Tour of Duty

Weekly, hundreds of emails bubble up from the boiling cauldron of information that is [email protected] Sometimes, especially if I’m given ample time (14 days is ideal) to locate your diamond in my pile of garbage, a priceless discovery is made. On June 24, I received an email from Steve Elliot — Army civilian, writer for the Edge Magazine, and bass player for the band Three Way Split — announcing a gig at Fort Sam Houston’s Hacienda Recreation Center.

The Hacienda Recreation Center sounded just random enough to be a perfect spot for a Bar Tab investigation into a fairly mysterious neighborhood. I emailed Elliot to confirm that non-military could visit the Hacienda. His response was an enthusiastic, “Yes, they can!”

Pulling up to Fort Sam Houston’s gate in the dark is more than a little intimidating. But as Elliot promised, all I needed to do was show ID and a friendly guard gave me directions to the Hacienda. If you haven’t been inside Fort Sam in a while, you might be surprised. The overall vibe is reminiscent of a massive college campus.

I guess you could say I stood out a little when I walked in the Hacienda’s front door. And the look on my face must have been telling when I was asked, “Who are you with?”

“Well, I’m not with anybody,” I said. “But I came here to see Three Way Split.” At that point, the woman checking IDs summoned Luckey McClain, who firmly explained that the Hacienda is owned by the government, exclusively serves 5,000 students going through Initial Entry Training, and is in no way “open to the public.”

When I explained that I was hoping to write about the Hacienda, Luckey asked for some credentials, and eventually I was given a yellow bracelet allowing me temporary access to the sprawling rec room. It seems simple enough now, but crashing this party was probably just as tricky as getting into the storied Manchester discotheque the Hacienda in its heyday (in the ’90s, Newsweek dubbed Manchester’s Hacienda – which housed a cocktail bar named the Gay Traitor, in honor of British spy Anthony Blunt — “the most famous club in the world”).

I wouldn’t say I was scared, but nervous? Definitely. Luckey was nice enough to walk me around and introduce me to one of the bartenders, who served me a Dos XX. In the Hacienda’s theater area, people lounged on sofas and listened to Three Way Split. In the adjoining arcade, others played pool and combat-themed video games. Rather than trying to make new friends, I went back to the front room to talk to Luckey, a musician (with the band 19 Days) who was hired to revive the Hacienda’s music program. While we were chatting, a young couple approached Luckey to ask if they could “check out an Xbox.”

“It’s a little late,” he told them. “We’re closing soon.”

Students can also check out musical instruments to play in one of the “semi-acoustical” practice rooms upstairs.

“Wow, this really reminds me of college,” I said.

“You know, it’s interesting that you say that,” Luckey said, “because military bases are definitely becoming more like campuses. Things look a lot more relaxed than they used to.”

Since the purpose of the Bar Tab is not to tell you about secret, forbidden bars where you have to be invited by a soldier, I was determined to find a friendly watering hole near Fort Sam, where anyone could get a drink.

“He says his friends recommended this place to him, but he might just be saying that,” owner Allen Barefoot said to Gail the bartender. Gail, who’d greeted me with a handshake and an ID check, was busy helping Jeannie, an off-duty bartender, figure out her drink order. Buckets of beer and Smirnoff Ice line the bar at Ebb Tide Lounge, a tidy joint owned by Allen Barefoot Jr., a retired Army aviator. Jeannie’s order was so complicated because she was buying a drink for every regular in the bar. “Can I get you one?” she asked.

“We don’t sell liquor, but we do sell set-ups for $1.50,” Barefoot said. “We’ve been here since 1957. I bought it, then I sold it for a few years — don’t ask me why, I guess I had a hole in my head — and then I bought it back in ’97. It’s a nice little place.”

“Do you get a lot of military in here?” I asked.

“We get some, but I don’t want A team fightin’ with B team in here,” Barefoot replied. “It’s mainly regulars, but a woman can walk in here by herself and have a glass of wine.”

“I can see that,” I said, noticing the mini bottles of merlot and white zinfandel in the beer cooler.

“Before you leave, I want you to go look at the jukebox. There’s an album in there called Simply Country,” Barefoot said. Except for “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “Sing Me Back Home,” all the songs on Simply Country are original, and were recorded by none other than LTC Allen Barefoot Jr., U.S. Army, Ret. Not surprisingly, the song “My Flag” (based on a poem Barefoot wrote) is his favorite. •

Ebb Tide Lounge
2117 Harry Wurzbach
(210) 824-5624

Vibe: A nice little place that’s been serving beer, wine, and set-ups to regulars for 53 years. Nothing fancy — four TVs, two pool tables, two dartboards, and bartenders that greet you with a handshake (if you don’t get a handshake, Colonel Barefoot wants to hear about it).

Best use: Go AWOL from your regular haunts and share a bucket of beer with a new set of friends. Whether you’re a single lady who prefers to fly solo or a harlot on a tour of booty, Ebb Tide sells wine and serves soldiers (in moderation).

Prices: domestic beer: $2.25; premium beer: $3; domestic bucket: $10; premium bucket: $13


Honorable mention:
The Hacienda Recreation Center
Fort Sam Houston Bldg. 1462
(210) 224-7250

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