When an ice house has nearly 50 years under its belt, it can't help but epitomize an elusive worn-in kind of camraderie that modern day waterin' holes strive to replicate. Sanchez Ice House #1, the humble little joint that is practically underneath I-35 at South San Saba and Guadalupe, is one such rarity. Before my first visit to this San Antonio institution, I was lucky enough to delve into the rich history of the original Sanchez (there's a Sanchez Ice House #2 on Seguin Street) over coffee and tacos with longtime patron Henry Rodriguez. Raised in the neighborhood south of the UTSA downtown campus (now Vista Verde South), Rodriguez told me about the development of the then blighted community during Henry Cisneros' reign as a young city councilman, and how it almost shut down nearby bars such as the ice house, when government grants funded a light industrial area in hopes of revitalizing the underprivileged part of town. With the help of Community Organized for Public Service (COPS), Rodriguez (of the LULAC Concilio Zapatista #4383 chapter) rallied to protect the interests of the neighborhood citizens, and soon thereafter, neighboring bars as well. "One day they said, 'We'll have a brand new community, we'll be so proud of, and we don't want any bars here.' … I asked everybody, 'Wait a minute, how many of you drink?'" Ultimately, Sanchez survived (along with Frio Bar). And according to Rodriguez, Sanchez Ice House #1 is still one of the "best-run places anywhere." Val Gutierrez and his wife Alice have been the owners of the establishment for the last 22 years. They cleaned up the place, added bright red picnic tables outside, and have been going strong ever since. One of the more hospitable bars I've visited, the regulars took turns sending me Miller Lights. I sat there and became acquainted with a few, but secretly I was hoping for a "Lefty" sighting, a former "old time gangbanger of the day." Rodriguez has frequented the ice house for so long he's become its unofficial historian.
I showed up around 2 p.m. on a dreary and wet Saturday afternoon, and as the crowd steadily increased so did my fondness for it. As the sounds of Tejano golden oldies and George Strait played from the old time jukebox, a man that looked about 80 somberly drank O'Douls at a table in the corner, while two old men in their Sunday best stood at the bar as they talked in Spanglish about family and the joys of having grandchildren. I played Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" and some Creedence Clearwater Revival and wished the place another 50 years.
819 South San Saba
Vibe Last of its kind veteran ice house that's still kickin'
Best Use Jukebox nostalgia, Thursdays for beer specials and hobnobbing with bikers, unwinding
Prices $2 single domestics, buckets starting at $13.00, specialty beer starting at $2.50
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