The Dive Bar is pristine. The walls are freshly painted and dark. The gothic-looking chandelier over the bar isn’t hung from neglected and unstable-looking chains. Even the above-stage sign boasting the venue’s name, with a faux-missing faceplate to expose the letter V’s light bulbs, is in better shape than most 2012 sedans.
By all accounts, the name is false advertising. But Nate Bruce and Angie Randazzo aren’t trying to sell you a hole in the wall. They’re trying to sell you history.
Bruce co-owned the original, now-shuttered Dive Bar in a shopping center on East Tropicana Avenue. With its big, block-letter sign and taupe exterior, it could’ve been a burger place. Or a loan center. The only difference was that, around 10 p.m., scuzzy punk rock and searing metal echoed through the complex, bouncing off the windows of empty neighboring storefronts, an overdriven beacon of local music. To the unfamiliar eye, the crowd looked like bikers and gnarled rockers. But to the staff, to its patrons, it was family. That isn’t hyperbole. Randazzo would say this repeatedly on a Friday evening, her day-drunk patrons chiming in, hours before an outlaw country punk band drowned out even the hoarsest shouting voice.
After the building was sold and all the businesses were kicked out, Bruce started booking at Favorites, a centrally located and terrifically ugly locals bar on East Flamingo Road and South Maryland Parkway. “A pimp used to sit right over here and read a book and work two girls through that door,” Bruce says. “It worked because no one else really hung out here.”
The change came with a stage. Bruce started bringing his old bands through at the behest of the then-owner in a last-ditch effort to turn what had become a den back into a bar. Eventually, the pimp left. Neighborhood kids and the odd college student walked through the doors. The bands picked up, playing free shows. It started to feel like the old Dive Bar. And, in May 2013, Bruce talked Randazzo into buying the place with him. “I’m a bartender, I never thought I’d be a boss,” Randazzo says. “But we couldn’t let it die.”
However, the point wasn’t just to bring a bar back from the dead. Bruce has been pouring money into the stage and the sound system, bringing Cowtown Guitars’ Roy Page on to get everything fixed up. He doesn’t want a college bar with beer pong tables and club music. He wants a music bar, a place where local and touring bands can play a good stage somewhere besides downtown.
So far, it’s a success. Besides weekend shows, Dive Bar hosts a jazz jam on Monday nights, picking up where Freakin’ Frog and Yayo Taco fell off (neither of which Bruce was aware of). On a Thursday night, local bands with Los Angeles support play to university neighborhood kids, bikers and haunters of the original bar.
Randazzo shoots beer into pint glasses like she’s done for years. And Bruce sits back, watching his bill, and his bar, slowly resuscitate the name Dive Bar. “I learned from my mistakes over there,” he says. “This is a second chance.”
DIVE BAR 4110 S. Maryland Parkway, 796-1776, http://on.fb.me/15z6d6V.