The Den

(Bell City, MO)
Formerly a gas station

Scooter’s 1005th bar, first visited in 2013.

The Den, Bell City

When I began planning my Black Friday pub crawl, I knew I would be limited in the amount of time I’d have so I wanted to make sure I used that time well. To that end, I had looked up all of the area bars in advance and and narrowed down those that looked the most interesting to me. None, however, had given me more giddy anticipation than The Den. Seriously, look at what I saw in Google Street View:

The Den, Bell City

How could that not be one of the greatest bar experiences ever?

Well, it did not disappoint. The Den was everything I hoped it would be and then some. In fact, it has set a whole new standard by which how I will measure dive bars, as this is hands down the diviest dive I have ever encountered.

Before I go any further, I’d like to offer a personal message to the two guys who were here when I visited. Nothing that I write here is meant to be taken as disrespect. You guys were great and very nice, and I absolutely loved stopping in at your bar. It was definitely the highlight of my day. I absolutely love dive bars, so everything I say here is intended as a compliment.

After the very long drive to get there (it’s truly very far removed from anything and is in a location tourists would never have any reason to pass through), my bladder was about to explode by the time I pulled up. It didn’t help that I had tried two gas stations along the way and neither had public restrooms — that wasted time only filled my bladder up even more.

I parked in the gravel and walked up to the door. I opened it very apprehensively. I began to get nervous, and nearly chickened out. But the bladder pressure was so intense that I had no choice but face whatever might be waiting for me on the other side of that door. I creaked it opn and stepped inside.

The bar was small — maybe 4 or 5 barstools — but there was too much clutter (boxes and various other items) for me to sit there. A Tin Man hung over the bar, as well as various weapons, hunting implements, and camping gear. There were several tables, most had various items on them including hornet nests. There was a pool table in the far back. To the right, numerous children’s toys were piled against the wall.

At the table closest to the front, two gentlemen were shelling peanuts. They were in their 50s or 60s. One in camo overalls, one in tan overalls. They both froze and looked up at me.

“Hello,” said the man in camo overalls. “Can I do something for you?”

I mentioned that I was looking for a place where I could both use the restroom and grab a beer. He asked me what I’d like and while he got my beer, the other man pointed me in the direction of the restroom.

The floor of the bathroom probably hasn’t been mopped since 1975. :) The toilet and the sink were both badly stained by rust, and the sink looked so dusty it made me wonder when it had last been used. I opted not to wash my hands as I did not want to be the one to mess that up.

I exited the restroom, picked up my beer, and started to sit down at a table that had a bee hive sitting on it.

“Come sit with us!” the bartender and his friend beckoned. “No one should have to drink alone, and we don’t ever see strangers in here, ever.”

(Given that the nearest freeway access is 18 miles away and the nearest through-highway of any kind is several miles away as well, I’m not at all surprised.)

I walked over to their table and sat down. The table was of course covered in peanut shells, but among several other items I also noticed a fly swatter and a couple of toy squirt guns. A sledgehammer was resting nearby.

They asked where I was from and what I was out doing. I gave them a brief summary and then asked about the place. It turned out it was originally a gas station — then a store — and finally a bar. Where my car was parked had once been the oil-changing pit.

The bartender made mention of the fact that he had cut down a hornet nest earlier in the morning. I gestured towards the nest on the table across the room and asked if that was it. It was. We all got up and walked over to examine it.

As it was freshly cut, there were a few spiders and/or insects crawling around on it. He talked a little bit about hornets and how despite their reputation that they are beneficial to the ecosystem.

He brought out another hornet nest he had cut even earlier that was still attached to a tree branch, and mentioned that there’s a narrow window to cut them down after the hornets leave before the birds tear them up.

I asked why the birds tear them up, and he said it’s because there’s always some leftover larvae and pupae inside that the birds like to eat. He then demonstrated by giving the nest a good shake. A peppering of hornet larvae and/or pupae dropped onto the table.

“A while back I cut one down that wasn’t quite empty,” he said with a laugh, “and we had hornets flying around in here for days.”

That might explain the sledgehammer!

I wish I would have had more time to stay, but I got a late start and only had time for the one can of beer. I had to thank them for their hospitality and head back towards my motel.

The bar…
The Den, Bell City

The bartender…
The Den, Bell City

The first hornet nest…
The Den, Bell City

The Den, Bell City

Nest 1 and nest 2…
The Den, Bell City

Shaking the second nest…
The Den, Bell City

The bathroom sink :)
The Den, Bell City

25386 Walnut St
Bell City, MO 63735
[launch map]
(573) 733-4818