Nestled in the shadow of LSU’s campus is a little dive with a big reputation. Past the tinted windows and neon signs, Pam Sandoz mans the bar in front of rows of brand whiskey and vodka. Hanging to her left, a T-shirt reads, “Slinky’s Tavern: When you’ve been thrown out of every other bar in town.”
Despite an unassuming exterior, Slinky’s boasts as much character as any Baton Rouge establishment. Signed underwear, brassieres and Mardi Gras beads hang from the rafters. Worn leather booths, a pool table and a jukebox occupy the small floor plan. Framed portraits and Polaroids line the walls.
At first glance, the furnishings seem random and out of place. But to Slinky’s faithful patrons, each artifact, each barroom relic, tells a story.
“It's almost like a museum,” Sandoz said. “Everyone who has come here in the last 20 years has left their mark on this place.”
This month, Sandoz celebrates her 19th and final year as owner and operator of Slinky’s. On Saturday, she will host an anniversary party at the bar at 144 W. Chimes St. The beloved bar will close its doors at the end of the month.
News of the closure tasted bittersweet to many Slinky’s customers. Over the years, rugby players, Marines, law students and theater buffs have grown fond of the local watering hole.
“I have literally never been in a place like Slinky's since I left Baton Rouge,” said Danielle O’Banion, a former bartender. “Working at Slinky’s, and specifically working for Pam, totally changed my life.”
In her mid-20s, Sandoz and business partner Brian Clayton purchased Slinky’s after bartending at several popular spots in Baton Rouge.
“I just kind of decided I didn’t want to grow up,” Sandoz said. “I turned my favorite college job into my career.”
Once the tavern survived its first year, Slinky’s slowly built an eclectic customer base. One of the closer bars to Tiger Stadium, it attracted a multitude of students and game day regulars. Some have moved away and started families, but return for every LSU home football game.
“I can set my watch by what time they show up on game days,” Sandoz said. “I have seen them for six or seven homes games, every year, for 20 years.”
Twenty years is a long stretch for any business, especially one located on Chimes Street. Sandoz said she has lost count of how many neighbors she has had. Since 2000, Slinky’s has had more than a dozen neighboring businesses come and go, according to records from the Alcoholic Beverage Control board.
Northgate Tavern, The Library at Northgate, Mahony's Pub, Reginelli's Pizzeria, Storyville apparel and Chinese Combo King are just some of the businesses that have opened and closed on the Chimes Street strip during Slinky's time.
“Business is so seasonal,” Sandoz said. “We live or die by LSU football and LSU’s school schedule. That has been the Chimes Street experience.”
The dive has its dedicated regulars to thank for its success. Sandoz didn’t understand just how attached her clientele had become until she announced the bar’s closure late last year.
“In the last three months, the support, the feedback and the posts have been overwhelming and unbelievable,” she said. “It has been a revelation to see what this little bar has meant to so many people.”
Slinky’s faithfuls would likely agree that Sandoz is the reason the bar has thrived. With personality and a quick pour, she’s managed to build community around a dive no bigger than a one-bedroom apartment.
“Pam created a culture at the bar. I would call it 'structured chaos,' ” O'Banion said. “She created a space where people could be as weird as they wanted to be, as long as they respected each other, the staff and the bar itself.”
More than the beer or the bar, Sandoz and the Slinky’s crew will miss each other’s company and conversation.
“I will miss the very genuine relationships I forged with people over the years,” Sandoz said. “I have come to think of them as my true friends.”
For O’Banion, Slinky's wasn't just a job, but a home away from home.
“I will miss sitting comfortably at the bar, in tears with laughter along with 15 people sharing the same joke,” O'Banion said. “I will miss the damp smell of bleach when Slinky’s first opens. I will also miss, obviously, the motley crew of individuals that comprise its clientele.”
Sandoz is unsure of what the future holds. Slinky's closure comes sooner than expected. Still, she is considering opening a new bar in Baton Rouge and is confident she will remain in the bar business.
“Owning a bar is a fascinating, sociological experience,” Sandoz said. “I don’t watch reality TV shows. I don’t need to. I just come here and live this.”