Name of Bar: Sandbar, Cocina y Tequila
Address: 514 State Street
Location: State between Cota and Haley
Days/Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 AM – 2 AM; Saturday and Sunday, 9 AM – 2 AM
Happy Hour: 4 – 8 every day, but rumor has it that they’re not so great at honoring it. Lots of rules and regulations prevent patrons from accessing deals.
Known As: a favorite spot for college kids.
Notable Decor: lots of Dia de Muertos dolls and innumerable tin lanterns
Patrons: white college students and other assorted 20-somethings; deals on birthday and bachelorette packages attract a certain crowd.
Music: Live bands and DJs. Music style changes nightly, but songs are always in the top 40.
Special Draw: Tonight? Reggae.
Odd sighting: A woman wearing a beanie. In early September. In a heated patio.
Overheard: “I need to be taller,” says a woman standing on a bar stool.
My experience: At 11:45 on a Wednesday night, most everything on Lower State Street was dead or dying. A small crowd of regulars and die-hards mingled outside Punk on Vinyl night at Whiskey’s, but I had to keep walking. I lit up half of an American Spirit I’d found at the bottom of my pack. Because I’m just that cheap. A light show gushed from Sandbar, half a block up, silhouetting slim figures in long, loose dresses. I had a destination.
A man in a black tee shirt, taxed at its seams, glanced at my card and unhooked one of those velvet ropes that make you feel like a movie star. A look inside assured me that I was not alone in this feeling. Sandbar was typically packed with women in short white dresses and unwalkably tall heels, male counterparts hanging back to watch the spectacle clumsily unfold. But the crowd was a bit different tonight. Either that, or the regulars had changed outfits and reappeared with more comfortable sandals. It was, after all, reggae night. But I knew who they were. That summer crowd who’d swapped their porkpies for wool beanies in accordance with the calendar change. Those early morning shriekers falling into the bike lane. Those YOLO heroes. Tonight they listened to white-boy reggae led by a ukulele. (Or, as the ska crowd might call it, Ja-fakin’ music.)
But I was an outsider. I scribbled in my notebook like a nerd. This wasn’t my scene, and it wasn’t trying to be. I tried to be fair, tried to shake the arrogance of trying to apply a universal rubric to every club, pub, and lounge. And I remembered who I was four years ago.
And, goddamnit, I would have loved this place.
Four years ago I was young and fun and looking for it. Four years ago I put bronzer along my jawline to Instantly Shed 10 Pounds! and experimented with glitter on my cheekbones. Back then I knew how to get a bartender’s attention and wasn’t too proud to do it. I wore six-inch heels and always had someone to catch me, and plenty of red lipstick to spread around. I was provocative, and I would have loved this bar.
Four years ago, when I walked into my favorite bar, Lou the Bartender would let me sample the new flavors of Sambuca – I would try them all then, laughing, bark out a plume of smoke. I wore my half-remembered stories like badges of honor and wasn’t even ashamed to have been kicked out of a tiki-themed nightclub. I was brash, and I would have loved this bar.
Four years ago I would have been the first on the dance floor, no matter what music was playing. And that girl who stood on a barstool to “be taller”? That could have been me, about to proclaim that I was the Lizard King. I might not have even minded paying too much for a weak drink. After all, it was my parents’ money. I was young and fun and foolish, and I would have loved this bar.
Somewhere along the way I’d retreated into the grizzly, dark comfort of the dive bar, I’d gotten pickier about my music and less sensual with my dance moves. I’d gotten frugal and judgmental. But four years ago, I would have loved this bar.