This is the first in an occasional series of bar profiles. To be considered, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was based on a visit to the bar in February, before it had changed to BoHenry’s in April. Look for an updated story in the weeks to come.]
Name of Bar: Palmieri’s Cocktail Lounge
Address: 1431 San Andres Street
Days/Hours: Monday-Thursday, noon-1 a.m.; Friday–Saturday, noon-2 a.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-midnight
Known For: Stiff drinks, a dazzling cast of regulars, and meeting strangers
Regulars: Working-class Mexican men in their thirties and forties, some twenty-somethings
Quote from the Bartender: “Best bar on the Westside. … Only bar on the Westside.”
Famous Patrons: Jaime, whose portrait appears on the bar T-shirts
Happy Hour Weekdays 4 to 6 p.m., deals on bottled beers and well drinks at $4.75 a shot
Memorable Décor: Barbie makeup doll wearing a sombrero, posters from Santa Barbara Fiestas past
Neighborhood: San Andres and Micheltorena near some excellent Mexican joints, and an easy stumble home if you live on the Westside.
Fun Fact: El Zarape and Paesano’s deliver straight to the bar!
Insider’s Tip: if you order “water,” you might get served tequila.
My Experience: Just above the door to Palmieri’s, there’s a sign featuring a martini glass, but I’m quite sure no one has ever ordered a martini here. Inside I ordered well whiskey, which came cheaply and plentifully. Beside me sat a stranger in a sheepskin denim jacket and curled-up hair. He told me, “This is the kind of place Tom Waits would have gone — if he’d been part of a Mexican street gang.”
I looked around the dimly lit room, and my eyes stumbled across an action figure display by the register, Bud Light Nascar flags, and a big framed portrait of the Corleone family. It was part adolescent irony, part sports bar, and part old town saloon. There was history, but there was juvenility; there was something rooted, and something always rolling. I ordered a water and I was given tequila.
Palmieri’s is the only bar on the Westside. This lent the bar not the sense of desperation it should have but a sense of organic-ism. People came to Palmieri’s not because they chose to but because there was nowhere else for them.
I don’t mean that they couldn’t have gone somewhere else; that’s not the point. The point was that this place was for them. Palmieri’s wasn’t someplace someone dreamed up, some idea hatched by people who’d carefully studied consumer trends and possible niche markets. It was organic. And it grew because it was needed.
Outside we talked about bar fights as we took long drags on cheap cigarettes. We talked about Jaime — did he work there? was he just always there? — and why his face was on the Palmieri’s T-shirt. Just then the 5’4” Mexican fellow appeared outside. He answered a call on his old flip phone, lit a cigarette, and limped down San Andres toward the sea. He would return before long, and so would I.