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Heart and Darkness

Good spirits for bad people at Heart and Dagger Saloon.

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There is a zombie on Heart and Dagger's ceiling. Or something resembling one (it's a bit hard to see): cartoonish body, bloody mouth, arms reaching out surprisingly menacingly for something so thoroughly two-dimensional. If you sit in the right (or is it the wrong?) seat — the sixth barstool from the back door — she stares, distended and dazed-looking eyes boring into you while you drink your beer or take your shot. It's unnerving, and also almost definitely completely intentional.

Heart and Dagger's inside space is dark and small and oddly shaped and, if not quite divey, per se, certainly not bougie, either: black walls, tiled floors, cheap drinks, posters from rock shows and horror films lining the walls and ceilings, more people of the pierced-and-tatted-and-metal-spiked variety than usual filling the room. Draught beers are $4 (Trumer, Widmer, Sierra Nevada, Racer 5 — cash only, please); this is probably not the place to order something involving a tincture. There's a jukebox and a pool table and pinball and not much light. The motto: "Good spirits for bad people."

But any person, good or bad, who enjoys a nice patio (which is to say, everyone who has a brain and/or eyes and/or nerve endings) will do better to sit outside on the back patio, where the sun filters through the trees on nice days and words float up from their respective conversations like refrigerator poetry — "transgender," "microbiologist," "corgi." The space is far from overdesigned, but by virtue of umbrellas, a dog-friendly policy, picnic tables, foliage, and a string of multicolored and permanent Christmas lights, it's been rendered into something much, much greater than the fenced-in rectangle of concrete looking out onto a parking lot that it once was. On a Sunday afternoon in the middle of a December that feels like May, it's possible to sit down with a beer, a taco, and a good book and believe, truly and deeply, that nothing bad exists in the world. And when the sun goes down and it's too dark to read and too cold just to sit, you can go inside and order another beer. And maybe the bartender will be sharing carrots and ranch dressing with the neck-tatted bouncer guy, and you'll notice the glade of hand-decorated Christmas stockings hanging from the ceiling, and the zombie lady will be looking down in a way that suddenly feels not menacing but weirdly munificent.

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