The Pastime Club | A dive bar with music in its soul

If you’ve ever been to the Pastime Club  — either at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. — you’d know that there isn’t any other place quite like it in Tahoe Sierra.

Elvis Cantú & Josh Sorheim | Feb. 8 | 9 p.m.
Jake Nielsen | Feb. 22 | 9 p.m.

From the swirly neon sign glowing in the window to the Harley Davidson chopper stationed above the classically elongated bar, Pastime Club is a scrappy saloon amid the posh shops and fancy restaurants of downtown Truckee.

Although no one knows the exact history of the 90-year-old Salvador Dali-esque desert mural of emaciated longhorn cattle, bleak cacti and feral coyotes, the story goes it was done by a local man named Bill Englebright whose parents owned a local bottling plant in nearby Boca to pay off a bar tab.

The building itself has been a drinking establishment of some sort since 1896, according to owner Keith Diesner; he bought the place in 2003 and hasn’t changed it much except for installing a stripper pole at the end of the bar near the stage.

“The rationale was [the customers] were dancing on the bar anyways, so we might as well give them something to hold onto,” he says.

Although Diesner doesn’t know the full musical history of the joint, which also used to be a brothel, he does mention that the owner before him was the lead singer of a house band called P.O.S. (You can guess the acronym.)

“It’s a dive bar,” he says. “You can put lipstick on a pig, but you can’t change what it is.”

Diesner went to Los Gatos High School where he was friends with musicians in a popular second-wave ska band, Skankin’ Pickle.

“Back when I was working with the old owner, we used to have a lot of blues music,” he says. “But blues was a dying sound for today’s generation. I had some good connections at the time with bigger bands from Santa Cruz that would come up to play when we had friends in town.”

Some of the first acts Diesner booked were Rasta rockers The Expendables and Solvang punks Mad Caddies.

“I pretty much focus on anything that will put people in the seats,” says Diesner. “I like punk, but it’s not always a good business decision. I grew up in a Santa Cruz ska scene that veered into reggae.”

As far as what genre tends to be the most profitable on the Donner Pass strip, Diesner says it really depends on the night.

“Tahoe is kind of a weird market for music,” he says. “A lot of business on the weekends comes from tourists, as well as locals. I can book all I want for the locals, but our revenue really depends on the crowds. We’re a mixed grab bag. You never know what you’re going to get when you walk in. In essence, I book what I like to hear and if they don’t like it at least I get to hear it.”

One example of Pastime’s eclectic booking is Elvis Cantú, an up-and-coming rockabilly star from San Antonio, Texas, who recently returned from a tour of Japan.

“Tokyo is one of the great cities of the world,” says Cantú. “Doing so many shows in a row would be crazy for every other city, but you can play four shows back to back and have a different crowd every night. All over the world, rockabilly is huge.”

Cantú relocated to Grass Valley last year after scoring a record contract with Wild Records out of Hollywood. He plays 1950s rockabilly music with a heavy Ray Charles influence on an Eastman H-44 Richie Valens replica guitar

“When you come to one of my shows, even if you’ve never danced before, you are probably going to that night,” he says. “A couple songs into it, the whole house is rocking.

The one-of-a-kind artist will be performing with fellow Wild Records honky-tonker from Buffalo, Minn., Josh Sorheim. | Pastime Club on Facebook