Bar exam • Odd mix of posters, art makes Salt Lake City watering hole endearing.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
On an eerily quiet night at Burt's Tiki Lounge, a delightfully odd mix of posters and artwork are the only audience for two hastily booked West Coast bands.
Seattle band MTNS and the Oakland duo Laughters each perform a set while President John F. Kennedy, Dolly Parton, Pope John Paul II, Jimi Hendrix and Jesus holding a pitcher of beer look on. The 1982 sci-fi horror flick "Swamp Thing" plays muted on two TV screens.
In the hot-and-cold world of dive-bar concert venues, this is a particularly chilly evening.
But the show goes on, just as it has at Burt's for almost 21 years.
From the looks of it, Burt's is being held together by two decades' worth of bumper stickers, tacks, nails, bottle caps and anything else you can slap on a wall. The palm fronds that once accented the interior, however, are long gone.
"It's a dive bar, in the best sense of the word," said six-year Burt's bartender Greg Hogan. "It's not a tiki bar."
It has the look and feel and smell of a fraternity house basement, minus the frat boys.
This bar is somehow instantly endearing, like the flattened face of a pug, so ugly it's curiously cute – though "cute" isn't exactly a word that fits here. Rather, Burt's interior is as visually compelling as scattered debris after a car crash.
"There's so much stuff acquired over many, many years," Hogan says. "I've seen everything in here, but I haven't noticed everything."
On a slow night when the bands are late or don't show up a game of Eye Spy will yield a Pee Wee Herman doll, the statue of a bearded fisherman wearing a yellow rain slicker, Bozo the clown and numerous sarcastic nods to organized religion, including three crosses bearing stuffed bunnies.
"Jesus is 'cut off,' " Hogan said, pointing to a grinning depiction of God's only son behind the bar.
If your belly starts to rumble, Burt's offers two things: pickled eggs from a big jar; and a vending machine near the horrifying bathrooms.
Harder-to-please palates can head down State Street to the Sears parking lot for cheap eats from a taco cart. If the live band in Burt's is bombing, you can march upstairs for a game of pool or go see a man about some skin art at Big Deluxe tattoo shop next door.
"[Burt's] sounds good for metal and punk," said a Big Deluxe apprentice who goes by Yogi. In particular, he said, two Utah bands, Thunderfist and Oldtimer, have done Burt's justice.
"The whole place is interesting," said Yogi, who laughed when recalling a certain walrus under a surfboard near the higher-end booze think Jameson behind the bar.
Don't expect variety at Burt's, which offers a handful of beers (nothing on tap), a few brands of whiskey and one very sweet signature cocktail sans the umbrella called the Cerebral Assassin.
If live music is all that brings you to Burt's, then you've come to the right place. The only question left is what kind of band you'll hear.
"Anything that's gritty, even hip-hop," Hogan said. "We'll throw anything at the wall and see if it sticks."
Speaking of which, MTNS and Laughters stuck around that chilly night for only a few songs each, offering music that could best be described as planned noise.
"Thank you, Salt Lake!" Guy Culver, with Laughters, joked after making strange blips and bleeps come from his Roland Juno-106 keyboard.
Somewhere in the dingy shadows of Burt's that night, a singular clapping sound may have been JFK approving from the great beyond, or maybe he was at least smiling a little wider in his poster.
Burt's Tiki Lounge
This Salt Lake City bar offers live music at a small cover price and cheap drinks next to a tattoo studio.
Where • 726 S. State St., Salt Lake City; 801-521-0572; facebook.com/burts.tikilounge
Hours • Monday-Friday, 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Concerts schedule • reverbnation.com/venue/451089