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Go Ask Alice

In the north end of the Heights, the Tall Texan gets it just about right.

The usual way this column works is Nightfly places a phone call to a bar/nightclub/lounge to find out when the best time to come hang out would be, when it's most likely there will be a good crowd having a grand time.

Saturday nights are almost always best. Friday nights are good too. Occasionally it's Thursdays, maybe for an industry-night gathering, or Mondays, for an open mike or something. Or maybe a venue alternates between crowds and vibes, so you have to go on two or three or separate nights to really get a feel for a place.

The way these things typically start, the voice on the other end of the phone mentions a specific day as the best time to get a representative sample of what a standard night is like.

In this respect, Alice's Tall Texan (4904 N. Main) is anything but typical.

Otherwise, Alice's Tall Texan is extremely typical, particularly within the context of longtime neighborhood hangouts. Not much has changed during Alice's long tenure as the bar's namesake.

A demure five feet tall, she took over 26 years ago. The place was actually a bar before then, but that's inconsequential, really. Alice is, for all intents and purposes, the Tallest Texan to have ever set foot in the place.

Go ask Alice when the best time to come visit would be, and you get an answer you weren't expecting but probably should have. You can come anytime you want.

Stop by Monday through Sunday, and you can expect to find the exact same thing: a bar whose essence has everything to do with being only a true, true neighborhood bar and nothing else.

Some places nowadays are purposely built to reflect a hipper version of that aesthetic — Brad Moore and Rich Prater's Big Star Bar (1005 W. 19th), also located in the Heights but nowhere near Alice's joint, does this to great effect — but the Tall Texan is the opposite.

It's a small room, perhaps 20 feet square, with enough seating for almost 40 people. Inside, there is a pool table in remarkable condition, a digital jukebox, a poker pinball machine that doesn't really work, some glowing neon beer signs, two tiny restrooms and a tap for only two separate beers: Lone Star and Shiner Bock.

Even when you think you've spotted someone who's come to hang out there for the sole purpose of demonstrating his own hipness by casually mentioning it in a conversation the next day at work, you're wrong.

"This place is the shit," says Casey Crocker, 35, who looks every bit the part of a Heights hipster. "You can quote me on that."

Crocker, though, has actually been frequenting the bar for long enough to know what he's talking about.

"I've been coming here once or twice a week for about 15 years," he says. "It's a great starter bar."

Sitting just a few tables over from him is Felipe Galvan, acclaimed front man for award-winning Houston Spanish ska-punk band Los Skarnales, surrounded by about 12 of his friends. He's been visiting Alice's for years on end too.

One person in Galvan's party gets up and orders nine more beers in fishbowl-like glasses, and the total comes out to less than $16. (That's $1.75 per 24-oz. goblet, cash only.) Selena's "Fotos y Recuerdos" plays on the jukebox, followed later by "Hotel California" and the Texas Tornados' "(Hey Baby) Que Paso."

An older man sits at the corner of the bar nursing his drink. Alice wanders around clearing glasses or straightens up the bar between making drinks. People talk and drink and then leave.

Saturday, Thursday, Tuesday, whatever.You can come out anytime you want. Things will always be typical.
_____________________

Last Call

Fitzgerald's
2706 White Oak

Alice's aforementioned attitude occasionally appears to manifest itself as grumpiness. The first thing she said to a group of people that had walked in and sat at the bar: "Do you want anything or what?" Don't be put off by this. She's a charmer — not quite the lovably moody TV-sitcom grandma, but close enough.

Also, if somehow you've never heard Skarnales, you absolutely should. They are one of Houston's best, most eclectic-sounding bands, and an almost perfect representative for Alice's Tall Texan. Check them out online at www.myspace.com/skarnales or live at Fitzgerald's (2706 White Oak), where Galvan is one of the booking agents, about once a month.

 
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