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Jun 25, 2014

Adding this place to my dive bar hall

Snoopy's ... where, thankfully, no one knows your name.
Snoopy's ... where, thankfully, no one knows your name.

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- A dive bar is a deeply personal thing, and the things that draw us back to them over and over often have to do more with the warm buzz of nostalgia than the actual brick and mortar. I love many of them, in different ways, for different reasons: Igor's in Uptown New Orleans, the Tune Inn on Capitol Hill, Earnestine & Hazel's in Memphis, Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood, Mac's Club Deuce in Miami, Don's Million Dollar Bar in Key West. They don't have to be crappy or cheap to be a dive bar, since the word is more about a feeling than the décor. I'd argue that, on certain nights, with certain crowds and at certain tables, P.J. Clarke's in Midtown Manhattan can feel like a dive bar. My favorite bar in the world, the City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, sits above one of the best restaurants in the South.

All this brings me to last night, and a new addition to the dive bar hall of fame, this entry on a quiet street in San Jose at a place called Snoopy's. My friend Joe used to live nearby, and he told me to check it out, selling it with the promise that Snoopy's sold the coldest beer in town. He said every night out ended there, with what the Ticos call "zarpe," literally "bon voyage," code for the last drink of the night, which is obviously never the last drink of the night.

We left our interview, which we did in an insanely loud Cuban restaurant turned dance club, and wanted a nightcap. I remembered Joe's suggestion and the driver took us to Snoopy's, which looked like something from a Louisiana fishing village southeast of New Orleans. There was an old Pepsi sign announcing the name of the bar mounted to the side of the building, and inside, drunks shouted above the drone of Central American folk music. The famous national beer is Imperial, but Joe said to go with Pilsen, a more blue-collar beer. We ordered a round.

The bar top looked like aqua Formica -- the light was appropriately dark enough to make colors and materials hard to make out -- and the beers did arrive almost too cold to touch. One Pilsen turned into two, into three, into four, each one the last of the night. Leo, my translator and I, finally got to sit and talk, to take a moment during the madness of this trip to just be. He's become a close friend, and I hope to one day sit with him in the City Grocery. We've experienced a lot of amazing things these past few weeks, seeing things I may never see again, to quote the song. But I know for sure I won't ever forget the long exhale of the ice-cold beer in a dark bar called Snoopy's, feeling connected to all the other places I love -- feeling, briefly, home.