The Bar Tab

The first time I rode a bike into downtown San Antonio, death bared her teeth at me thrice: First, a small delivery truck swung out wildly at the Woodlawn-Belknap intersection while my life unrolled in slow motion on its side. Second, on the sun-dappled eastern side of Travis Park, a man in a Mercedes popped out his car door like a Jack in the Box and my heart somersaulted onto the pavement. The third lightning-swift reminder of my mortality was delivered by a dirty sideview mirror that passed so close to my by-now-quivering elbow that I could see my startled "motherfucker" reflected in its glass.

But that was more than a decade ago - Texas Public Radio's Ernie Villarreal has been riding his rig around town for years now, a one-man campaign for biker awareness; and clutches of colorful, lycra-clad beetles regularly swarm such death-defying coordinates as Hildebrand and Broadway. And this evening I was venturing out surrounded by bikers who are more experienced - and significantly taller - than I am. Safety in buffers. It was the inaugural outing of Bikes & Bars (until we come up with a cleverer name), and we were fearless, our spokes stiffened with beer.

We were inspired in part by Current columnist Mark Jones, who founded the Downtown Highlife Bicycle Club - but for those fanatics the bar is a footnote to a long evening of pedaling for pedaling's sake, sometimes even uphill. We are a singleminded gang. After a warm-up beer at Kimberly and Mark's Southtown lair, we struck north for Drink, the new-ish coffee and wine bar at the corner of Market and Navarro, led by Chuck's efficient corner-cutting and curb-jumping. Jackie pulled strings to get our bikes tucked safely inside Drink's gated courtyard, but the place was filled with rapt New World Wine & Food Festival junkies. So off to cozy Zinc we went, hiding from a little rain along with black-tie refugees from the Opening German while we downed mojitos, martinis, wine, and a salmon appetizer.

Suede was locked and dark when we skidded up, so we tried our luck in the Zen Bar's cold red emptiness. We were already inclined to push on when Chuck and the bartender threw down gauntlets, so we skipped (the best chaser in the world? adrenaline) down to the Palm, where the uniformed bar staff might arguably have been less impressed with our cutoffs and T-shirts than the made-up girls in Zen's front window. But there's the difference between class and pretension for you: we lingered at least an hour, as well-tended to as any tuxedoed swells, liberally plied with chilled martinis and crispy onion shoestrings.

But Hannibal did not cross the Alps by resting on his chops. We unchained our rides and headed still further north. By now we were zipping around like atoms bordering on fission, our riding formation strained by cocktails and fresh air, but we all arrived sooner or later at El Tropicano's recently redone lounge, where acrylic panels reference a tiki past and the backlit masks above the bar are Comedy and Tragedy by way of ancient Mexico. The crew, artists all except for my husband and me, gave the expansive, Scarface-esque lobby high marks for atmosphere - a laidback cool too thick to be broken by busfuls of teenagers in town for a conference, who streamed in wired and full of themselves while their weary chaperones enviously eyed the sextet enjoying the best of youth and adulthood over drinks.

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