If you’ve been longing for the only-in-Texas charm once offered by the Esquire Tavern, you might breathe a contented sigh when it reopens Friday. The Esquire’s once 79-foot-long bar top (celebrated as the longest wooden bar in Texas, which could famously accommodate 5,973 longneck bottles of Lone Star beer) has gotten even longer in its old age. According to the tavern’s website (esquiretavern-sa.com), the storied bar top now boasts “108 feet of beer-soaked wood rubbed smooth by the elbows of a zillion tipplers.” But don’t expect to sit at it.
According to Jeret Pena, the Esquire’s dapperly clad master barman (as well as the founder of the Spirit Enthusiast of Texas), there won’t be any bar stools. Those bent on sitting can do so at a number of tables in the back or at one of the booths that line the interior walls, some of which have been respectfully restored (covered in the original flocked wallpaper pattern, specially re-fabricated with years of nicotine saturation factored in) to look as they did when the bar first opened in 1933 — reportedly on the very day Prohibition was repealed.
When asked if he’d be serving any of the specialty cocktails he got downtowners hooked on while working as bar manager (and resident mad scientist) at nearby Le Midi, he offered, “Simple is always best at first … and we’ll kind of evolve from there. And then I’ll start doing some crazy stuff.”
Said crazy stuff could involve anything from giant ice cubes to fat-washed spirits, bacon-infused bourbon, basil foam, homemade ginger beer, or aerated absinthe — all of which made their way into our conversation.
Even though I overheard someone comically fantasizing about burning the first tortilla on the Esquire’s handsome new stovetop, you probably won’t see quesadillas coming out of Chef Brooke Smith’s kitchen. “Farm-to-table,” is how owner Chris Hill described the cuisine angle, before adding, “but fried.”
Unless you’re one of the prized “guinea pigs” who’ll be privy to the bar’s soft openings on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, you’ll have to wait till 11 a.m. on April Fool’s Day to see what four years of beauty rest has done for the oldest bar on the River Walk.
The Esquire Tavern, 155 E Commerce, (210) 222-2521, esquiretavern-sa.com
You won’t find many people posing at the Bit House — quite possibly the only establishment in Stone Oak that’s billed as a “neighborhood saloon.” Formerly the ultra-modern Club Luz (host to theme nights like Latin Fridays and Elite Saturdays), the space has undergone what some might consider a reverse makeover: “Reserved” signs have given way to ones that read “Happy Trails” and “Live, Love, and Line Dance,” and you’re much more likely to see domestic longnecks scattered on rough-hewn tables than triple-digit liquor bottles sweating in roped-off VIP areas. On Wednesdays (which are promoted as college nights with $2 well drinks and live band karaoke), those brave enough to sing country (“Folsom Prison Blues,” “Amarillo by Morning,” and “Neon Moon” are all on the list), rock (Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” stood out as a challenge), and “other” (like the Neil Diamond mashup one fellow delivered) get support from a versatile — and very patient — live band.
The Bit House, 19239 Stone Oak Pkwy, (210) 363-3079, thebithouse.com
Two colorful worlds peacefully collided last Saturday night at Woody’s, a reformed strip club recently reborn as a gay dance club. While Destiny Harper and her partner J. Gabriel (Miss and Mr. Gay Texas for Life, respectively) readied themselves for a fast-approaching pageant, visual artists Israel Rico and Pedro Flores held court in one of the bar’s lounge areas. Flores and Rico’s Una Noche de Arte Chicano was previously held at Fiesta Bed & Breakfast, but the tri-monthly art show “outgrew the house,” Flores said. In the cozy gallery space, Flores explained that, as a gay man, painting women — French maids, in particular — is his way of getting closer to them. Rico, on the other hand, creates work that fuses Chicano identity with comic-book culture. His painting “Quincezilla,” which shows a fire-breathing creature wearing a tiara, was inspired by something his niece said when a friend threatened to drop out of her quinceañera. Another of Rico’s pieces, “Wonder Virgen II: Satan’s Fall in the Rose Garden of Hell” (a steal at $75), left the building with Wonder Woman aficionado Karen Alvarez, who bragged, “I’ve got part one at home.” Una Noche de Arte Chicano, which typically donates a portion of proceeds (and/or artwork) to a local charity, is on view through the end of the week at Woody’s.
Woody’s, 800 Lexington, (210) 223-8300, woodyssa.com
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