Dust in the Wind
The building at 606 Old Galveston Road, or Highway 3, in South Houston has existed since before there was anything in the area but pasture and railroad.
It's two stories tall and worn to nubs at its edges. There is nothing on the second floor, which most recently was a bar. Actually, over the last several years, more than a dozen bars have tried to exist upstairs, but each of them closed just as quickly and quietly as they opened. Owning a bar is harder than people think.
Sissie Moorehead knows this, because she owns the bar underneath, a Southeast Houston neighborhood staple called The Depot Saloon.
"When people tell me they want to open a bar, that it's going to be so much fun, I just want to shake 'em," says Moorehead. She's not smiling.
The Depot has been around since before anyone can accurately remember. Moorehead and her husband took over in 2005, needing no more than a handshake with the then-owner to do so.
"We were retiring, but we weren't ready to retire," she remembers. "I wanted to open a flower shop. My husband wanted a bar. I gave in. So I went and worked at bars for a few years until I felt comfortable we could run one."
Moorehead is a tiny woman, guarded in a charming way. At the moment, she is sitting at a four-top table, piddling on a laptop that she does not like, smoking a Virginia Slims cigarette that she does.
She takes drags in between answering questions and ignoring the Astros getting crushed by the Cardinals on the lone large-projection screen TV at the posterior of the bar. Ash occasionally falls from her cigarette onto the keyboard, and she makes a passive attempt to clear it off.
You can still smoke inside bars in South Houston. The liberals forgot about that place.
The Depot is similar to The Original Neighborhood Bar (8902 Winkler) or Mama Faye's Wink (9210 Winkler), two other smallish neighborhood bars within reasonable walking distance. TDS is the biggest, holding about 60 people if you count the patio.
All three feature the prototypical hodgepodge/ramshackle decor. In The Depot, in the span of a few feet, you'll find a poster of Frank Sinatra taped to a mirror, a saddle signed by movie stars that was given to Moorehead, and a couple of Toys for Tots plaques.
All three have their own brand of unique characters. But tonight, like most nights, the biggest difference is that people are here and not there.
"I guess the people are just better here," offers Joe Friend, owner of the neighboring Joe's Upholstery Shop, rumored to be the best, most cost-effective upholstery shop in the universe. His gorgeous 1949 Chevrolet pickup in the parking lot attests to this. "I come here five or six times a week."
Joe's last name isn't really "Friend," but there have been so many Joes around here that he was given the nickname "Joe Friend." He doesn't mind.
The Depot is open all day, every day. The only time it's even close to closed is on Thanksgiving and Christmas, when Moorehead waits until early evening to open the doors. There's never a cover, and they've never even considered enforcing a dress code.
Two large dance halls nearby get utterly packed on the weekends — Hallaballoos Nightclub and Club Olympus (9120 Winkler), both predominantly Tejano venues — but The Depot doesn't get any spillover. It simply exists in its little corner with its own little crowd doing its own little thing, and will be until it's not doing it anymore.
"My husband, we call this [the bar] his girlfriend," says Moorehead.
She's smiling now. "I told him, 'As soon as we have to start supporting your girlfriend, we're closing.'
"He says, 'No, my girlfriend's not asking for anything.' We'll be around."
A neat aside: The saddle mentioned below, as natural as it looks in the bar, is actually a movie prop. Several scenes from a movie called The Mark, written and directed by Bo Brinkman and starring Brinkman, Jeremy London and Morgan Sheppard, were filmed there. That was the first thing Moorehead mentioned. During the time she talked, she pulled up the trailer on YouTube, played it, then said things like, "Look, see, there's my Budweiser sign," and "That part, that's the bar. We had to take the signs off. There's brick underneath there." She was extra-amped about it. It's hard not to like her.
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