, per se, we’re going to give you a basic night inside these establishments.
Last week, our buddy Ria hits up the Beef House adjacent to the Westgate Mall at 1358 Catasauqua Road in Bethlehem.
This week, I’m tackling Joe’s Tavern pretty much just to get it out of the way. I went here with Nermal’s Mom.
I have gotten old. Relatively, of course. When I was younger, the word “old” meant a lot of different things, mostly pejorative. I wanted to be the hippest. I wanted to go to the coolest spots. I wanted to be where the people were.
Still, now, we can’t deny that this is true for most of us some of the time. People want to be seen. Girls wanna put on their slutfits to head to clubs. Couples want to out couple each other at fancy restaurants with the best looking fidelity hats.
And, I’ll still end up heading to those places at some point. Everyone will go somewhere at somepoint. Everyone will go with the crowd. We’re all gonna have dinner at Applebee’s one Thursday.
The solid people, the solid people, however, tend to have a stake in the tide; perhaps a place they are unwaiveringly championing. A place where, no matter how many chain restaurants they hit in a year, they are still unwavering customers of. For me, this place is Joe’s Tavern in Bethlehem.
This was the longest intro to a dive bar ever. I need to work on being concise.
Ok, so we walk into Joe’s through the back entrance, which I’m heavily aware of through tons of back door entering at Joe’s Tavern.
The second we walk in, boom, already got us some friends who are asking us what we’re up to tonight. Now, these aren’t toothless friends as I’m sure you’re imagining as you read; they are actual humans with decent people jobs (one is a scientist of something). They tell us how they are heading out to the Brew Works down the street and we exchange pleasantries. They head there. We pony up to the bar and take in a deep breath of deep fried something with a hint of nicotine.
Great. I need some cash and Joe’s doesn’t take cards because….. well… because it’s an extra expense that they don’t feel like undertaking and maybe because the phone lines couldn’t handle it. Not sure.
I get some money out through the somewhat garbled “atm” machine that is more like a “atm receipt dispenser” and we head to the bar.
Nermal’s Mom pops open her laptop as she’s ready to get down to some sort of Photoshop work, which is great and all. I, instead, sit down next to her and proceed to order a shot of SoCo and Lime and a Miller Lite. She gets some club soda drink.
*If you have stopped reading here due to the choice of drinks, I don’t blame you. But, being a dive bar we paid like $8.50 for the first round. Just saying.*
In any event, we start drinking. Joe, the gruff yet awesome bartender and we make some small talk. It’s about 7:30 p.m on a Tuesday, so it’s not exactly as if we’re expecting anything more than ourselves enjoying a few drinks and perhaps some people watching and maybe, just maybe, a horse police officer.
There is a quaint older couple to us at the corner of the bar; positioned beneath one of the two HD tvs and eating dinner. We smile at each other a bit before the woman of the couple takes a hearty glance at me and asks, “Are you a student around here?”
Being that I was once, in fact, a student around here, I answer, “Totally was, but sadly, not anymore. I actually have a job that has health insurance, believe it or not!”
She was taken at back at first (probably because I looked slightly homeless), but after that initial weirdness, we dived into talking about where she and her husband came from, originally, and where me and Nermal’s Mom came from, originally. Given the fact that both couples were probably 30 years apart in age, it was an interesting conversation and fun time.
Thus is Joe’s.
People who don’t like Joe’s Tavern don’t like so for two reasons. 1. It’s one of the few bars where it’s still legal to smoke cigarettes in and 2. Because it doesn’t have any fancy schmany beers nor the attitude to go with it.
It is what it is. Like a surly trucker ending a shift at an Interstate stop at 4 a.m. in the middle of Idaho. It’s unpretentious and sometimes loud.
The older couple and we talk on; about some current events; about local bars. We talk about a few local political points with the bartender, briefly. Then they finish their dinner and are about to walk out before they ask me what my last name is. Upon me telling them, the man of the couple springs back.
“Oktoberfest!” he drunkclaims.
Yep, turns out the couple are the parents of a friend of mine who I met once while wearing leiderhosen at Artsquest’s Oktoberfest a few months back.
Pleasantries exchanged, I text their son to disavow anything and we wait for a few friends to arrive. And they do.
The owner of the the Starfish (I guess we should say previous since it’s been sold and this regime is done on April 14) comes in and our buddy who does the Morning Call Mix photos joins us soon after.
We trade shots. We trade stories like home movies. We trade a few updates for the weekend. The open door of the bar lets in some street noise and an early spring breeze as we finish up our last shot, the tail end of a California burger and a generous good bye from the bartender.
We left as we came in; unpretentious, unexpected, and unchanged.
The thing is, if you’re impressed when you leave Joe’s, something’s wrong.
It’s the most unpretentious place I’ve ever been on Earth.
And, try the California burger.