Fire Down Below
"One Headlight," the 1996 hit by Los Angeles alt-rockers the Wallflowers, is still a fun song. Know where you wouldn't expect to hear it performed live? Firehouse Saloon (5930 Southwest Fwy.), a venue centered around twangy music of the Texas/Oklahoma ("Red Dirt") variety.
"I'm a big fan of that song and that whole album," explains Fred Andrews, lead singer of Honeybrowne, who headlined a recent Firehouse Saturday. "We cover that song because it's a good way to get people who might not have heard our music involved."
At the moment, that doesn't really seem to be a problem. Firehouse's dance floor is stuffed with two-stepping fans. What fireman Duane Hefley opened in 1992 under the premise of being a "firemen's bar" — has there ever been a safer-sounding place? — has evolved into a haven for Red Dirt music.
It's decorated with the expected line of knick-knacks (old cowboy boots, worn-down child's wagon, car hood, etc), but feels less like a theme park than do several similar bars. Although it does feature an actual fire truck on its patio.
Ask any four or five people in attendance why they like the Firehouse, and you'll inevitably get some variation of the same answer: It's a laid-back place where you can just hang out.
So long as a place isn't going out of its way to be hip, this is usually the answer you get if you ask almost anyone in almost any bar this question. But two things happen tonight that lend credence to the claim, and both of them involve someone not getting the ever-loving shit beat out of him.
First, there's a guy here wearing a Peyton Manning jersey. This nightlife fashion faux pas isn't as surprising as you'd initially imagine; there are picnic tables inside the bar, and the clientele aren't too worried about that sort of thing.
At any rate, we once went to a Texans-Colts game and saw a guy in a Manning jersey berated endlessly for the better part of three hours. But nobody here has shouted one obscenity at this fellow yet, not even playfully.
The second thing that happens is a bit more serious and, consequently, way cooler.
Sitting at one picnic table near the stage are a friendly medical marketer and her wild-eyed boyfriend. We didn't get their names because...well, you'll see.
The marketer is originally from Dallas and finds the bars in Houston to be "a lot more laid-back." The sole reason for her visit tonight, she explains, is simply to "see the band, because they're great."
During a break in the music, she shouts out a song title ("College Days") to Honeybrowne. The band happily obliges, and she begins dancing. During her dance solo, some foolish soul standing nearby reaches out and appears to slap her butt.
Wild Eyes, watching her from the opposite end of the picnic table, springs up out of his seat, steps across the table and clutches butt-slapper around the throat with both hands.
We do not advocate violence, of course, but his reaction is completely understandable and even admirable. If a man puts his hands on your significant other, you are responsible for seeing it doesn't happen again. Had Wild Eyes had a gun on him, it would've been completely acceptable for him to pistol-whip the offending guy a few times — call it the Goodfellas Rule.
But before things can escalate — we're talking within three or four seconds — several patrons and an employee step in, separate the two and calm everyone down. Ten seconds afterward, it's like it never happened. Anyone not near the would-be tussle missed it entirely.
Ultimately, it's the exact opposite of how you'd expect that situation to go down in a bar like this. The nonfighting, though, is hardly an anomaly. Management says in its nearly two decades of operation, Firehouse has had exactly seven previous "problems."
"It's just such a friendly bar," says Marty Lancton, who recently took over ownership with Tom Imber, both of whom are also current firefighters. "We want people to feel at home when they come here. People don't have to worry about anything except seeing a great concert and having a great time."
If Mr. Peyton Manning Jersey and Mr. Butt-Smacker can both get away unscathed, he must be telling the truth.
By the time this article runs, the Walt Wilkins acoustic showcase that Lancton proudly talked about setting up during our interview with him will have come and gone. But you can catch Wilkins back in action at the Firehouse October 23 with Texas Renegade Band. Cover is $10. Honeybrowne, meanwhile, returns November 23 with Southern crooner Mike Mancy, again for $10. If you prefer to do your drinking sans live music, Firehouse also caters to the 5-9 p.m. happy hour crowd, so stop by then. The bar's back patio area has been redone nicely.
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