Dives We Love: Classic Bars Where Everyone Will Know Your Name

click to enlarge Dives We Love: Classic Bars Where Everyone Will Know Your Name
Jaime Monzon
There's no way Betty Ford breaks the 5-foot mark. But that wee ma’am from West Texas has commanded the corner of Grayson and New Braunfels Avenue in front of Fort Sam for the past 31 years inside what Texas Monthly called one of eight great dives in the state as recently as December 2016.

For the uninitiated, Betty’s Battalion sits on a sleepy strip center, and its exterior promises divey insides. But once inside, after your eyes adjust to the dimly lit space, there’s plenty to find inside this warm bar. All manners of military regalia can be found, from sailor hats to T-shirts to banners and flags — even a parachute. Bamboo plants give way to faux rock lamps and old-school neon beer signs. And the sweet smell that lingers? A Yankee Candle that burns of sugar and spice that Ford lights for la virgen de Guadalupe.

But a cancer diagnosis and recovery later in recent years made Ford realize she needed a hand managing the 31-year-old beer haven. She turned to one of her regulars, Danny Delgado, for said help.

Delgado’s name might sound familiar — and it should if you’ve partied anywhere along the St. Mary’s Strip within the last seven years. At 28, Delgado opened Hi-Tones and, with a slew of partners, he has since gone on to open Faust Tavern, La Botanica, Phantom Room (which should be making a comeback in the coming months), Lowcountry, The Squeezebox and the newly opened Con Safos at Yanaguana, there is no doubt about it — Delgado is a bar whisperer.

For his partnership with Ford, Delgado’s bringing in Linda Ynclan and Laura Rocha, who formerly managed Phantom Room and Hi-Tones as partners.
But aside from new faces, some reorganization of seating, and a possible paint job for the gazebo, the two biggest and perhaps only changes will be the addition of liquor and new hours.

“We’re bringing in liquor because Betty’s never had that,” Delgado says. “It’s new and that’s one of the biggest things that keeps people out.”

“I remember when people down the hill used to come up here to drink and now from up the hill they’re going down because there’s liquor there,” Ford says.
Mixed drinks will be available, and while Ynclan and Rocha know how to shake up cocktails, those won’t be making it to the menu any time soon. Ford will stick around during day shifts, and learn how to handle the new payment system.

“It’s going to be a learning process for her, too,” Delgado says, as Ford quips, “I don’t know anything about liquor!”

Otherwise, Betty’s Battalion, which Ford leased for $250 a month in late 1985, will purposefully remain the same. The wall of fallen Special Ops personnel stays, so does the parachute, the rock lamps, the T-shirts, and the sailor caps. The bar will still cater to the military servicemen and women who have made it their home for the past 31 years.

Ford opened Betty’s in the post-Vietnam War era with a vision and plenty of potential.

Of course, patrons wanting to experience a bit of old-school San Antonio will make their way to Betty’s Battalion. They already have. But Delgado wants to hang onto that San Anto feel. 1524 E. Grayson St., (210) 227-9255.

Cobalt Club // It might not look like a whole lot from the outside, but Cobalt Club’s lasting legacy might be how it cares for its patrons, i.e. everyone who gets off work late, those who want to keep drinking when the sun rises in the morning. A haven for hospital employees, this straight-friendly gay dive has staying power. 2022 McCullough Ave., (210) 251-2027.

Coco Beach // If you’re into Hurricanes and kitschy tropical décor without a hint of pretentious tiki, you’ll want to head to Coco Beach. The spot off Nakoma is decked out with a palm hut and strung-up marlin above the door so you can’t miss it. Once inside, the “Port Aransas-fucked-South-Padre-and-this-is-their-lovechild” vibe persists. Get cozy in the indoor cabanas at your own risk. 12159 Valliant St., (210) 341-5330.

Marty’s Cocktails // Practice your karaoke skills in one of the most welcoming of settings, this tiny nook of a bar that delivers wild comedy shows, great drink specials and chill vibes. This country-esque bar is filled to the gills with Texan sport memorabilia (including a painted scene of Spurs games with David Robinson and Timmy held in sweet embrace). And there’s free wi-fi. 603 Isom Road, (210) 341-9259.

Make My Day Lounge // If you’re fresh off the late shift, still going from the night before or in need of a morning fix, Make My Day Lounge might be your bar. Stop in early for a dark escape from the morning sun or head in during the evening when they host rowdy karaoke sessions. It’s a catch-all bar for anyone looking to satiate their thirst. 12144 Nacogdoches Road, 210-655-6367.

Texas T Pub // Neons and Lone Star in the heart of downtown: What more do you need? Visit 2016’s winner of Best Dive Bar for cheap drink specials, peanuts, chips and puro nostalgia. 121 Broadway, (210) 271-1058.

Thursty Turtle //
Settled in a tiny strip mall off Harry Wurzbach is the Thursty Turtle. Only a stone’s throw away from the Magic Time Machine, the Turtle presents itself as the perfect respite from the office, complete with billiards, couches for kicking back and friendly regulars. 1626 NE Loop 410, 210-820-3600.