What Makes a Good Cop Bar

I was talking with Author Scott Deitche last week about his upcoming book, Cocktail Noir. He wanted to know my main character’s favorite drink, and I regretted telling him that Matt Sinclair’s had his last glass of bourbon six months before the story in the first book took place because of the wreckage booze caused in his life.

The conversation turned to Cop Bars, and Scott asked what makes a good cop bar. Movie cops drinkingSince I had spent quite a bit of time during my career with Oakland PD (well, at least the first fourteen years) sitting on bar stools after work, I had some insight into this. 

Location, location, location 

A cop bar must be close to and accessible to the police station so that it’s easy for cops to stop by when they get off work. Over the years, there’ve been a number of different watering holes frequented by OPD. When I came on, many day-shift cops would go to Dahkes, a bar within a Hofbrau directly across the street from the PAB (Police Administration Building/Police Headquarters). When I worked swing shift (4-midnight), the younger officers on the department frequented the bar in the Mexicali Rose Restaurant. It was two blocks from the PAB, and it wasn’t unusual to see every table in the bar area covered with pitchers of beer and margaritas and surrounded by half of the officers on the swing shift, along with dispatchers, EMTs, and nurses. When I transferred to Vice Narcotics a few years later, I was introduced to a small, dark, hotel bar across the street from the PAB where the undercover cops could drink without rubbing shoulders with the uniformed cops and thus marking themselves as cops. The Warehouse, four blocks from the PAB, has been THE cop bar in Oakland for the last three decades.

Cheap drinks

A cop bar doesn’t have to be the cheapest place in town, but most cops aren’t interested in $10 martinis or $12 shots of top-shelf tequila. They’re more likely to drink domestic beer (out of the bottle or by the pitcher) and simple mixed drinks or shots. Free happy hour food is another plus. 

Safe

It has to be a place where cops can relax and let their hair down, not a place where they need to look over their shoulder or worry the next guy through the door is going to hold up the place. They also have to feel comfortable talking about how the mayor, city council, judges, police chief, and half the brass are all idiots, without fear of being called into Internal Affairs or seeing their comments in the local newspaper. 

Cop-friendly management

What makes a cop bar is the attitude of the management and employees. The owner and bartenders either love or hate cops; there’s no in-between. Sometimes a place is aThe Warehouse cop bar for years until management changes and tries to attract a different clientele, so the cops drift away. Cops see the management and employees at The Warehouse as members of the police family. The walls of the bar are covered with police memorabilia: patches from hundreds of departments, photos, and plaques. Non-cop patrons are very welcome, but on more than one occasion, people who verbalized anti-police feelings after a few drinks were “escorted” from the bar. Truth be told, some were physically thrown out the door. ACLU attorneys or public defenders wouldn’t be welcome, but prosecutors from the DA’s Office are regulars. Although the term “police groupie” is out of fashion today and disparaging to those lovely women who love hanging out with cops, The Warehouse has their share of female patrons who have no professional connection to law enforcement. 

Everybody knows your name

The theme song from the TV show, Cheers, reminds me of the sense of community that exists in The Warehouse. A good cop bar is like an old-time neighborhood bar, only the neighborhood consists of shoes who carry a badge and gun for a living and their friends. I returned to The Warehouse for a fellow officer’s retirement party one night after not having been there for more than a year. Before I got halfway across the room, the bartender had an open bottle of Bud Light on the bar waiting for me along with a “How ya doing, Brian,” as if I’d never been gone.

Cop bars are also where police go to celebrate or mourn. Three years ago, I flew to In Memory Of Tee ShirtOakland from my home in Connecticut for the funeral of four OPD officers who were killed in the line of duty during one tragic incident. The Warehouse was where everyone went the night before and the night after the funeral. The street was blocked off to handle the crowd of hundreds of cops from Oakland and around the country, and the contingent from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and NYPD’s finest felt as comfortable there as they did at their cop bars back home.

10 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Cop Bar

  1. You nailed it Col. Klink! But, time has really flown by. I started going to the Public House with Tony the bartender shortly out of the academy. When he moved up to the Bela Napoli on Telegraph I, along with the rest of the department, followed him there. Spent several years working mostly days in the early and mid-80s and frequently stopped by Dahlkes after work with Al Smith. Finally ended up going to the Warehouse the last decade or so. Lots of good times and good stories at all of them. Maybe sometime I’ll write about some of them…at least those I might remember. BTW: Searched the web and Amazon for info on Red Line until I finally found out it won’t be out to next fall. I can hardly wait. Loved the previews…Semper Fidelis…JAK

    • Thanks for reading this, JAK. It would be interesting for an amaueur OPD historian to research OPD cop bars over the years. I wonder where the cops went before the department had cars. What about in the late 40s and 50s, when most were WWII vets. Yes, the Public House and Bela Napoli were gone when I came on, and even Dahlkes was dwindling in popularity. When we still had rotating shifts, I went there occasionally after day shift, but the bar stools were mostly filled by old timers and we rookies stayed in the fringes.

      You mentioned how people moved to another bar when Tony the bartender moved. Nothing will turn a place into a non-cop bar faster than an owner or bartenders who are anti-police.

      Sorry about your wasted search for my book, but it won’t be released until fall 2015.

      It’s good to see you back on the internet; it must mean you’re getting healthy and stronger. Keep exercising and enjoy life–you’ve still got a few decades remaining.

      Brian

  2. Brian: One of my keys to professional success in OPD was that I never went into a “cop bar.” That said, you missed one of the major players in the OPD cop bar legacy: The Public House.”

    • Thanks, Phil. Ah, yes, I remember your lecture in our academy about working out, keeping our stress level low, and living healthy. Sadly, I ignored much of that for many years of my career; however, if you had entered a “cop bar,” I would have bought you a drink back then. When I came on in 1980, the old-timers talked about the Public House, but I never went there, so it must have been closed by then. I’m very pleased to see you reading this.

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