7:50 p.m., Aug. 24
“As my dad was dying, six years ago,” says Star, “he made me promise that I wouldn’t sell, that I’d keep the place going, as is.”
Star Thompson, Ben Chaudoin and I are standing outside the Star Bar (423 E Street, downtown, 619-234-5575) as night comes down on downtown.
Star is dressed like a, well, star.
Star with long-time customer, Bernadino
Star with Ben, her right hand man
She's all glamor, well-spoken,and the last person you'd expect to be running a genuine dive bar. Ben's here to help run things too, and provide a bit of muscle.
But you don't feel this is one of those tough places, just an old-fashioned haunt in a part of town everybody thought they'd been given the heave-ho from.
"Oh yes, I've had a bunch of offers to sell this place," says Star. "But I promised my dad. And kinda promised the customers too. Because this is important to a lot of people. Dad opened this three months after I was born. He named it after me. Before that it was called the High Seas Bar.”
Me, I’ve just come out after having a meal…of sorts. Okay, it was a bag of Orville Redenbacher’s Movie Theater Butter popcorn ($1), with a glass of Coke $1.50.
Dee brings the popcorn to join the Coke. Total: $2.50. Where else in the Gaslamp?
But guess what? It was pretty filling. And those prices, in the Gaslamp?
Plus it's great to know there’s some place you can haul your hull out of the water for half an hour and listen to Jimi Hendrix wail out “Are You Experienced?”...
...and yack with whoever’s sitting to your left.
“The last of the great dive bars!” said Tony, on my left, ten minutes ago.
Tony’s an architect who qualified in Mexico City and could never practice up here.
Kinda like me. Always been a wannabe architect. When it comes to buildings, I’m your original beach admiral, full of advice for every designer in da woild who won't listen.
But I couldn’t have designed this place better. It’s just one long, dark, noisy-but-friendly-once-you-get acclimatized sorta place. From all the tensions of downtown, here you can just go "Whew!" and let yourself kinda settle for a while and rest up for your next assault on the world.
No, they don’t have food beyond chips, or my great discovery, the popcorn.
But they must be doing something right. The more you talk, the more you discover that people have been coming in here - or their dads have - forever.
“I’ve been coming into her dad’s places since 1952!” says Bernadino. He jes’ came up to say goodbye to Star. "Mr. Thompson was a fine gent.”
And if you judge a place by how long the staff stays, hey, well Dee, who got me my Coke without even raising an eyebrow, has been working here 24 years. Anita has been 20, and Loni, who works the bar counter on the other side, has been here 30 years or more.
Loni in front of her old boss, Star's dad, Lloyd Thompson
She knew Lloyd, Star’s dad. “He was a good man,” she says.
“Only the Good Die Young,” wails Billy Joel on the juke box (3 songs for $1).
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