940 Palm Avenue, Imperial Beach
In an era when any jerk with a Wi-Fi connection can condemn every small business on Earth for no good reason, it speaks volumes to find a bar with zero Yelp reviews. No off-topic whiners. No defensive regulars. Nothing. By most modern metrics, Little Bonanza may not even exist.
But try telling that to the day-drinkers at this I.B. hole-in-the-wall, where a heavy-set dude drunkenly alludes to his biblical calling in life while a gentleman in a Hawaiian shirt feigns interest in the tirade.
“Everything cheap!” the Filipina barmaid shouts when I ask about happy hour as a super-frosty mug of Pacifico slides across the bar. A beer or two later, the chubby chaplain shifts his sermon, demanding of the younger barmaid, “Do you know Led Zeppelin? They’re one of the best bands on Earth!” He takes off to the juke to prove it but quickly shuffles back, declaring, “They don’t have it!”
I sense divine intervention may be at play (never blame the beer), so I pop in a few bucks and type “LE” on the screen and, sure enough, there’s Zeppelin. I freeze. I’m faced with the classic ethnographical conundrum. If I really wish to observe my barmates in their natural habitat — waxing theological, making vague attempts at courtship with the barmaids, and being stumped by what might be the most straightforward piece of technology in the building — then surely this sort of interference would throw everything out of stasis. To hell with it, I decide. Life is too short to live in the dark. “When the Levee Breaks” roars out of the jukebox and I pass off the rest of my credits to the parson.
All told, I don’t really know what to say about this place. It’s at once so drab (beer, wine, cash only) and captivating (see above) that, like the Yelpers who may have come before me, I’m left speechless. There’s not a whole lot to it, but if you ever have the longing for a dive where the beer comes ice cold and drunk old coots howl along to Creedence Clearwater Revival, Little Bonanza is your spot. Even the elder Filipina barmaid, who shouts so artfully that you’ll never be quite sure if she’s kicking you out or hitting on you, will sing along in perfect harmony.
“I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain?”
- Prices: about $5 per pint
- Hours: Mon–Thu, noon–2 am; Fri–Sun, 10 am–2 am
- Happy: Until 7 on weekdays
- Capacity: 38
- Food: Lots of Mexican takeout nearby
- Cash only