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Liquid Lunch

A weekday afternoon in Westbury's Cozy Corner

Sometimes you've just gotta have that four-beer lunch. Maybe the weather's been bad for awhile, or maybe you've hit a boring patch at your job, or it could be that it's just time to shake things up in general. Simply put, some days require an extended recess.

The thing is, here in Houston it's not that easy to find bars that are open during the workday. Sure, you could go somewhere like La Tapatia, El Pueblito or Pappasito's and spring for an extra margarita or three, but that's not a true four-beer lunch where we come from. There should be minimal food involved in your true liquid lunch -- a handful of nuts or two are acceptable, but only just. What's more, real-deal liquid lunches should be taken at real-deal local bars, where your only company is the regulars.

And what's (yet) more, they should take place at real-deal-est local bars with names like The Cozy Corner (11530 Burdine). A week or so ago, that's just what the Nightfly and Rudyard's/Poison Girl bartender Brad Moore did, and did it ever hit the spot.

The Cozy Corner has been in existence for longer than anyone there could tell us. April, the blond, thirtysomething barmaid, estimated that the joint had been in existence for more than 20 years, but she really didn't know when the place opened. It's safe to say that whenever it did open, the surrounding neighborhood was in better shape, as the Cozy Corner is a hop and a skip away from the moldering, ramshackle ruins of Westbury Square, Houston's decades-ahead-of-its-time open-air mall that now looks years past its sell-by date. You don't hear much about Westbury's nightlife, or, for that matter, its four-beer-lunch scene, but it does exist, and we were at its epicenter.

The Cozy Corner sits in a tiny, beige-brick strip mall, where it shares a roof with, of all things, a dentist's office. It's very small, and it opens at 11 a.m. and closes at two in the morning. There's a shuffleboard set against one wall and a couple of fruit machines against the other, and karaoke on the weekends. There are a couple of dusty, nicotine-stained Texans pennants on the wall, yellowed rags so bar-beaten they look as if they belonged to a franchise with actual history. The jukebox features a mix of Southern and classic rock, jazz standards (even a Charlie Parker collection) and plenty of country, from Hank Sr. to Big & Rich. They do serve liquor, and beer is two dollars, maybe a little more or a little less. A sign behind the bar proclaims that "Prices vary according to your attitude."

The arrival of two strangers has April's curiosity piqued. "I was lookin' through the blinds at y'all, wonderin' who you were," she says. "And you" -- she nods to Brad -- "have that old Oilers jacket on. I thought you might be my ex-husband." She asks where we're from and I tell her I live near West University. Brad tells her that he is from Montrose and works in a bar.

"Oh, we get a lot of your regulars in here," she says, as Wet Willie's "Keep on Smilin'" plays in the background and the sun shines through the open door. "People who also go to JR's," she adds, with an eyebrow raised. "People are starting to call this place Little Montrose."

Moore patiently explains that the bars he works in are straight bars, even though they are located in Montrose.

"Hell, we don't care about gay people comin' here," April says. "They don't come on to you unless you want 'em to. We're one big family. I quit this job for four months, but I had to come back. You see those people over there?" She points to a quiet, mustachioed middle-aged man and a blond woman in a Texas Longhorns T-shirt. "That's Duke and Cookie Mama. They are my very best friends in the whole world. I couldn't stay away from them for too long."

"Ooohh," "'Very best,'" says Cookie Mama, a nurse who moonlights as a baker. "I like that."

The Guess Who's "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature" billows from the juke.

"Y'all," says a beaming April, "I haven't heard this song in forever. Nobody ever plays it. Y'all have to promise you'll stay till the end of my shift." The next song is the Texas Tornados' "Que Paso." "Okay, that's it," she says. She opens the cash register and pulls out a couple of singles. "Y'all play cool music. Put this in there."

While April's busy at the other end of the bar, Brad turns to me and whispers, "Man, this is a great bar."

April returns and talk turns to the raising of kids. "I have a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old," April says. "I told 'em both they're gettin' luggage for their 18th birthdays. They can move in with their dad or join the military, but they will be usin' that luggage," she says.

And, that, my friends, is the kind of pearl of wisdom you can only glean from a four-beer lunch in a Westbury neighborhood dive. Try it sometime.

 
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