Valley Nights

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I spent most of my twenties (and, between you and me, my late teens) drinking at dive bars. Not sketchy or dangerous dive bars, by any means, although I have been to plenty of those as well. I’m talking about plain old watering holes with the usual selection of branded booze, sports on the television, perhaps a food menu with nothing healthy on it, and blue collar, working class people just looking for a place to visit with their friends. No one is necessarily dressed up. Everyone is friendly (until around 2 AM). Most are just looking for somewhere affordable to pass a few hours, get a buzz on, and socialize with the world. Then call it a night.

In my mid-thirties, dive bars began to vanish—at least where I lived near San Francisco. It’s not hard to understand why. The loss of local dive bars correlated entirely with the loss of the local working class. The disparity between rich and poor has increased tremendously over the last decade, sending Bay Area rents and property values into the stratosphere, and culminating in a mass exodus of local workers and business owners alike. Today, when you want to go out for cocktails, you can choose between a fancy $15 martini at the latest chic lounge, likely named (insert food-related noun) & (insert nature-related noun), or a barstool at the nearest corporate chain. There are still a few hidden gems if you know where to look, but they’re often ghost towns, remnants of a past no longer coveted by the new populace.

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The San Fernando Valley, on the other hand, has not yet suffered the same fate, which is why I feel very much at home already. There are entire neighborhoods that feel like nothing has changed since 1971, making every night an opportunity to relish that incredible nostalgia. Last night, for example, my wife and I took a walk up Van Nuys Boulevard and found ourselves behind a couple of $5 gin and tonics, laughing and chatting with fellow forty-year olds on a no-frills Saturday night. Since we’re both following a strict keto diet, we decided to go all the way with nachos, a grilled cheese, fries, mozzarella sticks, and a French dip that made me feel 15 years old again. I think our tab at the end of the night was $50, and that included four cocktails. It was energizing. We both woke up this morning feeling renewed (and that was after two bottles of wine, as well). It was like waking up from a happy dream.

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Last night was also a gorgeous evening for a walk, the moon sitting high above Ventura Boulevard as we made our way home. I’m very much smitten by the valley’s diverse selection of store fronts, shops, bars, restaurants, and people, as total gentrification still seems very far away. Most young singles want to live in West Hollywood or near the beach, while the young families are now buying in Altadena and the lovely enclaves to the east. The valley, however, remains the valley: a giant swath of strip malls with some pretty great things sandwiched in between. We chatted with a group of skateboarding teens on the way to dinner, and on the way back a guy asked us if we wanted to smoke crystal meth.

I love it here.

-David Driscoll