A Changed Perception

The Bashful Bandit is full of mementos. Bras hang from the pipe that extends from the ceiling — mostly solid colors, except for the cheetah-print undergarment in the corner. The wooden bar is scratched with the names of past patrons. Biker gang flags hang side-by-side from another piece of the ceiling. Framed pictures of past events are stacked so close together on the east wall that you can barely see the yellow paint.

“It’s so we don’t forget,” says Dave, the bartender.

The Bashful Bandit, 3586 E. Speedway Blvd., has been a Tucson staple for roughly 25 years, Dave says. A couple of the owners also manage Lindy’s on 4th, another local business that has made its living by being rough around the edges.

The Bashful Bandit received a makeover nearly two years ago for an episode of “American Roadhouse,” a Travel Channel show that renovates biker bars around the country. Some memorabilia was taken down, including bike parts from past wrecks, much to the chagrin of the bar’s patrons.

But the spirit of the Bandit lives on.

The simple white building is easy to miss — which I did the first time down Speedway — but the inside looks like its patrons: rugged.

Dave asks my friend Erin and me if we’d like something to drink, so I inquire if the bar has a signature beverage.

“This place is simple,” a patron sitting next to us interrupts. “What you see back there is what they have.”

Dave recedes to a fridge labeled “naughty bears” and comes back holding a tiny plastic container. He sticks two toothpicks in the plump gummy bears and tells us to try them.

We split the four gummy bears, and after telling him they’re good, he lets us know he soaked them overnight in vodka and rum.

“It’s custom here to toss the plastic over your shoulder when you’re done,” Dave says with a laugh, which prompts Erin to discard the container.

He also tells us to try the Jell-O shots. Erin and I sample blue raspberry, and she also opts for watermelon. Three more plastic containers over our shoulders.

Dave just laughs, even though he’s probably responsible for cleaning up the trash.

I order a Sonoran White Chocolate Ale, which he offers me for a discount. (I guess it’s difficult to sell a chocolate-flavored dessert beer to a biker crowd.) All in all, it was $7 for five drinks after a 50 percent tip.

That evening was the bar’s Blackout at the Bashful Bandit, a monthly event devoted to 1990s metal music videos. Local DJs took turns playing everything from Metallica to Rob Zombie to Rage Against the Machine.

The dress code was leather, dyed hair and piercings. Apparently we didn’t get the memo, as we sat there in long-sleeve flannel shirts and jeans.

“You’re lucky you didn’t come on bike night,” a man in a hooded sweatshirt at the bar says. “They probably would have asked you to leave.”

He asked me what we’re doing at the Bandit, so I let him know that we’re both journalism students. Erin, who is 4-foot-11 and maybe pushing 90 pounds, picked the biker bar out of a hat for an observation story for her features class. She naturally didn’t want to go alone, so she asked me to accompany her. I told him that I agreed to go along with her because I had never been in a biker bar and figured it would make for an interesting travel piece.

My answer led to an intoxicated ramble about his favorite writer, Hunter S. Thompson, and his favorite book, “Where the Buffalo Roam.”

But we also talked a little bit about what I knew about bike culture. I told him the only experience I’ve had with biker gangs was while I was editor-in-chief for the Tombstone Epitaph. We ran a couple stories about how the gangs use the historic town as a gathering point, which was received with mixed reaction from the townsfolk.

I told him I felt Tombstone was an odd meeting place for bike gangs, but he promptly disagreed. He explained how the biker culture is about history, friendship and the open road. Tombstone makes sense because it’s an easy drive from Tucson and is filled with culture.

The man then hopped on his red street bicycle and disappeared out the back door. Erin, who remained mostly quiet as she observed the bar and its patrons, exhaled as he left.

Erin and I stayed a little bit longer, still feeling like outsiders, ready just in case of a confrontation. But by the end of the night, nobody had asked us to leave and, for the most part, everyone left us alone. The bar’s boxing video game, which allows guests to see how hard they can hit a punching bag, even went untouched.

Everybody was just having a good time and hanging out with first-class company. One group of people who came to the bar for tequila shots was talking about their kids. Another group asked Dave his whereabouts on New Year’s Eve, notifying him that they missed him.

When I asked about a chalkboard bracket on the south wall, Dave invited us back for the bar’s beer pong tournaments, which are held the last Saturday of every month.

It’s safe to say our perceptions of the bike culture were stolen by the Bashful Bandit.

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 501B: Travel Writing class.