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Best Place to Throw Darts: Dee's Café

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To the best of this reporter's knowledge, Exene Cervenka and John Doe have never joined their voices to wail the words "Dee's Café" in their dissonant coyote harmony. If they have, however, it'll come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the place. Dee's is worthy of homage from one and all. And though mightily deserving of the honor bestowed upon it by City Paper readers, darts are only the beginning.

By the time this ink is smearing your fingers, the dartboard by the front door will be gone, having proved perilous to bouncers reading innocently nearby. The board was raffled off as of Thanksgiving evening. Should the winning ticket be unearthed from the linty smoke-scented pocket of yours truly, those regularly stationed within ricochet distance of the back room's dartboard will take deep joyful breaths that I've been given the chance to improve my game. (My throws don't fly so straight, but they do bounce!)

Whether in darts or debate, Dee's charm is in its lack of pretense, and it's one of the few South Side beer halls not sullied by attempts at gentrification. Sure, there's a giant mural on the back-room wall, and the front-room jukebox boasts state-of-the-art technology. But the mural was executed by Rick Bach, a local mainstay in and of himself, and the speakers are much more likely to reverberate with Tom Waits' throaty rasp than with whatever nonsense Britney/Christina/Jessica has been up to lately ... unless someone generally possessing far better musical judgment has thought a little bit of pop tart might be good for a few yuks. Thankfully, the humor rarely stoops to such a level.

In addition to being an incredible place in which to set a tiny projectile into motion both upstairs and down, Dee's also claims enough pool tables to keep the most ravenous shark merrily plonking the 8-ball into the corner pocket. And the drink prices are so low that you'll have plenty of cash to tip your deserving bartenders with generous abandon. (And you will need cash, by the way: No tabs, cards or credit accepted. Also verboten are cigars, blends and cloves -- but keep puffing on those Camel Lights and fuck the impending smoking ban.)

Dee's heavy-duty gang of bartenders might not always know your name, but after a few visits, they'll be familiar with your pour. It's like Cheers, but without the infuriatingly syrupy theme song, or the white-collar trash.

There are exceptions on weekends, when brief stops are made by sightseers traveling between sets of velvet ropes. The aisles are clogged with weekend warriors who think they have a chance of scoring with the punk-rock chicks. (Fat chance, dickheads.) On such evenings, the ladies' room is polluted by screeching would-be Paris Hiltons afraid to get their high-class poon too close to the toilet seats. Fortunately, it doesn't take long to register that no photographers from Maniac will be showing up, and the tourists move on. The real people, and the real Pittsburgh, remain.

You can talk politics. You can talk art. You can talk sports, whether it be as witness to the Steelers' latest humiliation or triumph, or as a participant, whether your field of play be machine, table or sexy mofo at the end of the bar. You can even talk shit, as long as you're ready for the smackdown. (The pain of which will likely be eased by your adversary picking up the next round.) And you can always play.

In "The Have Nots," X's classic shout-out to the indispensable institution of the neighborhood saloon, John and Exene hail these foundations of the community as "A steady place to study and drink." Dee's Café undeniably qualifies on both counts. And as a steady place to shoot pool. And sing along with Joe Strummer. And watch the election results come in. And, of course, to throw darts.

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