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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Foreign exchange students

Posted on Wed, Feb 17, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Release Date: 2010-02-17

The usual nightlife suspects can be found most any night of the week drinking and dancing in the St. Mary’s strip of bars, but I was intrigued by rumors of a pair of DJs spinning celestial jams every Tuesday night at the Russian Bar (aka the Web House). Parking at this end of the strip was no problem. It was suspiciously quiet outside the bar, even pastoral, and as I walked through the cobbled patio, no signs of life greeted me. Strange, I thought. I pulled open the glass door to find a picture-perfect neighborhood bar.

The room was all dark wood and low lights in a cozy space about the size of an old-timey schoolhouse. A cluster of couches sat unoccupied, as did a trio of tables and chairs. A line of five men (boys, really) sat, backs hunched, bellies to the bar, having an easy conversation over the light sounds of a barback boombox. Not a lady in sight. So this is where all the guys in San Antonio are, I thought, taking an open seat at the far end. The matter of the two advertised DJs was still a mystery, but I ordered a vodka and soda, extra limes, which came in an industrial-size ribbed plastic cup. $3.50. No pretensions there. 

So where were the DJs?

“Yeah, we came for the DJs, too!” Shouted a pair at the other end of the bar; they raised their cups in solidarity. The bartender, a recent hire, knew not a thing of the promised entertainment and checked in with the manager, who said the previous Tuesday was Cosmic Cream’s last hurrah.

No matter—the bartender, a convivial but not gregarious sort, was playing a mild selection of tunes that suited the tempo perfectly. I settled into my bar stool and wondered, on a Tuesday night in a city as friendly as ours, how long would I remain an outsider here, sipping silently and alone. The answer: not long.  

First my right-side neighbor and then the bartender drew me into some casual banter, and soon everyone at the bar was comfortably abuzz with one another. Each time the door opened, everyone’s heads craned around to see who would join our gang next. Dissenters from the loud dancing ’n’ drinking down the street streamed in, seeking a place to sit and an honest chat. A group of too-heeled girls stumbled in, and rather than allow them to take a table, we all agreed to scooch down a few stools and make room at the bar. This is a place you can come where maybe no one knows your name, but stick around for an hour and they will.  

Weekend nights at Russian Bar (or Web House) are just a slightly dressier, more vivacious affair. Even in its Friday-night incarnation this is still the spot on North St. Mary’s if you’re looking to, a) sit down, b) converse, c) drink obscure Russian lager. While the weekend buzz is a little grander, this is still essentially a hangout bar, in a great location, with affordable booze and affable patrons. Make it your Cheers. — Natalia Ciolko

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