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Watering Holes

The L.A. Taco Guide to Sweet Dive Bars in the Valley, Vol. 2

6:07 PM PDT on May 15, 2018

Carlito’s Way.

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]t would be near impossible to feature all of the finest San Fernando Valley dives in one piece, so we are back with another installment of The L.A. Taco Guide to Sweet Dive Bars in the Valley! One of my favorite things about Southern California is the vast landscape and the Valley has a terrain that is truly one of a kind. It is bursting with gorgeously illuminated signs, vibrant murals, and big skies to catch those perfect sunsets. There is something special, maybe even a little magical, about driving through the Valley as the sun disappears for the day and settling into a seat at a friendly, local bar. You don’t even have to live in the Valley to appreciate the beauty of these informal spots. See here goes, Volume 2!

Casey’s Tavern

All photos by Lisa G. French.

Open Monday - Friday from 10am - 1am / Cash Only! / (818) 992-9362

22029 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, CA 91303

When I walked up to the bar at Casey’s recently, “She’s Gone” by Hall & Oates was playing. It set a smooth, mellow tone for the evening and I was way into it. Family-owned since 1981, everyone in here seems to know each other, though I have never felt out of place or unwelcome. There are some house rules, most importantly no cursing or foul language: that’ll get you kicked out! If you get hungry, there are snacks available for purchase and some fantastic eateries just a few steps away like Jerry’s Pizzeria and Cavaretta’s Italian Deli. If you appreciate live jazz music, be sure to stop by Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, or Sundays at 6pm; there is music. I’ve somehow managed to miss the live jazz every time I have been there, but I sure did enjoy the sounds of Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers while I am sitting there at the bar.

Scotland Yard Pub

Open daily from Noon - 2am / (818) 703-9523

22041 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, California 91303

When in Canoga Park, (or just a couple of doors down at Casey’s), I have to stop by The Yard. There’s cold beer on tap and free live music events throughout the week. What really blew my mind was the shadowy, lit-up mural of London, complete with the River Thames, Big Ben, and Scotland Yard (of course) adorning the wall behind the bar. In addition to bar seating, there’s a row of small tables, for sharing a pitcher of beer with friends.

Carlito’s Way

Open Monday - Friday 4pm - 2am, Saturday and Sundays Noon - 2am / (818) 997-1241

15238 Victory Blvd, Van Nuys, CA 91411

In this corner of the SFV, all the vintage signs and pastel tones bring a smile to my face. Near the intersection of Victory and Sepulveda, when you see the sign for Lido Pizza, you’ll know you’re in the right spot. Carlito’s Way has had a few different names over the years, like The Tender Trap when it was featured in Twilight Zone: The Movie. The salmon-pink banquette near the fireplace gives off a Mid-Century vibe while the ultra-comfortable bar stools with armrests are my new favorite in town. The drinks are super cheap and seeing the bartender prepare a michelada made my mouth water. If you are into folklore or just having a good story to tell, there are rumors that the place is haunted but I cannot confirm any of them...yet.

Fox Fire Room

Open daily from 7am - 2am / (818) 766-1344

12516 W Magnolia Blvd, Valley Village, CA 91607

Not to be confused with the “cougar den” in Orange County that closed in 2016, Fox Fire is THE preeminent dive bar. It’s on just about everyone’s list of favorites and once you visit, you’ll know exactly why. As soon as you walk in through a set of saloon-style doors, it’s dimly lit, with lots of comfortable places to sit and chill out with a beverage. I noticed a small ceramic jug behind the bar that read, “ashes of problem customers” and I couldn’t help but chuckle aloud as Asia’s “The Heat of the Moment” started playing on the jukebox. Like many other dive bars in the Valley (and the backbone of my affinity for them), there is an eclectic mix of people of all ages and all walks of life. From young whippersnappers dancing to Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi to the regulars that have been around forever, the easygoing vibe is apparent.

Pineapple Hill Saloon and Grill

Open Monday - Friday 11:30am - 2am, Saturdays 10:30am - 2am, Sundays 9:30am - 2am / (818) 789-0679

4454 Van Nuys Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

Tucked away in a Sherman Oaks shopping center is Pineapple Hill. One thing about a lot of these dives is that you absolutely cannot judge them by their exterior. Once you step inside, it is friendly, cozy, and chock full of characters. Take a walk around the place and check out the big booths and laid-back bar with signage above it  that boasts the names of old-school cocktails like Ramos Fizz, mai-tais, and fruit daiquiris.

Not too long ago, I had a friend visiting from abroad and we visited The Hill for a couple of beers and a giant, gorgeous plate of nachos. The menu is broad, with everything from burgers to tacos to gluten-free and vegetarian options. If you want something small, there’s always the delicious free popcorn and super cheap appetizers at happy hour. During the day, happy hour runs from 3pm to 7:30pm and if you are more of a night owl, late happy hour is from 11pm - 1pm.

RELATED: The L.A. Taco Guide to Sweet Dive Bars in the Valley, Vol. 1

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