Here's to another 100+ years of rickety dive bar drinking.
Prohibition is a pretty significant dividing line in dive bar history, some of America’s oldest dive bar institutions forming the day after its repeal or thereabouts. And then there are the dive bars that predate Prohibition, weathering that storm to emerge on the other side (with maybe a little production on the side all the while). The Trap in Sacramento isn’t just a pre-Prohibition bar or one of the oldest dive bars in the city. The Trap is one of the oldest businesses of any kind in Sacramento or its surrounding area, dating back to the 1860s. Not the 1960s. 1860s.
Certified as a historic building in 2009, The Trap looks like it could collapse at a moment’s notice, a true dive bar shack if ever one existed. Renovation can sometimes neuter even the most historic of dive bars, making it difficult to picture that same building existing pre-Prohibition. The Trap does not suffer this issue, the street corner location, the awning out front, the dusty parking lot, all of it adds to an image that can be easily pictured in the 1860s looking remarkably similar to today’s incarnation.
It should come as no surprise after one glance at the building that it began its life as part bar, part grocery store, a dusty outpost on the fringes of Sacramento at the time. The Sacramento dive bar’s original name, Pimentel’s Ingleside Café first gave way to a more colloquial Pimentel’s Saloon moniker before ultimately settling on the even more informal name of The Trap in 1964. Debate exists around exactly when a bar was added to the property and the precise date of the structure’s opening, but there is no doubt that this is a historical setting and one of Sacramento’s oldest spots to grab a beer.
The fact The Trap continues to operate as its typical cash-only, beer & wine self today comes after a shaky time in 2022 when the bar and its plot of land went up for sale. Thankfully, the family of ex-Sacramento Kings owner Gregg Lukenbill purchased the icon, local neighborhood residents well acquainted with the space. Fresh plans may be in the cards (food has been mentioned as a potential addition), but local ownership makes it more likely that the historic dive bar charm of The Trap will be preserved.
And that charm is on full display at first glance, a building that gives off the feeling of a lean-to thanks to a long wood awning big enough to look almost like a drive-thru lane past the front door. Parking along the streetcorner location is ample by dive bar standards, the gravel and dirt lot stretching around the front half of the building. The awning’s pools and roof look well-weathered and the wooden tiles that cover the front of The Trap have similarly seen brighter days. A chain-link fence extends from the building, wrapping around a spacious back patio area.
Inside, the wood tiling out front is reflected in similar, if less beaten-up, wood tiling inside to serve as a one-up to the more typical dive bar classic vertical wood paneling. A zig-zag bar sits in the middle of the front room, flanked by wooden stools that stretch around the horseshoe design, a dive bar island in the center of the building. Updates have been made in spots, including some of the paint and the ceiling, but the wooden tiling and scuffed bar counter bring the vibe back down to earth a bit. Maybe most attractively in this first room, the beer coolers look ancient in the best possible way, covered in beer signs and bumper stickers.
This bar area opens up into a second room that includes a pair of pool tables atop what has notoriously been considered a slanted floor playing surface over the years. This area is pretty cleared out when it comes to seating, instead accommodating pool players with a handful of drinking rails around the edges of the room that features dark wood paneling halfway up each wall before giving way to plain white walls. The decoration game here and throughout The Trap isn’t the cluttered mess of some dive bars, rather a mix of old and new beer signs and posters sporadically distributed through each room.
Off of the pool room, a door opens up into the spacious back patio that includes fresh pool tables, string lates, cornhole boards, a beer pong table and more amenities to take advantage of the usually friendly Sacramento weather. The fence that encloses the space snakes around a few trees that provide a dive bar secret garden vibe to the space in back, making for a pretty pleasant place to spend an evening with a domestic beer in hand.
In many ways, the history of The Trap sells the dive bar experience found there before ever stepping foot inside. But the experience lives up to not only the story but the epic exterior that crosses a rickety shack with an old-time grocery store. Thankfully, new ownership in the form of local patrons familiar with the historic, dusty, dive bar majesty of the space ensures at least a good shot at preserving what is one of Sacramento’s oldest and most unique drinking vibes.