All photos by Matt Meltzer
Sitting in a dive bar all day can make you a little crazy. Sitting in an imaginary cartoon dive bar in a theme park full of little kids and a 10-minute loop of Simpsons clips? That might make you a few Lard Lads short of a dozen. So, to see how nuts surviving on a diet of Krusty Burgers, Flaming Moes, and all kinds of Duff Beer can make a person, we asked our Miami editor to keep a journal while spending an entire day, from open til, well, you'll see, at the Moe's Tavern at Universal Studios Orlando. And looking back, that was probably a mistake.
This is easily the strangest dive bar in the world. Yes, I am sitting at a greasy, red vinyl booth in a back corner. But it’s lit up in here like it’s day three of a terrorist interrogation, and there’s little kids running around. Plus there’s no smoke and a dart board with no darts. I'm finding it very hard to believe I will forget the world and drown my problems in domestic beer in this kind of atmosphere.
Moe #1 and Moe #2 introduce themselves. They have real names, I think, but maybe not. They’re round, middle-aged guys who look like you remember your dad looking around the time you graduated college. They bring me a 22oz plastic mug with a cartoon picture of Moe on it. "Drink up, chumps", it says.
After two glasses of Duff, I try a Duff Light. It tastes a little like PBR. Originally, I had higher expectations for this stuff, then remembered it’s supposed to be the beer preferred by nuclear power plant workers.
A not-small woman sits down at the table next to me wearing a Livestrong backpack.
"Livestrong, huh?" I say as she turns around.
“What?” she sneers like I just asked her for spare change in Cantonese.
“Livestrong… your bag. That's... a nice bag.”
“Oh, is that what this is?” she asks.
Wouldn't this be a great way to kick off the story of how I met my wife?
First bathroom trip of the day. The bathroom’s actually located outside the bar, meaning I've gotta be exposed to sunlight to get there. They’re playing that one Simpsons album from, like, 1991 on a loop outside. The one with “Do the Bartman". Remember that song? Yeah, there are PARENTS here who don’t remember that song. Sigh.
Duff #3 is down, and I'm finally starting to catch a buzz.
There’s a kid in a yellow hoodie doing jumping jacks in the middle of the bar. This stuff doesn’t happen in real dive bars. Or at least when it does, the guy doing the jumping jacks gets kicked out/offers you speed.
A 9yr-old girl just took a selfie by the Duff sign next to my table. This seems wrong on a lot of levels. I ask her how old she was when The Simpsons came out.
“I dunno, like 2?” she says.
“Try negative 16,” I smirk, knowingly. “NEGATIVE SIXTEEN!”
Moe #2 convinces me to get a Flaming Moe. His convincing is a little less effective when he tells me it's non-alcoholic. The reasoning?
“When dads come in here to spend the day and avoid their wife and kids, they need something to give the kids when they come by to check in.” You can definitely get behind that.
He pulls a plastic cup out of a freezer and puts it under a tap where a plume of white smoke shoots up as soon as the electric-orange liquid hits the surface. I'm starting to realize that, between the liquid nitrogen cocktails and the local craft beer that TASTES like PBR, Moe’s is pretty much a trendy hipster bar full of 6yr-olds doing jumping jacks.
The Flaming Moe is bubbling up like some kind of horribly misguided high school chemistry experiment.
“I’m supposed to DRINK that?” I ask Moe #1, like an adult star who’s been asked to do something that’s not in the contract.
“I got fourth graders who drink those things like it’s Kool-Aid,” he says. “Quit being a wimp.”
I have visions of Mr. Wizard pouring liquid nitrogen on a seemingly normal watermelon then hitting it with a hammer and it shattering into a million little watermelon pieces. Then I picture him doing the same thing to my throat. Maybe this is a trap?
In the background, Homer Simpson is yelling, “Madman Moe’s Pressure Cooker!”
Afraid of the bubbles, I let the Flaming Moe settle down before trying it. It tastes like someone melted an Otter Pop into a cup of flat Fanta. So, naturally, I finish it.
Second trip to the bathroom. I manage to keep the not-Flaming Moe down.
I move on to Duff Dry, a thick, porter-like bottled beer that’s probably only appreciated by guys like Principal Skinner and Haley’s boyfriend. Oh wait, wrong cartoon.
As the novelty of the place starts to wear off, boredom creeps in. Only one thing left to do: download Tinder.
