Buddy’s Place: Where Everybody Knows Your Name. And Your Sister’s Name. And the Name of That Girl With the Lazy Eye and Wooden Leg You Went Home With That One Night After Drinking too Much Tequila.

June 17, 2013

Whenever I move to a new city, I make sure there’s a good bar within walking distance from my apartment.  I don’t mean a club or a discoa bar.  There has to be a long piece of polished wood that you can carve your initials into and a stool in the corner that fits your ass just right and a no-nonsense bartender that will either laugh at your corny jokes or tell you to shut the hell up depending on the mood they’re in.

And a jukebox.  A good bar most always has a jukebox.

We moved to Austin sight unseen, and while the Less Abrasive Pessimist had a variety of practical concerns about the size of our new apartment and whether or not it had working plumbing, all I could think about was where I was going to drink.  Things did not look good at first.  We live in North Austin, which is not the “cool” part of town.  That suits us just fine, as we gave up on cool years ago.  Now we’re just shooting for “acceptably weird.”  There are a lot of car dealerships and furniture stores near our place, and while I don’t mind living next to establishments peddling sofas and sedans, what I really wanted was a nice dark place to bend my elbow.

The Less Abrasive Pessimist found some bar called Buddy’s Place on the Internet.  I didn’t know anything about it, aside from the fact that it was less than four blocks from our apartment building, but that seemed like a good place to start.  So I got gussied up in my finest T-shirt and blue jeans, and we set off at around 8pm on a Tuesday evening.

SIDE NOTE: It’s always best to scope out a new bar on a weekday.  That way you get to see what the regular clientele look like.  Sure it’s nice when the hipsters and sorority girls drop by on Saturday night, but who are you going to be drinking with when you get kicked out of the house on Monday morning?  That’s the real question.

It was a small, square building not much bigger than a Cracker Jacks box.  The outside was painted sky blue and there was wobbly neon sign near the road that looked like a lawsuit waiting to happen.  There was an image of John Wayne stenciled on the wall and a cartoonish drawing a pony-tailed man with a cigarette in his mouth and a mischievous look on his face.  I could only assume this was Buddy.

There were five people sitting at the bar, and when we entered they all turned around at the same time, as though they’d been practicing all week for just such an occasion.  A big man with a handlebar mustache and tinted glasses bellowed, “Y’all got  any good stories?  We done told all of ours and now we’re bored.”

The Less Abrasive Pessimist tightened her grip on my arm.  I said, “Not really, but I can make some shit up if you like.”

That got a big laugh, and we were immediately accepted by the inner circle.  Names were exchanged all aroundand then quickly forgotten.  For the rest of the evening, I was either Dave or Dan or Hey You, and the Less Abrasive Pessimist was Juanita for reasons unknown.

There’s no hard alcohol at Buddy’s and no beer on tap.  If you ask for a menu, the bartender points to the ceiling, where there are about a dozen bottles and cans hanging from plastic cords.  You can bring in your own bottle of whiskey if you are so inclined, and there’s wine on special occasions.  What constitutes a special occasion at Buddy’s could be anything from an engagement announcement to the purchase of a new pair of boots.

There’s no food at Buddy’s either, but they don’t mind if you bring in a bag from the Taco Cabana across the street, as long as there’s enough inside it for everyone.  There’s also a very nice woman named Jazelle who comes around once in a while and sells tamales at $10 a dozen.

If you don’t want to pay for your drinks, you can try your luck with the dice.  One dollar buys you a roll—six of a kind gets you a free six pack and if you get ten you win the whole pot, which is currently somewhere in the four figures.

Behind the bar there’s an erase board with a list of customer names and birthdays.  Below that there’s a bumper sticker that says “Unattended Children will be Sold as Slaves” and just to the right there’s a sign that reads “If you are grouchy, irritable, or just plain mean, there will be a $20 charge for putting up with you.”

There are two men’s bathrooms.  The normal one that most customers use, which has seen better days, and the secret one that everyone who frequents Buddy’s knows about.  And if those are both occupied, you can always step out the back door and relieve yourself on the Dumpster.  In the women’s bathroom, there’s a colorful shower curtain hanging on the wall for no apparent reason and on the mirror alphabet stickers spell out the message “YOU ARE SO PRETTY.”

There’s a no-smoking sign behind the bar, which means the owner, Jackie, will ask you if you’re bothered by cigarettes, and then light one up before you have a chance to answer.

Jackie is the new owner.  He used to be a bartender, but when Buddy passed away, Jackie bought the place.  There’s a photo of Buddy behind the bar, and he looks a bit like the quirky badass grandpa in “Lost Boys.”  If you turn around on your bar stool, there’s a picture of Jackie on the wall wearing a blonde wig and holding on to what appears to be a stripper pole.  The staff really enjoys pointing it out to new customers.

The walls are filled with pictures of employees and regular customers, although the line between employees and regulars is a bit blurred in Buddy’s.  On any given night, you can find most of the off-duty bartenders investing their tips back into the business one bottle at a time.

There’s a mannequin dressed as a cowboy, and in the dim bar light he looks incredibly real after half a dozen Budweisers.  His name is Jasper, and periodically the staff will set him on a stool with a beer in his hand and then watch as new customers keep glancing over at him with curiosity and fear.  According to legend, one night after a few beers a regular had an hour-long conversation with Jasper.  There’s an ongoing debate over what they talked about, but Jasper’s been pretty tight-lipped about the whole affair.

It’s not an expensive bar.  Beer is $3, pool is ₵50, the jukebox plays three songs for $1, and there’s a $5 charge for whining.

Oh, yeah, there’s a jukebox.  It’s filled with country tunes, most of them of the old school variety.  George Jones, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Willy Nelson, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard.

There’s also live music at Buddy’s.  They don’t have a stage exactly, but there’s some open space next to the shuffleboard table where a band can set up, and the Christmas lights on the ceiling provide a nice ambiance.  On the back wall hangs a Confederate flag with the silhouette of cowgirl on it and the words “Redneck Woman” over the top.  If you’re lucky and happen to be around on Friday night, you just might hear Son Geezinslaw fronted by Dwayne “Son” Smith.  It’s just Smith and an excellent steel-guitar player that sounds like the reincarnated ghost of Don Helms.  There are usually about twenty people in the audience, and requests are welcome, although not necessarily obliged.  What many in the audience don’t realize is that Smith is the son of the famous Austin-based duo the Geezinslaw Brothers, which toured extensively for forty years starting in the 1960s.  They appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Jackie Gleason Show and even had the privilege of opening for Elvis.  My favorite songs by the Geezinslaws are “Blah…Blah…Blah” and “Help, I’m White and I Can’t Get Down.”

On that balmy Tuesday evening, “Juanita” and I stayed at Buddy’s until around midnight.  Toward the end, there was just us, the bartender on duty, the bartender’s boyfriend, an off-duty bartender, and a bald Canadian with a hockey fixation, and we had a grande time.  We got drunk, we heard good stories, and we listened to good music.  I was sold on the jukebox selection and decor, and the Less Abrasive Pessimist fell for the variety of small dogs constantly roaming around the bar begging for treats.

And when it was time to stumble home, we agreed that we’d found our bar.

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