You know it's a dive when: The lighted sign for the bar is over a door that doesn't take you into the bar itself, but instead leads you into a motel maze complete with flickering lights and weird noises that make you wonder what your "last known photo" will look like. The door said "Use Obb Entrance." Not sure what an "obb" is, but we eventually found the bar, behind the Day's Inn, nowhere near the door we entered.
Relics of a dive bar: Owner Connie Derry has owned bars around Des Moines for more than 40 years, and as you enter, you'll find framed stories about some of these bars. From long-defunct venues like The Keo Night Club, the Top Drawer (which is now the Twisted Parrot), and Connie's (which is now Jeannie's Bottle), Derry is deeply entwined with the Des Moines bar scene. She recently turned 72, but still spends almost every night at her bar, wandering the room, hugging patrons and suggesting drinks.
"I love my customers, they're my kids," Derry told me.
On a side note, I took a seat at a table and looked over at the wall to see a younger version of myself staring back at me from a story I wrote about the opening of one of Derry's bars.
What we ordered: A Sam Adams Winter Lager, for $3. That night, a Thursday, domestic bottles and wells were $2, with specials changing nightly. This Sam Adams was one of the coldest beers I've ever had.
Local flavor: In addition to Derry, the bar was full of colorful characters. It's a younger crowd, which Derry says is a new experience for her. As we walked up there was a crowd outside smoking that included a large man saying "Touch it, touch it, touch it" to no one in particular (what "it" was, we didn't know, which was a little off-putting). On the other hand, there was a guy sporting an awesome mullet inside, with a sleeveless T-shirt and sweet mustache. I also saw a regular with crutches and a wheelchair, who was obviously determined not to miss her night at the bar.
Best deals: On Mondays the bar features free burgers, which is a great deal. It used to be unlimited, but after some customers started trying to down six or seven, Derry capped the maximum number of free burgers at two.
You'll be back for: Cold beers, local history and a chance to chat with "Mama" Derry.
Info: 4845 Merle Hay Road, 278-2810
Hours: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. daily
Your dive bar challenge: Get a hug from Connie.