Based on 3mins of Tinder research I quickly deduce that every girl in Central Florida A) is a Magic fan, B) went to UCF, C) is named Kristen. I right swipe everyone who looks slimmer than the ladies in Moe’s. Sooo... basically, I right-swipe everyone.
I order food and, not 5secs after saying, “Special sauce on the side,” the chef comes out to introduce himself. He’s roughly the size of Sri Lanka.
“You gotta try the chicken and waffles. With the maple mayo. The maple mayo makes it.”
So normally, I'd sooner lick the underside of a bar mat than eat mayonnaise. But I am somewhat intimidated by the gentleman/island country in the Northern Indian Ocean, so this might happen.
Third bathroom trip in 2hrs. In a normal dive bar, this would signal to everyone that I was “the guy to see". Or, maybe just that I "have been drinking". It's hard to remember things now.
My food shows up. Andre the Moe’s chef is looming 7ft over me while I pick at the chicken and waffle sandwich.
“You’re gonna put mayo on that, right?” he asks, expectantly.
I can see we're at an impasse. He’s right, of course, it does look a little dry without it. But I had several plans today and none of them involved mayo, so I delicately ignore him and move on to the Krusty Burger to avoid any awkwardness. Then I remember that I'm sitting alone in the corner of a cartoon bar full of kids.
To be fair to the chicken and waffle, the Krusty Burger‘s a little dry too.
Oooh….. curly fries! I begin to wonder how this would taste if I actually put them ON the hamburger….. oh Holy Mother of Bart and Lisa this thing is AMAZING! Why has nobody ever thought of this before???
I walk up to the bar with my new creation and excitedly show the Moes. I am proud. A couple looks over and says, “That’s cool. Kinda like they do at Primanti Brothers
“Oh my god, you guys!” I yell as I shove my great culinary discovery into their Western-Pennsylvania faces. “This is IT. It’s like the Pittsburger, but for Springfield. It’s… the SPRINGFIELDER!!!”
They do not share my excitement.
“MOE #1! The Springfielder!” Moe looks over his shoulder from the Duff tap and nods politely. I will not be deterred. “Call the chef! I've got something for him!”
They’ve put me back in the corner.
I give them the best menu item they’ll ever have and all they do is give me a patronizing “Thank you” and suggest I go back to my booth? Oh, I’ll show them. I’ll open up a burger stand and sell this and make millions and buy my own Moe's Tavern and dim the lights and kick out all the jumping jack kids and the mayo advocates.
Wait a minute. I've got my first two Tinder matches. Both named Kristen. I was thinking I'd message one but I've just eaten a Krusty Burger, a fried-chicken sandwich, two orders of fries, and drank an indiscriminate number of Duffs. Basically, I feel like Homer Simpson looks.
There’s an infuriating siren coming from the opposite corner, where a giant “Love Tester” promises to very scientifically prove how romantic I am. Conveniently, I just got two more Tinder matches, so I message one named “Katie” and ask her if I should use the “Love Tester”. She does not respond, but knowing what I know about "Katie", I feel like she wants me to use it.
After a 6yr-old tops it out -- announced by that deafening siren and Casio rendition of "La Cucaracha" -- I take my turn on the Tester. I give the machine a death grip while lights flash for a minute, then rest on the second level up.
“Forlorn”, it flashes at me.
I message “Katie” again. “Apparently I’m forlorn. Thanks for nothing.”
As I head back to the bar for my [INDISCRIMINATE NUMBER] Duff, Katie messages me back.
I just made Katie do the laughing out loud.
Moe #2 pours Flaming Moes for a lesbian couple from Calgary who drink them while they’re still smoking.
“See?” Moe #2 says to me. “They’re fine.”
“You’re afraid to drink this?” asks one of the ladies, who looks like she could easily play pro rugby. “You American guys are pussies.”
Well that’s all I needed to hear.
“Moe…. a Flaming Moe please! I’ll show you, Canadians.”
I pound the Flaming Moe like a freshman trying to show off to dorm girls. It goes down surprisingly smoothly.
“Moe…. ANOTHER!” Moe #2 obliges, and I pound the second.
“Those won’t get you drunk, you know,” the other, wiser Canadian tells me.
“Wanna bet?” I say. “Moe, three more please!” Moe lines up three Flaming Moes, and I pound them all. And immediately feel lightheaded.
