“In Heaven there is no beer,
That’s why we drink it here.
And when we’re gone from here,
Our friends will be drinking all the beer…” – Traditional Polka
Those who have spent quality time in East Coast steel-belt towns are often better acquainted with the slightly off kilter toe tap of the Polka than we are out west. Eastern European immigrants flooded towns such as Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh in the early 1900s looking for laborer jobs at steel mills, automobile plants and factories. They brought with them a mixture of Catholicism, odd folk beliefs and a culture of Polish drinking and dancing songs: the Polka. Kitschy, with no hint of self-awareness, polka falls into the same general category as bingo parlors and aging lounge singers in that its unmitigated authenticity crosses the line into surrealism without even trying. This is true David Lynch territory. With a healthy dose of accordion, lyrics about the simple pleasures in life and rambunctious dance steps, polka traditionally has been a working man’s escape.
We are lucky to have a lone, long lasting and genuine polka parlor located just under an hour’s drive of L.A., in the Inland Empire city of Fontana. Though its location may initially seem out of place… Fontana?… be aware that Fontana became home to Kaiser Steel during World War II, one of only two steel mills ever built west of the Mississippi River. In America, the Polka always belonged to the steel towns. Slovene Hall was built in 1938, a fraternal order for immigrants from Slovenia, who found themselves employed in the Fontana steel industry. Though Kaiser Steel shuttered its factory here in the 1980s, the polka thankfully lives on.
Even today, Slovene Hall is a true lodge, a place with a solid contingency of regulars, many who have been coming here for as long as they can remember. With wood paneled walls and ceiling, a classic raised stage, a pool table and a long bar serving up reasonably priced drinks and a huge selection of beer, Slovene Hall comes alive on weekend afternoons. It is then when it becomes vibrant with the oom-pah-pah sounds of live Polka bands, the fragrant smell of home cooked sauerkraut, kielbasa, apple strudel, potatoes and a Polish pork plate. Reminiscent of a Bingo parlor in that if you are under 60 years old you will likely be considered a “youngster” here, this makes the Slovene Hall polka experience that much more fun and bizarre. Bringing a group of friends with you is an automatic party. So grab a polka partner, a cold bottle of amber-colored Slovenian beer and a kielbasa and just let go.