Q: I’d like to know what has become of the old-fashioned beer joint; you know, the places where anybody could go and get a cold Pearl or Lone Star and maybe a hamburger? They were usually kind of quiet, discounting the occasional fight. Nowadays, we have these noisy “sports bars” with 140 flat screens all going at once, where you can barely hold a conversation.
Glen Hunt, Bedford
A: Planting oneself atop a stool at the well-worn bar of a favored beer joint sits right up there alongside life’s most pleasurable pleasures. The ideal spots are always dark, cool, and comfortable, and are peopled with a smattering of friendly folk looking to knock back a few cold ones and unburden themselves from the hurly-burly for a spell. Sure, ol’ Jim, perennially hunched in his seat down there near the bathroom, sometimes gets a little cranky, but for the most part this place is free of any real hazard, though the Texanist would warn against consuming too many of those pickled eggs, which can have dodgy results. There’s a jukebox playing classic country, a small pool table, shuffleboard, and a gruff but good-humored barkeep named Angel. Angel is always happy to pop the top of another one for you when she’s not busy flouting the local smoking ordinance.Does this all sound familiar? If so, then you and the Texanist are on the same page.
Along with the old-fashioned honky-tonk (there might be dancing) and the old-fashioned dive bar (there’s hard liquor), the old-fashioned beer joint (there’s beer and setups) is—surprise, surprise—one of the Texanist’s all-time favorite haunts. If he had a dollar for every dollar he’s unfolded in places like the one where Angel works, he’d be a much richer man. But you are right that such watering holes do seem to be less numerous today than they once were. Victims of the inexorable steamroll of time, more and more of these old-style taverns have disappeared only to be replaced with strip center sub shops, chicken wing restaurants, and the generic sports bars of the style that have got your dander up. The Texanist likes to watch sports, but he mostly likes to do his viewing in his own cave, where the serenity is broken only by his own outbursts.
Thankfully most every town and city in which public drankin’ is allowed still has at least one holdout stumble inn of the type you are missing. Nowadays, these rough-hewn gems are often hiding in plain sight. You have to keep an eye out for dim neon, a parking lot full of gently-to-harshly-used vehicles and sundry service trucks, and, if it’s a Wednesday, a guy with a mustache loading in karaoke equipment. The good ones are like museums dedicated to the nightlife culture of a bygone time. The ever-present Christmas lights, the smoke-stained ceiling tiles, the wood-panel walls, the handwritten signs warning against “spittin’, cussin’, gamblin’, and fightin’,” and even ol’ Jim there in the corner appear to have been meticulously curated as if they were parts of a beer joint diorama. Occasionally, a group of young strangers find their way in and gawk excitedly at the authentic crustiness of it all—including at ol’ Jim, around whom they should tread lightly.
If you thoroughly scour Bedord and the greater Bedford area, the Texanist is sure you’ll find what you’re looking for. Have good time and buy a round for Jim. You can put it on the Texanist’s tab.
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