I’m drawn to dingy venues, cheap beers and juke boxes like a 12 year old boy to tits. This past summer, a bar that was a hugely influential pair of tits to me closed, and I want to pay the appropriate tribute. We all had an establishment from our early drinking days that was the perfect complement to our brand of crazy. That was Juke’s Bar in Grand Rapids, Michigan for me. This place cemented my love for PBR, fostered my love of craft beer and was where a chick body-slammed me on my head. They should have thrown me out on a regular basis but didn’t. The charm would bring true dive bar aficionados (or Divers, as I like to call them) to their knees. Then they immediately would get back up and probably have their knee caps stick to the floor.
Just barely on the west side of Grand Rapids, Jukes boasted a bright yellow sign along Leonard St. that was hard to miss. It made promises of cheap drinks, live music and adventure. Upon entering the bar, all five senses were immediately assaulted by intense cigarette smoke. You could hear the nicotine and feel it on your skin. It clung to your nose hair, made your eyes water and I swear to the Gods of Olympus you could taste it. All the more reason to immediately order a Pabst Blue Ribbon or Busch Light.
The walls featured an assortment of album covers with the bar running half the length of the place and curving to an end right by a popcorn machine. This machine was your best friend. What gives you a blood thirst for PBR? Salty ass popcorn with the option for seasoned salt to shoot your blood pressure skyfuckinghigh, that’s what. I can’t speak for the women’s room, but the men’s room was the kind of place where you test your personal records for breath holding and if you had to shit, you walked down the street to Taco Bell. A small stage overlooked by a poster of none other than Johnny Cash flipping the whole world the bird rounded out the ambiance.
These are the places where stories are born, fueled by cheap drinks and pitchers of PBR. Juke’s was no different and played a huge role in my drinking history. In my early 20’s, PBR was the beer of choice for my friends and I. If you came out drinking with the gang and didn’t like that, you could get the fuggout. Between pitchers of beer, I cultivated a taste for shots like Washington Apples, Oatmeal Cookies, Bazooka Joes and Red Headed Sluts. A night of pitchers with a few rounds of shots, and your tab might have been 30 bucks on a bad night. How can you beat that? A few years later, I started noticing funny looking bottles in the cooler. They had dogs with wings, and the artwork looked eerily like something Ralph Steadman would draw. I had just ordered my first Flying Dog classic pale ale. It probably wasn’t my first official craft beer, but it definitely made me want to try all of Flying Dog’s brews and eventually move onto others. Yes, I fully credit this bar with giving me the thirst for craft beer.
Then Juke’s introduced me to Sunday Funday and the world as I knew it was never the same. I achieved an adult rite of passage. They provided a kick ass free taco bar and a superb Bloody Mary bar. I spent Sundays eating tacos, drinking cheap bloodys and dollar pints of PBR while watching the Lions get absolutely crushed on the TV screen. We didn’t even care if Detroit was setting records for being the worst team in the NFL or whatever shit they were doing. We were surrounded by good people, enjoying good food and drink and had zero cares in the world.
Drinks aside, people are ultimately the reason you end up frequenting a place, right? Juke’s always had the right combination of bikers, punks, mustaches, beards, rockers and hippies. The live music 2-3 nights per week varied, but always had attitude. One week might feature a folk band and a thrash band the next, but the music always made for a good time with a community atmosphere. I felt right at home any time I went to Jukes, like I was around my kind of people.
Life is a journey littered with the beers we drink, the experiences we dare to have and the people we share it with, and Juke’s provided a safe environment to cultivate relationships that helped define me during an awesome period in my life. I’ll always remember back to the crazy nights and afternoons we spent there, the owner working behind the bar pouring beers, shots and raffling off free pints to all of us taco-fueled maniacs. His bar was the Ringmaster in our Circus of booze. It was the conductor on our train of debauchery. It was the maestro for our symphony of consumption. That’s ultimately what a great watering hole is about, and I’m eternally grateful.
An open mind and a few beers can make anywhere an adventure.