Ernie’s Interlude Cocktail Lounge

Sacramento, California

Johnnie's Tavern - Columbus Dive Bar - Exterior

In Short

As pure as the immaculate mural over the front door, Ernie’s Interlude Cocktail Lounge is a Sacramento dive bar classic. Opened in 1959, the space has seen considerable upgrades over the years, but there’s something about a windowless, dimly-lit, mirrored space with a horseshoe bar that preserves that perfectly divey, neighborhood feel despite a refinished floor or revamped ceiling.

Field Rating

8

out of 10

Because there's something special about a lightless, mirrored lounge.

Field Note

Sometimes a dive bar has the shades drawn tight to keep out the sun and sometimes a dive bar fills exterior windows with enough neon and memorabilia to swallow up the light. And sometimes a dive bar is built intentionally with no exterior windows and no prospect of sunlight creeping inside. Ernie’s Interlude Cocktail Lounge in northeast Sacramento is one such dive bar, a purposefully created space meant to protect a day’s drinking from pesky interference from things like time or natural light.

As far as Sacramento dive bar institutions go, Ernie’s Interlude (sometimes referred to as the ‘Lude) is up there with the longest tenured outposts in the city. Opened in 1959, 50th and 60th anniversary parties have come and gone in recent decades, a testament to the timeless appeal of a windowless alcove that serves affordable drinks. That Ernie’s also features karaoke every weekend only adds to the allure, drawing diverse crowds that skew a little older during the week and a little younger during weekend evening karaoke hours.

A few of those decades can be seen in the form of golf bag tags embedded in a table or two surrounding the horseshoe bar in the middle of the space.

A few of those decades can be seen in the form of golf bag tags embedded in a table or two surrounding the horseshoe bar in the middle of the space, the symbol of a golf group that started up in the mid-1970s consisting of Ernie’s regulars. Some of the bag tags have seen better days, but they represent one of those little twists on the dive bar theme that reflect the spot a place like Ernie’s holds in the hearts and livers of those who live nearby.

Unique is a good descriptor for the side above the front door, not a piece of dive bar neon or a backlit sign jutting from an exterior wall. Ernie’s Interlude is depicted in mural form along the white wall that sits atop the blue-painted front door below. In typical classy dive bar fashion, a martini glass adds some visual appeal to the depiction, the perfect signal for the vibe found inside. On the corner of a strip mall next to a nail salon, Ernie’s looks like a dive bar opened in 1959 in the best possible way despite fresh paint on the white bricks and blue wooden panels out front.

Because dive bars don’t play by the typical rules, it is a compliment and not a slight that there’s something about the interior that feels like an old-school Vegas lounge crossed with the bar just outside the main floor of a strip club. Some of that similarity comes from the mirrored walls that surround the small space, a horseshoe-style bar sitting in the middle of an open, square room. Upgrades can be seen throughout in the ceiling and flooring especially, but the timeless nature of the space prevents those updates from detracting from a 1959 original.

And that’s the vibe inside Ernie’s Interlude, a neighborhood spot, a place for regulars, an easy trigger to a conversation.

Large, padded bar stools, chairs really, surround the bar oasis in the center of the room, string lights over head playing against a dark wood-paneled ceiling that makes a windowless dive bar feel even darker. There are few things as social as a u-shaped bar rail in a dive bar, the kind of visual flow that almost forces conversation. And that’s the vibe inside Ernie’s Interlude, a neighborhood spot, a place for regulars, an easy trigger to a conversation.

Liquor bottles surround an island within the bar’s footprint, illuminated shelving providing another glimmer of light in the otherwise dim environment. High top tables surround the bar area beneath a few framed photos and a stylized piece of martini-themed artwork here and there. Along the back wall, a popcorn machine adds to the ambiance, building on the neighborhood vibe.

Ernie’s Interlude Cocktail Lounge is timeless in every sense of the word, a holdover from 1959 with some updates but a clear link to its past and a place that feels like time ceases to affect thanks to the lack of windows and perpetual low lighting. While some dive bars use the word ‘lounge’ as an ironic twist on an otherwise rustic interior, Ernie’s lives up to the title, all tied together through a theme-perfect mural above the door out front.

Photos

The Basics

2926 Eastern Ave
Sacramento, CA 95821

Classification:
Neighborhood Bar

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