The Global Barfly’s Companion #20 by Todd Gray
Venue: The Elbow Room
Location: 2213 W Cervantes St, Pensacola, FL 32505
Don’t let The Elbow Room’s location scare you off. Google reviewers will tell you it’s in a shadier part of Pensacola. Really this means gentrification hasn’t extended this far up Cervantes Street yet, though it’s slowly working its way there if Pensacola’s downtown residential neighborhood is any indicator. Like many such bars, the Elbow Room refused to move when the boundaries of the “nicer” part of town retreated to extend its claim over newer, cleaner parcels of urban sprawl. If you’re not a local such bars are hard to find. If it weren’t for word of mouth I never would’ve found the Elbow Room myself. Though don’t misunderstand me, calling the Elbow Room a dive-bar would be a misnomer. You’d also be insulting Captain Kirk if you were to debase the Elbow Room’s good name. (More on the bar’s Trekkie influence later).
A small and square brick building, like a little ranch house, the bar stands adjacent to an open parking lot cratered with potholes. The brick work is red, off-red, lighter-red, and burnt red. The aggregate effect of these reds is nothing short of ugly. You wonder really if you’ve the right place, if you might not turn around, but then there’s the inconspicuous metal-worked sign pinned to the building’s front that reads: Elbow Room Pub & Pizza. No windows. No way to judge what’s inside but to enter through its door that’s large and upholstered with red pleather. Maybe this is a safety measure? a screening process to protect the patrons inside from unwanted customers? Most likely it’s a stylistic holdover from the 70s. There’s no way to know for certain, only you’ve got to steel your nerves and push ahead.
Inside is more red. The same red pleather adorns the barstools and a nice cushion of it runs tacked to the bar’s edge. The bar itself dominates the wall directly in front of where you enter.
A few tables and chairs are outliers to the right, which is also where the Pac-Man machine is and a real juxebox which is laced with aglow neon tubes and is, sure enough, stocked with real records.
Also here, lest I forget, is a bowling game with physical pins that’s operation is an intelligence test I failed.
To your immediate left a small enclave like a narrow hallway leading nowhere telescopes away from you—more table seating. Overhead all this the lighting is dull, also semi-red, creating an ambiance that complements all the aged, vintage beer signs that line the walls. It’s seat yourself at the Elbow Room and once the eyes adjust nowhere’s a bad choice, but I preferred the area closest to the jukebox. My choice was predicated on the fact that life-sized cardboard cut-outs of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock occupy this part of the Elbow Room. This is why I sought the bar out. The USS Enterprise’s two officers stand like sentinels over your drinking experience, readied to be called into action should they be asked.
The Elbow Room serves Italian, not only pizza. Good Italian. Damn good. Also some vegetarian options. The beer selection is what you’d expect and then some. Mostly domestics though. There’s liquor of course, some fancy named shots I don’t bother with that are hidden somewhere amongst the faux-foliage of vines framing the bar’s backdrop mirror. Thematically the Elbow Room is hard to peg. I was told it was Star Trek themed. Not so. The owner is a Trekkie though, so there’s a lot of Trek memorabilia on the walls alongside the retro (and probably original) beer signs. This is not the original location. The original was next door but burnt down. They rebuilt. All this history I get off the menu. Also this: the bar is haunted by some kindly spirit of a former employee. I feel bombarded here, universes colliding. But there’s order in chaos, an authenticity of experience sorely missed inside the places farther down Cervantes where tourists roam after exiting I-10.
Inside the Elbow Room this night Willie Nelson’s voice skips on the jukebox and a naval aviator—a Blue Angel, kinda pudgy—sits at the bar beside me. I order a Genesee Cream Ale, which is a brew from upstate New York, an anomaly of sorts in Florida, but that shouldn’t be too surprising given the influx of Yankee fans that retire to the Sunshine State. After a few I know why Genny Ale is imported—they’re smooth, like cream soda—so I drink more and order The Enterprise (a baked, breaded eggplant hoagie made with goat cheese and marinated tomatoes). Finally, and this is my advice to you too, I mind the house rules, especially no. 8) Don’t feed the tribbles, and keep them away from Klingons. And, of course, and most importantly no. 19) Live long and prosper.
Todd Gray is a PhD student at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers. His stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, Southwestern American Literature, Hawai’i Review, Belt Magazine, and others. Sometimes he posts on twitter @todd_gray.