At first blush, The Aero Club Bar (3365 India St. in Middletown, aeroclubbar.com) wouldn’t seem to be the type of place that would capture my attention. While it offers 20 taps, only about seven of those handles rotate, usually with craft brew coming standard. Aero Club doesn’t offer beer flights, unless you already order your tasters four pint glasses at a time. There’s not even any food. And yet there is one inescapable factor to acknowledge: I want to drink here.
I’ve always had a fondness for dive bars. Beer just tastes better with the looming fear of being stabbed. Of course, my delicate suburban tooshie wouldn’t really have crossed the Aero Club’s threshold back when it was lovingly dubbed “The San Diego Gun and Knife Club” some 50 years ago, but those days are long behind it. Now it’s better known as a Maxim “Dive Bar of the Month,” an honor that owner Bill Lutzius will proudly verify with magazine clippings with little provocation.
Lutzius, like the Aero Club itself, is utterly disinterested in fashion or pretense. He has a deep love of neon lighting and happily adorns any exposed surface with it. His flat-screen TVs flanking the bar eschew brawny sporting events in favor of old-timey silent movies. It’s a blender full of anachronisms that should not harmoniously coexist, but somehow, in the context of an odd little bar that attracts interesting people, it succeeds beautifully.
Like any dive bar worth its salt, the Aero Club has an unwavering commitment to inebriation. This is best exemplified by its wall of more than 450 whiskies, a sight that makes my mouth water and my liver recoil in terror. With whiskey flights starting at $20, you can finally decide if the Speyside single malts or Scottish lowland whiskies deserve the crown for best scotch. The beer’s not without its charms, as well, since all are served here “on nitro” (meaning it uses nitrogen to produce a creamier head and more mellow mouthfeel than carbonated brews). That’s a mixed bag for me, but it delivers old favorites in a new way and is worth a whirl.
I can’t say The Aero Club is cool or conveniently located, but I can say I’ll be going back.