Club Hopping In Bisbee Turns Up Some Unexpected Gems.
By Kyle Pakka
in the saloon at the Copper Queen Hotel and work our way up Brewery Gulch and down the scale of refinement. It's a murder mystery weekend at the Queen, and the Earps and their floozies sit front and center for Burt and Rick, guitar-toting locals in plaid shirts and sunglasses, covering '50s pop tunes and some workable blues. If visiting bars with a high quotient of famous dead patrons is your kind of thing, you can rub ghostly elbows here with the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Black Jack Pershing and John Wayne.
A tourist asks for a glass of Electric Dave, the local micro brew, but is told it's no longer available since Dave served a term for Marijuana smuggling. We used to buy cider jugs full of Electric Beer from Dave's tin garage with the tap on the outside wall for sampling. That was in South Bisbee, which can only be reached by a short tunnel through the mine dumps surrounding a small, shabby enclave of tin-roofed buildings. Dave's prohibited from brewing beer now, but the tourist shops sell the empty cider jars with the Electric Beer logo for 10 bucks. This is the kind of meaningful conversation you can expect from the Queen, which is why we always stop in to soak up some atmosphere before making our raucous crawl farther up the gulch where the loud music and revelry await.
When Burt and Rick take a break we take our cue and head over to the Stock Exchange Bar. From 1905 to 1918, it was the Brewery Bar, but from 1919 to the late 1960s, it really was the Stock Exchange, and the original stock board is still on the wall. There's live music almost every weekend and never a cover charge. However, once a month they have a karaoke weekend and that's what greets us upon entry: A big, middle-aged guy sporting a white goatee and Green Bay Packers jacket is belting out "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," and the small dance floor at the end of the bar is jammed. Even the bartenders, one of whom is wearing a Viking helmet, are swinging and swaying.
Folk-rockers The Mollys play the Exchange fairly frequently, as do bands from Phoenix. D.C. Minner Selby, an old blues guitarist from Oklahoma, annually sits in en route to the San Francisco Blues Festival. Otherwise, the bar features bands from outlying areas who play roadhouse rock and blues. Now though, a trio is faltering through "Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw" and the entire bar pitches in for the chorus. You never know where the hot spot in Bisbee will be--the town is too small to fill all its bars every night, so it's a matter of strolling until you find it.
An argument by the pool table turns into a fight and I recognize one of the combatants from previous bar fights in Bisbee. They have the grace to take it outside and, through the window, we are treated to the sight of one man throttling another and then pushing him over the railing headfirst into Brewery Gulch--a fine Bisbee tradition. But not even this minor interruption slows the singing and dancing inside the Stock Exchange.
The St. Elmo Bar is best appreciated after midnight, so we head up the gulch, currently clogged by three police cars and an ambulance. Their red lights splash on the old brick buildings as assorted revelers doing the circuit between bars watch Bisbee's finest check the battered face of the still belligerent loser. The winner is in Elmo's, reenacting the fight for one of the bartenders.
There isn't any live music in Elmo's tonight because the originally scheduled band broke up and the replacement band's van broke down. This too is Bisbee--one must be prepared to accept the unexpected.
Some may long for the by-gone days when you could finish off the old town circuit by crossing the border at nearby Naco for 50-cent cans of Tres Equis and Cuervo shots at the Monterey Club, followed by chasers at seedy Casa Blanca, Luna Azul and the Rainbow, where old women and young girls mixed with the mescal. Now there's a black steel wall along la frontera and a shiny new three-lane border crossing. The Monterey Club has long since closed and the whorehouses were torched in a feud. Fortunately, Elmo's tries to make up for all the lost adventures under one roof and nearly always succeeds.
Elmo's attracts the most diverse crowd in town, and on any given night bikers, vaqueros, soldiers, college kids, local Mafioso, crazed artists and bewildered tourists raise their glasses in one glorified toast to the melting pot. We leave a few minutes before last call, breathing in the clear, cold air while the bar noises and our footsteps echo down Brewery Gulch, a dusty corner of the wild west that remains largely unchanged since the turn of the century.
For current information on live music in Bisbee, contact: The Copper Queen Hotel (432-2216), The Stock Exchange Bar (432-9924) and St. Elmo Bar (432-5578). The Bisbee Grand Hotel doesn't have music, but has a great old bar and Victorian-era pool room (800-421-1909).
There's also music at the following venues on special occasions: Kilimanjahro Club in the cavernous Odd Fellows Hall built in 1918 (432-7920 or 432-2732); and Old Baptist Showcase Theater, a converted church, has been booking acts like the recent Beasts of Paradise "pan-cultural pop" from San Francisco (432-4049).
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