Del Taco is great and all, but this is must-see Yermo attraction.
The experience of finding an out-of-the-way dive bar is always a thrill, let alone one in the midst of the Mojave Desert. Lee’s Tavern is the ultimate Los Angeles to Las Vegas drive dive bar find along one of the few semi-populated stretches between the two cities. Off the main highway, finding Lee’s Tavern is either an intentional act or one that comes as a happy accident while looking for the site of the original Del Taco. Either way, the experience is worth the detour as dive bars are rarely as pure as Yermo, California’s Lee’s Tavern.
Though Lee’s Tavern looks a bit like a classic old school downtown dive bar for locals, it is fair to wonder just how many locals exist in Yermo. As far as well-publicized destinations on the drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Lee’s Tavern is rarely given a mention. Even the thrift store across the street, Thrift & More, holds a bit more notoriety, little else in the way of commerce available nearby. And so it’s a wonder that Lee’s Tavern has persisted since the 1930s, owner Lee and his wife the sole proprietors of a space that looks frozen in time.
As one might expect for a sparsely-visited stretch of off-highway road, signage is at a minimum here, a neon sign with green backing reading “Liquor” the sole suggestion that a business of any kind inhabits the white, dust-washed structure the sign is attached to. Testing the door may bring a little trepidation as it is anyone’s guess exactly what the hours are at Lee’s Tavern, but once opened, a quite literal dive bar oasis exists, down to the vintage shuffleboard machine that commands the lion’s share of the single-room Yermo dive bar.
Lee’s Tavern looks like a seldom-frequented dive bar because that’s exactly what it is, a curiosity that has somehow stayed afloat, stocking to-go beer & liquor in addition to on-site pours. Interior features here are predictably scarce, a shingled, sloped ridge ringing the space to provide a divey counterpoint to the vertical wood paneling that circles Lee’s Tavern. Liquor bottles are lined up on a simple shelf behind the bar and under the bar itself, the selection here beyond what can reasonably be expected from a desert outpost watering hole. If a theme could be attached to the décor here, it might involve fishing thanks to a pair of fish and strings of lures dotting the walls.
Even a dive bar in the middle of the Mojave Desert needs a signature drink and Lee’s Tavern proclaims its Bloody Mary as a must-try attraction. Reviews from the few, select souls to have sampled the concoction back up the reputation and throw on the important disclaimer that these are strong drinks in the middle of what is likely a long drive. Bar seating is largely limited to the fixed, rotating seats that line the bar counter, though a table or two look like they could be cleared off if a crowd of any size assembled.
Thanks to the vintage age of the space, treasures can be found throughout Lee’s Tavern, including a very old-fashioned looking refrigerator still in use behind the bar and a jukebox that has certainly seen better days but looks like it could be activated after some rehabilitation. Song selections can still be seen through the slightly cloudy glass atop the jukebox, including exactly the kind of selections you would expect in a Mojave Desert dive bar ranging from George Strait to Vince Gill. Dust is no stranger to the interior of Lee’s Tavern, resulting in cardboard covering up the vintage shuffleboard table in the center of the room, though the scoreboard is left uncovered and is predictably impressive.
Merchandise is available here, because why not, all of it looking downright beach-themed thanks to tropical color schemes and a recurring palm tree design. The vibe depicted by these shirts and such is hard to reconcile with the beautifully remote location where a blank horizon line is much more likely to be part of the view than a palm tree. Drinks are, you guessed it, absurdly inexpensive here and though a trip to Lee’s Tavern is probably a short stopover for most, it’s maybe the most affordable outpost on what can be a surprisingly expensive restaurant and beverage path between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.