- Jim Ingram
There was a time when you’d be discouraged from going to dive bars.
The general assumption was they were filthy places full of shady characters with lowered expectations for anything other than a cheap beer and a greasy sandwich. Who would want to hang out in that sort of environment?
Well…me, for one.
One rule I developed many moons ago, and live by to this day: be willing to go into any bar and have one round. If it’s not to your liking, for any reason, pay your tab and slip out ASAP.
In the intervening years since I developed the rule, there’s been a surge of interest in dive bar culture. No two dives are the same, and there’s been a recent decry as the herd of dives are thinned by the blade of economic development in larger cities. That’s why someone has to carry the flag of appreciating the dive bars we have right here in the Miami Valley. You’re welcome.
My first foray into chronicling the Dayton-area’s best dives brought me to Oscar’s Bar & Grill on N. Dixie Dr. in Vandalia. Though open for nearly a decade under the current ownership, manager Matthew Zalar has recently made strides to improve the bar’s appeal.
Like most dives, Oscar’s doesn’t look like much from outside. In fact, without looking for it, you’d likely drive right past it. However, the interior comes as a pleasant surprise. A dark décor is belied by the ever-changing neon lights proudly displaying the bar’s name.
A thin U-shaped bar juts out into the dining area, with a separate dining room equipped with a giant projection screen, pool tables, a shuffleboard table and dart boards lining the walls. Plasma screens surround you in either room.
BOOZE & FOOD
Oscar’s offers the standard cheap American bottle and draft beer you’d expect from any bar of its ilk. However, a modest but impressive list of craft beers available is almost cause to revoke their dive status.
The menu is where this dive really stands out, with a full array of soups, salads, sandwiches and appetizers at above-average quality using locally sourced ingredients. The deliciously meaty chicken wings are worth the trip alone, and the joint’s website brags about their Coney dogs, which they offer for $1.50 on Sundays and Mondays.
But what most impressed me was how Oscar’s kitchen does the little things so well. You’d think anybody could throw an order of jalapeño poppers in a fryer, right? I’ve been to so many places where this seemingly small task results in failure. The fired food here was crisp, but not overdone.
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Like any good dive bar, Oscar’s has its roster of regulars from varying backgrounds and various age groups who seem to share pride in this little watering hole. You’ll see people in their 60s and 70s bumping elbows with the twenty-somethings while the jukebox plays music from various decades overhead. The place has a pleasant vibe with little to no intimidation factor of new customers being “the outsiders."
Neither the dirt cheap nor of the arm-and-leg variety, Oscar’s is a place that won’t break your wallet.
I found the staff to be enthusiastic at best and indifferent at worst. Zalar practically bent over backwards for customers on multiple occasions during my visit.
Zalar has made efforts to make Oscar’s a destination to fans of local music of varying genres. The bar employs the PA-on-a-stick method, with surprisingly decent results. What the bar doesn’t have is a stage, which is something Zalar says he’s working on for the long-term future. Bands perform in the bar dining area currently.
A recent customer review of the place reads: “Super-friendly staff and great bands! Happy, friendly, diverse crowd. Was visiting from out of town, and will definitely go back.”
There’s no danger factor here. It’s almost too nice to be a dive. But the reasonable prices, great atmosphere and killer classic bar grub make this burgeoning bar a dive to visit.