Blanco's: The Time Machine
"Hello walls, how'd things go for you today?
Hello window, well, I see that you're still here
Hello ceiling. I'm gonna stare at you a while"
— Willie Nelson, "Hello Walls"
Blanco's, the timeless Texas honky-tonk with a major city built up around it, has existed for 30 years. Thirty. To put that in perspective, the average human in America lives to be 78 years old, while the average American nightclub lasts 18 months.
Adjusted for inflation, were it a person, Blanco's would be 1,560 years old. That basically means Blanco's was around when dinosaurs roamed the Earth (or something), and how would you serve a T-Rex a Lone Star, yo?
The venue, a sleepy stand-alone structure surrounded by a gravel parking lot in River Oaks, has moved forward through the years like Guy Pearce in The Time Machine, undisturbed by the hand of time. Looking at it from the corner of Buffalo Speedway and West Alabama, with the surrounding commercial buildings and designer street signs as background, is like looking into the past.
Up close is no different. Blanco's looks like any other smallish rural Texas dance hall or roadhouse. Inside are a shuffleboard table, two pool tables, stage, tables, bar, dance floor and that's it. There's typical bar fare (beer, chili cheese fries, etc), the doorknobs twist to no avail (pull them) and the decor is little more than glowing neon beer signs and a stuffed boar's head.
"I'd describe the atmosphere as rustic country," says Lauren Clark, 50, answering questions during a break from dancing.
The crowd, mostly white and over 25, is rarely too raucous and even more rarely unpleasant. Talk to one person or 12, and the answer will invariably be enthusiastic but vague.
"I've been coming on and off for a couple of years," says 59-year-old Eric Creed. "It's great."
Real Texas honky-tonk music has played no small role in establishing Blanco's as a premiere nightlife spot. The exclusively country open-mike nights every Wednesday manage not to suck because real, actual musicians show up.
Thursday is always no cover, with a mix of local and regional musicians like Mike Stinson, Jeff Hughes & Chaparral and Miss Leslie & Her Juke-Jointers. The Friday headliners such as Dale Watson, Derailers and Jamie Richards play for a $10 or $12 door charge and can be found elsewhere at places like Austin's legendary Broken Spoke.
The well-trodden dance floor, it turns out, is probably Blanco's biggest attraction, and the best explanation for the bar's success — although the burgers are tasty. Seems like they're always dancing.
"The dance floor is good for working on dance skills," offers Creed. "I go to Capone's (4304 Westheimer), St. Regis Hotel (1919 Briar Oaks) and Wild West Houston (6101 Richmond) for dancing too, but when we come here, we kind of feel like we own it."
It doesn't take long to feel comfortable inside Blanco's. Go there enough, and eventually it starts to feel like your own, like you're invested somehow. It's a bar that knows exactly what type of establishment it is, which is a far less common occurrence than most would assume.
Walls, windows, ceiling, all of it. Hello. How are you? I'm gonna stare at you for a while.
My sons are old enough now that they're trying to figure things out, so they ask about 1,000 questions an hour. When I told them that I was going to a place called Blanco's, their eyeballs exploded because they thought I was talking about the albino alligator at the Houston Zoo; he's named Blanco. Anyways, Blanco's is one of the few venues in Houston that, for all intents and purposes, are closed Saturday and Sunday (though available for private parties). This Friday, traditional country artist Landon Dodd performs. It will be a proper good time, for certain. You can hear Dodd and his band online at www.landondoddmusic.com.
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