A neon sign hard to miss and everything dive bar signage should be.
There are few things as majestic as a great dive bar sign atop a space that can pay off the appeal outside with the ambiance inside. Sacramento’s Flame Club could be the ultimate dive bar inside and still struggle to do justice to one of the all-time great dive bar signs that has graced the small building in south Sacramento since 1953.
Many are the dive bar neon signs that include an arrow directing potential patrons inside for a drink but rare is the dive bar neon sign cut into the shape of an arrow itself. At night, the unique shape of the sign makes it almost feel like it is hovering above the street below, some kind of futuristic hover-sign that still somehow manages to capture the appeal of a 1950s-era dive bar. In daylight, the red shape of the arrow contrasts against a white triangle through the center, a shape I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before and kind of hope I don’t ever see again to preserve the uniqueness of the sign’s appeal.
Not content to sit on the appeal of its neon sign as the only element of exterior appeal, a massive mural has been painted on the side of the building inscribed with “Dance Gavin Dance,” a reference to the rock band by the same name founded in Sacramento. Modern and classic signage aside, Flame Club itself is a red brick building on a corner lot that has been a neighborhood staple for decades with the curb appeal that fits the bill. The site sits on a lot that includes a parking area, convenient when visiting but even more important as the lot doubles as a makeshift back patio as the drinking spills out into a table or two set up near the rear of the building.
Inside, there are no-frills dive bars and then there’s Flame Club, a square box of a room that includes a long bar on one side, a few round tables in the center of the space and a shuffleboard game along the opposite wall. The bar itself has been upgraded over the years, dark wood playing against exposed brick in the form of liquor bottle shelving that dots the area behind the bar. Classic low shelving is built into the bar back, illuminated shelving completing the bar’s liquor selection.
The space here has been simplified beyond the typical dive bar clutter, a string of metal lunchboxes over the mirror behind the bar representing one of the few areas of true dive bar decoration. The occasional beer sign can be found dotting the walls throughout the space and two small TVs anchor the top corners of the wall above the bar, but this is as subdued a dive bar as you will find. Short red tables that look perfectly at home in a Sacramento dive bar offer the bulk of the seating inside, a pair of fans overhead and, crucially, a couple of wall-mounted AC units above the seating area as well.
All that being said, a true corner neighborhood dive bar, especially one with roots in the 1950s, is about more than just the amenities within. Case in point, the bar rail inside features a little nook at the top of the L-shaped layout that produces a small angle just tight enough to spark conversation among locals, among strangers, among whoever stumbled into Flame Club that evening. Finding myself in the middle of a semi-animated conversation about politics, I was drawn in and included. And that’s exactly what a place like Flame Club provides, an unpretentious and neighborhood-pure respite from the world outside.
The Flame Club neon sign will of course endure as the signature visual feature of the Sacramento dive bar mainstay, but interior amenities or not, the real story here is the longevity of a pure, neighborhood-driven, locals-heavy but outsider-welcome dive bar. That a 1953 original piece of neon artwork hangs above the door only sweetens the pot.