"This here's an Indian hangout," Gary reveals to me and three friends just a few minutes after we've bellied up to the bar he's tending. Although there are no Native Americans present right now, he says that during the March PowWow, the owner brings in three bouncers at night just to keep things cool. (The place doesn't employ bouncers otherwise.) And most nights, Gary adds, the White Horse Bar (5130 West Alameda Avenue) doesn't get busy until around 9 p.m., "when all the crazies show up."
Turns out, Gary and I grew up in the same Illinois town. He and one of my sisters went to the same high school, though he graduated about thirty years before she did, in 1968.
By then, the White Horse had been open for a decade. And it hasn't seen much TLC since the current owners bought it in 1974 — if ever. The bathroom floors are caving in and patched with duct tape; pieces of rectangular plywood act as toilet lids and come with the message "Hold Handle Down (down arrow) until finish flushing Thank You." If you hold the handle down too far, though, the plywood lifts up and water leaks out. An obsolete dance floor in the middle of the room is surrounded by dingy floral carpet, and many of the theme-keeping white-horse statues, paintings and plaques are permanently stained yellow.
White Horse Bar
Like all good dives, the Horse enforces policy via hand-scrawled messages on neon poster board. A few examples: To score a cue ball for one of the three pool tables, you'll have to forfeit an ID; the pay phone costs 50 cents, and there's a three-minute limit ("No Exceptions!"); and, most important, "First fight. Last drink. Permanent 86." Toxic orange squares of poster board also top various liquor bottles, where they advertise "2 for $5.00," "$2.00 :)," and "2-4-1 $5.00 :)" specials. The featured booze on my visit: Windsor Canadian Whisky, Cactus Juice, Cinnamon Schnapps, Watermelon Pucker, Tuaca and Hornitos. But the specials change every week, or whenever the owner feels like it. And a jug of Livingston White Zinfandel inexplicably contains red wine.
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While the red/green/yellow twinkle lights strung along the booths and the neon-backlit glass bricks below the bar are wonderful touches, my favorite detail goes to the Coors poster hung on the wood paneling behind the corner stool: it shows an apron-clad E.T. wiping up a spotless bar with a rag and this message: "If you go beyond your limit, please don't drive. 'Phone Home.'"