The UFO hums above the Happy Hut, beaming illegal aliens with lithe limbs, huge eyes, and gray skin onto the ice house's parking lot.
"You and all your friends are welcome here," says the bartender to Mr. Happy Face, who accompanies the aliens. "You can be a bad boy tonight." He proceeds to pull out ...
Just then the real bartender asks if I want another beer, and I turn from the L.A. David cartoon on the wall to say, "Maybe in a minute."
With the doors open, the place gets drafty, but cheap beer has an odd warming effect. Wind from West Avenue blows through the Happy Hut to a big table-covered lawn in the back, past the bar, the old photos, the jukebox, and covered porch. In the pool room, removed from the cold, everybody wears T-shirts and pulls on iced long necks.
The sobriquet is a chicken-and-the-egg type of thing: either only happy people come to the ice house or the name lets everybody know how to act.
Even first-timers are included in the barstool banter. When I set my empty bottle next to a few others on the bar, a guy says to me, "Did you drink all those? Man, you're fast!" So what if the joke was flatter than a day-old can of Big Red? He was being nice and, as the only Anglo in the place, I appreciated inclusion (for the record, I was told when I got to San Antonio that new folks in town "shouldn't go to the West Side unless you're in a group. Or you tan first." Har, har).
The guys holding court at the L-shaped bar don't stop with the jokes — especially at each other.
"No, don't ask him, he'll just tell you it's a South Side thing."
"Hey, you ever hear of 'lecher?'"
"Mean 'leche?' That's a Southside word. You leche."
I don't know what that means, but yes, bartender, I'm staying for another.
The Happy Hut
1902 West Ave.
Pros: cozy — feels like a playhouse turned ice house; table service (when it's not too busy); deep jukebox
Cons: long walk to nearest taco trailer