The bar tab The fountain of youth

"Do you have a tip jar?" I asked the barkeep, a dollar bill in my hand.

"I keep it behind the bar," she replied. "Otherwise it would be gone."

Lowkey and lowlit, the Fountain Room doesn't have the vibe of a place where you'd have to guard a jar of George Washingtons, but it was still early on a Saturday evening, just 6:30, and perhaps the tip jar-pilferers would arrive later.

Fountain Room
cocktail lounge

918 Bandera
Hours: 3pm-midnight Mon,
3pm-1:30am Wed,
noon-1:30am Fri-Sun
I've long been mesmerized by the Fountain Room, primarily because it is attached to the U.S. Post Office; it would have been the ideal watering hole for renowned author and drunkard Charles Bukowski, whose novel Post Office is a grimy memoir of a disillusioned letter-sorter. (Perhaps the Fountain Room's proximity to federal business explains why my New Yorker magazine often arrives late.)

Not much has changed since the cocktail lounge opened 52 years ago: The retro-'50s green sign sits atop the brick building, although now it is flanked by two satellite dishes, which beam in channels from space to two big-ass screens. If the Fountain Room had a TV in 1953, patrons could have watched "Icewater Please," an episode from Kraft Television Theater on a 17-inch Motorola encased in luxurious mahogany plastic. Times have changed.

If not effusively friendly, Fountain Room patrons, mostly middle-aged pool sharks, were unfazed by a couple of strangers who bellied up to the bar to watch West Virginia lose to Louisville in overtime. The bar itself is retro, with a Formica countertop, and a cushy red vinyl elbow rest with glitter beneath it, like old-time bicycle seats. Speaking of seats, the red sparkly bar stools are trimmed in chrome or a reasonable facsimile.

You don't have to bring your own cue to play pool, but those who do send a message: I'm serious and I plan on whipping your ass. A green banner on the wall proclaims the bar's Tuesday night team won second place in the City tournament and, evidently, pool rules at the Fountain Room.

So does beer, including decades' worth of of beer tchotchkes: Miller High Life lamps emblazoned with a pair of dice, a Christmas tree fashioned out of Schlitz cans, blow-up Budweiser spaceships. It's a kitsch-lover's paradise.

As for the selection, it's the usual San Antonio fare, with Heineken as the key import for just $2.50. Quite cold, the Dutch brew would have gone well with the chicken wings and sausage a traveling meat salesman unsuccessfully tried to unload. He was competing with a nearby vending machine that sold chips, pork rinds, and Marlboros, so it was a tough sell.

Midway through the second half, the door opened and let a little light in. A postal employee entered, sipped on a Bud Lite, and went on his way. I hope he had my New Yorker.

Lisa Sorg


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