A few Saturdays in a row the Bar Tab crew headed down to check out Mustang Sally’s — a sprawling roadhouse of a bar at the intersection of Roosevelt and S.W. Military. The opportunity to make comparisons to the movie Roadhouse were an added bonus, and of course inherently ridiculous, but it was all secondary to our main reason for attending — the karaoke `i`.
The karaoke is curated, so to speak, by Big Daddy Fred of Big Tyme Entertainment. BDF is an imposing figure, always seated, often with mic in hand, as he calls out the names of karaoke singers from the waiting list. BDF isn’t afraid to get into the action himself; on at least one occasion I heard him providing a subtle air-guitar scat over an ’80s classic-rock song. He clearly loves his job.
Big Tyme Entertainment offers a huge catalog of karaoke songs to choose from, but most interestingly, it’s the songs they don’t play that make BTE stand out. Whereas most karaoke events are an endurance event without break, BDF intersperses the audience performances with dance songs. This prevents stagnancy, and allows people to dance for a few songs and then sit back down to drink and watch the next wave of karaoke theatrics.
When Bar Tab attended, the dance music was in full swing. BDF was spinning some nasty Florida-style rap, which brought out everyone from all corners of the bar. The space is quite expansive, with areas for all types of activity — there are several pool tables on one side, a large area in the back for those who want to sit and observe, and a dance floor, which also doubles as the karaoke stage. When the booty music hit, the pool sharks put down their cues, the cowboys in town for the rodeo hiked up their Wranglers, and everyone got on the dance floor in unison. One woman lewdly jumped on top of her boyfriends’ shoulders but the bouncer (or “cooler” in Roadhouse terminology) quickly restored order.
At that point a cowboy performed some sort of imaginary lasso dance that immediately reanimated the crowd. I’m not sure how or why the energy became that combustible; on another trip to Mustang Sally’s the atmosphere was much more relaxed. And that’s another good thing about the bar — the space is big enough that almost all sorts of moods and energies can co-exist under the same roof. Although I wouldn’t go looking for any sort of deep introspection.
The Bar Tab
3428 Roosevelt Ave.
Introduction to SA’s subcultures and their unique ability to coexist on a dance floor
Prices: Cheap, with lots of cheesy shot drinks
Karaoke is alive and well all across San Antonio. But is it perhaps too popular? Whereas Northside karaoke still seems like an ironic gesture, on the South Side it seems to be another example of the city digging into the trenches and fighting off the encroachment of contemporary popular culture. 1964 and the British Invasion are often cited as the biggest turning point in pop music but I wonder if in San Antonio it instead is 1991, the year grunge broke. I’m not saying I heard anyone specifically bemoaning Kurt Cobain’s destruction of a hard-rock way of life, but perhaps that’s because they didn’t have to. The truth was self-evident. And with karaoke, old-school classic songs are given new life in the same way historical re-enactment breathes life into previous moments otherwise dead and forgotten.