As mentioned in our honky-tonk cover story last month, Aubrey's Club in north Houston is a step back in time. Lonesome Onry and Mean drove out there last winter to catch longtime Houston country singer Country Jim Sloan, and we were most pleased with what we found.
For one thing, Aubrey's is set up for live music and dancing: The stage is in a prominent but out of the way corner with a large dance floor immediately in front of the band. Behind the dance floor, plenty of table-and-chair seating, nothing fancy, you understand, but very functional. A nice long semi-circular bar in the rear with plenty of pool tables in the area farthest from the music completes the milieu.
What immediately struck us about Aubrey's was that people were smoking inside! Now we don't know what the deal is, where the city limits and smoking ban end and where Aldine and Harris County's jurisdiction begins. We just know there's a cigarette machine, ashtrays and second-hand smoke.
The second thing we noticed was the crowd. This is not that glossy River Oaks country crowd that hangs out at Blanco's in their Neiman-Marcus duds and hats that only come out at night. Most of the folks dancing at Aubrey's appeared to be beyond retirement age: Plenty of blue-haired dos, and leathery male faces under black felt hats that looked like they were more than casual adornments.
The most popular beers seemed to be Lone Star and Miller Lite; it's pointless asking for a beer list expecting to find your favorite Colorado micro-brew or something that makes Trappist monks meditate.
And, just so you're forewarned, there might be a north side, politically incorrect redneck or two hanging around in a place that has the Saddle Sores' version of "Ain't Goin' Down On Brokeback Mountain" (also recorded by Willie Nelson) on the jukebox. We also met a hard-nosed little cowboy who beat us at pool with one hand, so you might think before you get into a game of eight ball that involves any wagers.
But the real highlight of this strip center bar is the music. This weekend, Aubrey's has Country Jim Sloan on Friday and Houston country giant Wayne "Animal" Turner Saturday. Sloan is the father of two of Houston's most notable country-music divas, Leslie of Miss Leslie and Her Juke Jointers and Hilary Sloan of the Hilary Sloan Band, I Am Mesmer and occasionally Robert Ellis & the Boys.
Mr. Sloan, whose roots go back to bluegrass days in Kentucky, fronts a rock-solid band that includes Turner and former Gene Watson bassist Pete Burke that can basically cover about any damned country song your heart desires. And cover it well.
Turner, who joined Hank Jr.'s Bama Band and toured with him for years, is one of Houston's least recognized honky tonk treasures. He's not only a master of the Telecaster, he has one of the smoothest, most legitimate honky-tonk voices anywhere. This guy can sing his ass off.
So if you're looking for the real deal, the sort of honky-tonks that Houston used to have by the dozens but that are now as rare as dinosaur teeth, gas up your car and head north on I-45 to the Gulf Bank exit. Aubrey's is only a couple of blocks to the left at the light. Be warned: It's like entering a honky-tonk time warp.
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In fact, it reminds LOM of the West Texas joints where we first encountered live honky tonk music.
Here's Aubrey's Facebook page. It's not exactly a fountain of useful information, since it doesn't even have the music schedule. Let's just say Aubrey's is one of those places you just have to know from word of mouth.
Maybe they like it that way. There is plenty of well-lit parking.
770 Gulf Bank, 281-999-7600.