Michael hasn't worn long pants since relocating from Connecticut three years back. The burly barkeep can't really even remember the last time he saw a dollar deal. "Somewhere up north."

"This is your work? Researching beer deals?"

"It's sad," I offer. "Things are just getting so expensive everywhere."

"Especially in Miami," he says. "Miami. Holy shit. I had two friends that went to some place there on the beach. They had these big monster drinks, they each got one, got a backup. It was $100 for four frozen drinks. They paid for ice basically. Can you imagine that? One hundred dollars?" Before darting down the bar to fill an order, Michael turns back my way. "If you want to be a fucking baller, go to Miami."

VFW Post 3559 is a longtime outpost of affordable drinking on South Beach, but — alas — it doesn't offer $1 draft beer. The Bud that bartender Debbie Brooks is offering goes for $2.25.
Jacob Katel
VFW Post 3559 is a longtime outpost of affordable drinking on South Beach, but — alas — it doesn't offer $1 draft beer. The Bud that bartender Debbie Brooks is offering goes for $2.25.
Like any good American dive, however, the VFW offers darts and photos of random people on the wall.
Jacob Katel
Like any good American dive, however, the VFW offers darts and photos of random people on the wall.

I crawl north through Broward. Walsh's Irish Sports Bar is about five minutes up Federal Highway. I'm not inside for 15 minutes before the owner, Teri Walsh, has me by the hand heading for the back, where framed photos cover the wall. In a group shot of an '80s softball team, the entire boy-girl squad wears green jerseys printed with "McGowan's." Squatting down front is a man beaming through a Magnum P.I. 'stache. Something's poking from his short-shorts.

"There's his balls there," Walsh tells me. "That's why this picture is famous."

A middle-aged woman with wild, curly blond hair, she takes in the grainy shot. "He's dead, he's dead, he's dead, he's dead," she says, slapping at people in the picture. The drinkers here have introduced one another to future spouses, raised kids together, and — inevitably — buried the ones who've passed. There's a mournful sag in the good times when she mentions the bar's late handyman, Biff — "He never married, never had a family," says Walsh, who considered Biff a second father for 30 years. "We were his extended family.

"A bar is just like a church," she says. "It's not four walls; it's the people."

In just a minute of breathing the mentholated air during happy hour, I can tell Walsh's isn't so much a beer joint as a lineage. Back in the '80s, a crew of drinkers attached themselves to McGowan's, a bar at Hollywood Boulevard and A1A. Eddie McGowan, the fun-loving, accordion-playing owner, kept the party going. Walsh was his manager. "I basically grew up there," the Long Island native says. "I was a teenager when I started there."

When McGowan died in 2003, the bar slipped to new ownership. Changes came. To preserve the bar's good-time DNA, Walsh opened her own place, first the Dry Dock in 2003, then Walsh's in 2007. The crowd followed.

But sadly, Walsh's doesn't have The Draft. The closest is a $2.50 happy-hour pint. "I'm sitting here between Cracktown and Hookerville," Walsh cries defensively. "Do you know what kind of people would show up if I had dollar drafts?"

From Walsh's, my hunt takes me north to Grady's in downtown Fort Lauderdale. At midafternoon, nearly every barstool is filled with guffawing regulars. Classic rock blurts from the speakers. But again, nothing flows from the tap for a buck — and it hasn't since the mid-'90s, when the bar last had a dollar beer special.

"Do people ever come around asking for dollar drafts?"

"No," the lady working the tap tells me. "That's like saying, 'Can I have 1995's prices today?' "

"It's kind of bumming me out I can't find any," I confess to the old guy sitting one stool over. Casper-haired and bespectacled, he looks me over, opens his mouth, and begins declaiming in a rich British accent. "Well, I come from Europe, so I've had a one-euro beer. It's just one or two places. But you can get a pint."

"That's a long fucking way to go to get a dollar beer!" chortles a bearded neighbor in a Green Bay Packers hat. "I don't think you are going to save a lot of money going over there."

Packers rummages around his memory banks. "Growing up in Milwaukee, I remember this place on Connecticut Avenue where beer was 15 cents. There's a place."

Judging by the wear and tear on Green Bay's face, he's talking about sometime in the Kennedy administration. Right about now, all my hopes for this project are pretty much in the trash can. If the golden deal is not to be found in a place sporting the All-American bona fides of Grady's, does it exist at all?

Peggy manages to take my spirits off life support. She has no idea where I might find a dollar draft ("If you find some, come back"), but she's like the Mother Hen at Grady's. "I made the broccoli cauliflower cheddar soup," she tells me proudly.

Peggy has worked there 14 years. She's the assistant manager. She pours drinks one shift a week, but today she's on the other side of the counter, fueling up on a few afternoon pops herself.

She oozes full-bore love for the place. "It's a great bar," she explains. "It's your local neighborhood dive. People just want to go into a bar and hang out with their friends they've known for years."

She mentions a couple of regulars who've passed on. There's a tree out back where a portion of their ashes have been scattered. "And we have a plaque there with their names on it."

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5 comments
dyl64
dyl64

Wow that was an awesome piece.  As a young undergraduate from FAU Boca Campus I really appreciate all that field work! It's so true - I look at my peers and see them buying expensive ass drinks, dancing to shit beats and molly and all that shit. Anyways keep writing!

gatorbytz
gatorbytz

Thank you Mr. Swenson for this interesting and very well written piece. As I read I could see myself perched on a barstool leaning against the bar with a cold beer in my hand in any and all of the places you described. And, I feel I know all of those dive bar denisons. I are one. Another thing... 70 ain't old and gettin' old only happens when you think and act old. Anyway, thanks.

 
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