“SEE!?” I yell at the unbelieving and possibly now frightened Canadians. “Liquid nitrogen'll f*** you up!”
Immediately, it f**** me up. I assume I've just lost 60% of my stomach lining.
A couple of girls sit at a table across from me. I wouldn't normally be attracted to them, but I just drank at least 11 Flaming Moes and have possibly given myself diabetes. I ask Moe #2 for a Duff Dry.
I realize that the girls at the nearby table are still definitely not attractive and tell Moe #1 the Wal-Mart lighting isn’t doing much to make his clientele any more attractive. Judging by the look he gives me, I don't think Moe #1 is going to invite me to any of his weddings.
A phone at the end of the bar is ringing. Repeatedly. I run to the bar and pick it up.
A kid’s voice I recognize is on the other line.
“Hi, I’m looking for my friend Bea O'Problem,” the kid says.
“Who?” I ask.
“Mrs. O'Problem. Bea. Do you have her there?” the kid repeats.
“I mean, how am I supposed to know that? [glance around wildly] Do you wanna talk to Moe #2?” I say into the phone.
After a brief pause it just starts laughing.
“What’s so funny? What are you laughing at?! I’m trying to help you!!” The laughs continue, mocking me.
“STOP LAUGHING AT ME!!!” I holler and slam the phone down. I'm hurt. I'm really hurt. Time for another trip to the bathroom.
Back from the bathroom and two blondes possibly named Kristen are now in the booth next to me. I think for a minute about chatting them up, then remember that I have a B.O. Problem.
A Tinder message comes through. Kristen asks where I live.
“I’m not sure,” I respond.
“Are you near Downtown Orlando?” she asks.
“No,” I say. “I think I’m in the middle of a cartoon.”
A minute later she responds.
The busgirl comes over after the lunch rush to clear away some of your food. A clip of Moe doing some parody of “Deer Hunter” is coming out of the speaker. As she reaches for your cups you snap up at her.
“DIDI MOE! DIDI MOE!”
She shoots her hands back like the empty cups were going to bite, and power-walks away.
“DIDI MOE!” She didn’t bother turning around.
“You’ll be back!” Moe yells out of the speaker. Or maybe it’s me. Or maybe it's everyone. “And YOU! And YOU!”
Another Tinder match just came through. Diana’s profile picture is her in a swimsuit at a beach.
The voices coming out of the ceiling write the message for me.
“Can I have your buttocks?” I ask. “If you die? They look pretty comfortable. And can I have your lips?”
You see she is writing back. Maybe she’s going to will you her body parts.
The siren from the "Love Tester" is serving as a perpetual reminder that I have right-swiped probably 50 girls on this stupid app and only gotten five matches. It needs to be put in its place.
“Hey siren,” I say, approaching the machine. “You saying I’m not sexy?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying”, the machine says back, but all mean, like it's not even being sarcastic and joking around with me.
I pull out a few more dollar bills and try again. Forlorn. Three more times. I turn around and see a massively obese man in a red shirt and blue pants with grapefruit-sized bug eyes staring back at me over an almost-empty beer mug.
“You think you can do better, pal?” I ask. He just keeps looking. Won’t move. Won’t talk.
“Hey you, bug-eyed freak, I’m talking to you,” I say and walk closer. He keeps looking over his mug, then belches.
“That’s all you got to say?” I ask.
“Hey Homer!” he says, somewhat enthusiastically.
“I’m TALKING TO YOU FAT BOY! STOP STARING AT ME!!!” I give him a shove, and he doesn’t move. The only solution will be closing one of his eyes for him. So I hit him, right in the eye.
Pain shoots from my knuckle. Like I've just hit a 6ft-high piece of granite.
“He is made of iron,” I say to Ivan Drago’s imaginary corner.
“Hardened plastic,” Moe #2 says as he pulls up a stool next to you. “You’re not gonna win. Here’s a Duff Dry for the road. Go pack up.”
Defeated, I slump back to my booth, now littered with souvenir cups, empty food baskets, and most of my pride.
The bar is empty when I walk out, my hand throbbing. In my pocket, Kristens laugh at jokes I haven't made. Outside, the sun blinds and stings my eyes, though that may also be tears.
Matt Meltzer is Thrillist's Miami editor, a veteran of the US Marine Corps, and gets irrationally mad at machines and statues. If your name is Kristen, you will inevitably find him on Tinder.