Trying to define a dive bar is a little like former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s attempt to define pornography in 1964: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced … but I know it when I see it.” It’s safe to say most restaurant-chain bars, such as a TGI Friday’s, don’t qualify as a dive bar. Nor would anything with “Martini” in its business name. And don’t even think about any place you would visit while clubbin.’ So, what are the qualities of a dive bar? Inexpensive drinks? For sure. A “Cheers”-like social structure? That helps. An intangible, inexplicable character? You bet. One thing for sure—the term dive bar is no longer negative. It’s actually kind of cool. And Stark County is home to dozens of this kind of home away from home. Here are some of the best:
Located across the street from neighboring—and dry—Washington Township, the Elm Inn has been serving drinks since 1952. “We’re basically a neighborhood bar with food,” explained owner Sally Whinery. “The food keeps the doors open … especially a $5 strip steak. But the alcohol is what pays the bills.” The food ranges from the steak to haddock and plenty of hot homemade soups and chili. The Elm Inn can hold about 150 customers. Many of them come for the Vegas Bomb, the bar’s signature shot of Crown Royal Canadian Whisky, peach Schnapps, Red Bull and pineapple juice. Other bars serve it, but Whinery said none can do it as well as the Elm Inn. “We train our girls … it’s the exact same every time,” she said. The bar hosts a series of promotions, everything from dollar draft nights to Elm Inn T-shirt nights. Euchre tourneys are Thursday nights. Fridays are for DJ karaoke. Bands play Saturdays. And don’t forget the annual cornhole tournament in June, the kickoff to a benefit to support the Shriners, which concludes with a golf tournament in August every year. The bar also features three pool tables and a dance floor. “I’d consider us a dive bar,” Whinery said.
On the Dive:
With a great view of Lake Cable, this place has been a favorite for locals since Gil and Barbie Hevia opened it in 1990. Now operated by their daughter, Anita Heiser, and her husband, Eric, Jose’s has cemented its reputation as a dive bar. It’s rated one of the top dives in the area by users on yelp.com. “We definitely have an eclectic crowd,” said Anita Heiser. Mornings are filled with breakfast club retirees. Late afternoons mostly belong to the after-work office crowd. The clientele gets progressively younger as the night wears on. “We’re the last stop on the way home for a lot of people,” she said. The bar doesn’t serve food except for popcorn. It features a smoking patio, game room and two pool tables.
>>SIGNATURE DRINK: The signature drink is a Storm Cloud—Bailey’s, Bacardi 151 rum and Amaretto—for $2.75 during the day and $3 at night.
Owner Moe Shaheen has worked here since he was 15 years old in 1961—save for five years in the military. The walls of the Wheel can tell many stories. Moe Shaheen’s wife, Leigh, may have summed it up best in a Facebook posting, when she wrote this description of the bar: “Where everybody knows your name and what you drink. Where the walls are covered with artifacts from the Stark County civilization circa the 1900s. Where it’s very clean (We practice around here). Where the spirits of Jeep, John and CD (with occasional guest appearances from Johnny-Boy from the DI) hover and watch the “Syrian Piano.” Where legends are made and stop by for a drink.”
>>OLD-TIME FAVORITE: The bar was an old-time favorite of visiting Pro Football Hall of Famers and local politicians. Shaheen remembers when former Stark County Coroner G.S. Shaheen stepped in to help a drunken Jane Russell, a movie star who was married to football star Bob Waterfield. “He gave her a shot of B-12, right in the butt, in the bathroom,” he recalled.
Owner Mike Zuzack, who bought the place two years ago, wants everyone to know one thing: “We are not a dive bar,” he said. At least not in the negative way dive bars used to be described. The old brown building has remained unchanged on the outside since it first opened as a store more than 100 years ago. It has been a tavern for at least the past 86 years, Zuzack said. But he’s adding more kitchen equipment. He cleared out the bikers. The only bikers now usually are doctors and lawyers. The bar hosts leagues and features two pool tables, three dart boards and a jukebox.
>>NOT THE WHITEY’S YOUR PARENTS KNOW: “This is not the Whitey’s your parents warned you about,” Zuzack said, adding that he’s not even sure who “Whitey” was.
More dive bars:
>> Plenty of food and drinks, and it’s already advertising to book live bands for the summer.
West End Tavern
>> Located on the southwest side of Massillon, this tavern has drink specials and a golf simulator.
Red Dog Saloon
>> It prides itself on being the area’s most authentic country-western bar. It offers live bands and karaoke.
>> There is a pool table, and it advertises $2 cans of beer; $2.25 for bottles and top-shelf shots at $2.50.
Canal Boat Lounge
>> Located in historic downtown Canal Fulton, the patio overlooks the Ohio & Erie Canal. It has been family owned for more than 20 years and advertises monthly drink specials and a full menu until 10:30 p.m. every night.
>> It advertises 27 homemade sauces for jumbo wings, free Wi-fi, an internet jukebox with more than 100,000 songs and plenty of beer specials.
White Crown Cafe
>> Two for $20 steak dinners on Fridays, draft specials and billiards until 2:30 a.m.
Drinks with friends. An after work meet-up to dissect the day’s work. Throwing back a pint or two during the big game. Romantic moments over a bottle of fine red. Saturday night dance parties. Acoustic riffs and raucous crowds. Celebrating with a bottle of bubbly.
Whatever the occasion, Stark County’s watering holes are as diverse as their patrons.
As the sun goes down and you begin your search for killer cocktails, handcrafted selections, expert whiskey slingers or lively entertainment, let Stark After Dark be your essential guide.