Of the various and sundry bars found in Los Angeles, probably the rarest is the Old School Elbow Bender. We've got Trendy Bars (notable for their hyperbolic mixologists). We've got Sports Bars. We've got Wine Bars. But Elbow Benders -- bars with tradition, age, history -- of these we have sadly few.
There's the fine bar at Musso & Frank, of course, and at The Grill on the Alley. There are the bars at El Cholo and Cole's. And then, there's the glory of Long Beach, a wonderful establishment called Joe Jost's, that's been in business since 1924, and definitely looks it.
This is the sort of bar that Jackie Gleason, in his bartender persona, would have been glad to work in. It's hard -- in fact, it's impossible -- to describe Joe Jost's without coughing up hoary old verbiage like ''patina of age,'' and ''a bar polished by generations of working class elbows, sweat and beer.'' And the darned thing is, all those clichés are absolutely true when it comes to Joe's. They were probably penned to describe this good old beer joint, with its loyal following both young and old.
At 85, Joe Jost's isn't anywhere near retirement -- the place looks as good as it ever has. It's basically two rooms -- a large barroom in the front, and a larger pool hall in the rear. I am not talking about a single pool table around which an assortment of aging delinquents loiter; I am speaking of a genuine pool hall, complete with a line of tables, green-shaded lamps hanging from overhead, and a miasma of smoke drifting through the air. Paul Newman would have been thrilled.
In front, most of the customers are at the bar, watching whatever sporting event happens to be on TV, or chatting casually with the bartenders, who look nothing like Jackie Gleason. They're youthful, tanned lads, in Joe Jost's t-shirts. And they pour a schooner of beer (20 ounces worth, in a glass that seems to weigh about twice that; you can develop muscles just drinking at Jost's), and put together a Joe's Special with the ease of barkeeps who have been doing it for the better part of this century.
The Joe's Special, which many order with their schooners, is a sandwich of a plump Polish sausage on rye, amended with Swiss cheese, mustard and a pickle. The other de rigueur house snack is an egg, pickled in house, served with pretzels and jalapenos. Interestingly, the bartenders claim that pickled eggs outsell the sandwiches, with some 12,000 eggs consumed per month, compared with 10,000 sandwiches. In either case, 20,000 schooners are dispensed to wash the dishes down.
Appropriately enough, Joe Jost's sits in one of Long Beach's most ethnically eclectic neighborhoods; driving to the bar from the Long Beach Freeway, you go past blocks that are alternately African-American, Latino, Cambodian and Vietnamese. All around Joe Jost's the world is awash with change. But inside, time stands still. Eight decades ago, the booths across from the bar were probably filled with flappers; today, they're occupied by boomers, yuppies, X-ers, Y-ers and Z-ers. At Joe Jost's the more the world changes, the more Joe's stays blessedly the same.
Joe Jost's, 2803 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, 562-439-5446