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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Paul & Harvey--Perfect Dive

By Eric A. Carlson

"It's as old as the Golden Gate Bridge."

--Maria Glass

AT 6 EVERY MORNING, seven days a week, Pavo Grgurevic opens the doors at Paul & Harvey's to the sound of birds waking up and street cleaners swabbing down South Murphy Avenue in Sunnyvale. You can count on it. Since June of 1937, the bar has been open 20 hours a day, with the exception of three days in 1988. That breaks down to over 466,000 hours--almost nonstop--of swilling booze and wanton carousing.

The building Paul & Harvey occupies--130 S. Murphy Ave.--is older than the bar. Pavo says it may have been a smithy or garage prior to 1937--oral tradition recounts that horseshoes were shaped here. The nude painting behind the bar, affectionately referred to as Miss Gloria, was rendered by Nasty John around 1965--plus or minus a decade. At one time, any tavern worth its salt had a nude masterpiece behind the bar. Accompanied by spittoons and a mop boy to empty them. The great western painter A.D.M. Cooper, in flamboyant gestures, paid off San Jose saloon tabs with naked lady paintings.

When the Del Monte cannery was operational, workers would swarm onto Murphy Avenue at quitting time. Some men would place their paychecks on the bar and proclaim, "I'll drink that much." Not an easy job mucking around with prunes all day, I reckon. Paul & Harvey, Murphy's Law (which was once named Pastime and located across the street), Miramar and other saloons developed bitter rivalries--often resulting in recreational bloodletting and destruction of property.

Several years ago, a photograph was hijacked from behind the bar depicting Paul & Harvey as it was in the early 1940s: bartenders standing at attention; customers posing, mugs in hand; a trough spittoon running the length of the bar--for spitting and pissing into (yet another civility gone by the wayside). Waves Smokehouse and Saloon (San Jose) had a similar bar, with top-of-the-line marble trough spittoon/urinal (a 1-foot section now preserved under Plexiglas on the dance floor). When the ambience became pungent, a mop boy would slosh a bucket of water down the trough--and you were good to go. Maria promises a reward if the photograph is returned. And I would like to propose a curse to the perpetrator if it is not--consider the fate of Toys "R" Us on El Camino Real, built in the area of the Murphy ranch and haunted by the ghost of a suitor of Martin Murphy's daughter. (Even renowned psychic Sylvia Brown has been unable to entice the ghost of Crazy Johnny back to the light.)

In a previous column about Paul & Harvey, I met wunder-bartenders Brandi and Amber. Further research provided me the opportunity to meet Maria, who has held up her end of the P & H fort since 1990 and is a dynamic force to be reckoned with, and Darcy, who, despite shooting me with a green water pistol, provided invaluable information about the small, toplofty town of Bolinas. She remembers the town well: "This is what I think of Boboland. On Friday nights the alien ship lands and drops 'em off, and those that don't make it back to the ship on Sunday are forever lost in Boboland." Amber quipped that Darcy, a longtime customer at P & H, took to bartending "like a fish in water."

Paul & Harvey disappoints as a dive bar in one respect: the Sunnyvale no-smoking ordnance is strictly enforced. A true-blue dive bar would ignore that ordnance with impunity. But Mme. X reveals that there is a nonfunctioning condom machine, dating back to the 1960s, in the women's bathroom. That is a step in the right direction. Along with a disco ball arriving soon from Luxembourg.

Final note: Owners Tony Bilich and Pavo Grgurevic have a nearly perfect neighborhood bar. Rowdy at times, but with great big loving arms.

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From the May 10-16, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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