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.

Last Call

January 29, 2012

Originally published in Boulder Weekly

June 2008

“Where do you get those weird ideas for your column?” my friend asked during a recent phone conversation. I told him that my ideas come from the same three muses that inspire all writers: sex, rum and cheeseburgers. He asked me to elaborate…

It’s 1:36 a.m. on a Friday night/Saturday morning and I am sitting at a bar on Pearl Street, gently stirring a double rum and coke, sort of half-watching Ultimate Fighting on an old television set that is bolted to the wall in front of me and sort of half-watching a young man at the other end of the bar who is masticating the straw that came with his drink in a way that seems to indicatethat he has some  pent-up Freudian issues involving his mother. He is one of those impossibly beautiful people whose hair always looks perfect, even in the middle of hurricane-like winds, and he’s talking to a girl who also has hurricane-proof hair, and they smile and they laugh and they generally look like a toothpaste commercial, except for the fact that this impossibly beautiful boy is drunk and this impossibly beautiful girl is also drunk, and it’s quite clear that they will soon be going home together to have impossibly beautiful drunken sex, and this knowledge somehow makes me both happy and depressed at the same time.

I finish my drink and order another because Last Call is looming around the corner like a 400-pound ninja with a grudge, and I don’t know karate. My drink has too much ice in it and the soda is flat and the bartender slipped a lime wedge in there even though I told him not to and I take a sip and think, Ah, just the way I like it. On the television, the Ultimate Fighter in the white shorts is now beating the ever-loving shit out of the Ultimate Fighter in the black shorts, and across the bar the impossibly beautiful boy and girl are asking the bartender for their check, and at that exact moment, Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” comes on the jukebox and you can almost see everyone in the room smile at the same time (even though “Billie Jean” is an incredibly sad song when you think about it).

I have now reached the perfect level of drunkenness: warm and sort of swimmy but not stumbly. Of course, this is the moment that I choose to text-message all the people I should not be sending text messages to while I’m drunk (ex-girlfriends, ex-girlfriend’s friends, ex-girlfriend’s exfriends, etc., etc.). While I am trying to spell “It wasn’t my fault” on my cell phone, a girl sits down next to me and asks if I like Michael Jackson. This girl has cornflower-blue eyes and blonde corkscrew-like hair, and I tell her that I definitely do not like Michael Jackson. I tell her that the word “like” is not sufficient to describe my feelings about the music created by the King of Pop. His bass lines are groundbreaking. His hooks are transcendent. Michael Jackson is a genius. She says that she likes Michael Jackson, too (“No matter what he did or did not do to McCulley Culkin”), and then we have an intense debate over what was his best album, Thriller or Bad, and I lose the debate because she brings up M.J.’s collaboration with Paul McCartney on “The Girl is Mine,” which is not really fair because it’s impossible to argue against a former member of The Beatles. I’m trying to work up the courage to ask this blonde girl for her phone number, but suddenly some guy wearing a They Might Be Giants T-shirt swoops in and beats me to the punch and I curse the little birdhouse in his soul.

The walk home takes about 45 minutes, and it’s the best 45 minutes of the whole year. The stars are bright. The air is charged with nocturnal romance. And I find a quarter.

McDonald’s is three blocks from my house and their drive-thru window is open 24 hours, and even though I don’t have a car, the 15-year-old Night Manager lets me order a double cheeseburger from the dollar menu and I go home and sit on my balcony and eat my delicious, un-healthy, un-organic food product, and I think about all the things in the world I truly love that no one else really cares about: zombie movies, Billy Joel, SkyMall, documentaries about seria killers, documentaries about religious cults, documentaries about aliens, ThunderCats, Hot Pockets, Footloose, Michael Landon, Spider-Man, Miles Davis, Scott Baio, the Rocky movies (except for number five), Rambo, pretty much Sylvester Stallone’s entire career, The Dukes of Hazzard, Bill Hicks, Spaghetti Westerns, The Karate Kid movies (except for number four), Netflix, interviews with prostitutes, taxidermy, books about Scientology, Christian rock and tater tots.

And that’s when I write my column.

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