I’m new to town, and I like to drink. For reasons I’m not stupid enough to question, 29-95 has decided to pay me (I know!) to bring both of those considerable traits to bear as I explore the city I now call home, searching for great bars and clubs wherever I can find them.
My first stop was the West Alabama Ice House, the kind of outdoor-centric dive that could only exist in Texas. The parking lot was choked with old trucks, even on a weeknight, and there were a surprising number of people (meaning more than one) wearing camo pants. It’s basically a Texas dive with no walls, just a series of roofs and covers extending like spokes from the central hub that holds a small bar. The rear of the modest building has more seating; the inside offers a pool table, a hunting arcade game, and the kind of battered old cigarette machine you now mostly see in movies.
The best trait a bar can have is authenticity: Regardless of whether it’s a honky-tonk or wine bar, an upscale cocktail joint or a local watering hole, the place will only feel welcoming if there’s a lack of artifice in the execution. And the West Alabama Ice House is completely honest about what it wants to be: a slightly grimy, enjoyably worn-down joint where you can enjoy a cold Shiner while your dog runs around the grounds. (The owner’s dog, Taki, a happy mix of what looked like lab and German shepherd, patrols the area for handouts.)
After taking a look around — there was even an old basketball hoop out back, though no one was using it — I sidled up to the bar and got ready to order, but another guy stepped up to the bartender just before I did. When I gestured to the woman behind the bar that he’d been here first, she grinned and waved a kindly dismissive hand, saying, “Ah, he’s a lawyer.” I believed her, and not just because the guy was wearing a polo shirt firmly tucked into pleated khaki shorts. He nodded and said, “Yeah, I’m a regular around here. Go ahead.”
I’d wanted a no-frills place to be my first stop, because though I’m amenable to getting a drink just about anywhere, my heart is with the dives. They’ve always got the best bar staff and the most interesting clientele, like the guy whose shirt featured a drawing of a lobster above the high-class phrase, “Shut up and suck it.”
I spent the evening with ice cold beer, pool, and a rotating group of either veterans or people with paramilitary fixations. I might not have invited people with Ron Paul bumper stickers on their vans to a party at my place, but they make for great impromptu drinking companions precisely because you’d never think to spend time with them, let alone time under the influence of moderately priced booze. When a rusty joint on the side of the road can feel that welcoming that quickly, you know it’s worth checking out again.
Bottom line: A great place for a cold beer on a warm night.