John and German have known each other for about two years and have had numerous conversations, yet neither knows the other's last name. German is Latino, so his name is pronounced a little closer to "Herman."
"In Spanish the 'G' is silent," says German, who did not give his last name, "but in English, the 'G' talks."
German and John, who gives the last name "Scott," make a very affable duo. They're sitting on the back patio of Darkhorse Tavern (2207 Washington), a seemingly unremarkable bar on the slower end of Washington Avenue. They talk about all manner of things, but the discussion seems to spiral back to one central theme: They've possibly found a new drinking home.
John and German are new to the Darkhorse. They started visiting when Ernie's On Banks closed and Grand Prize (1010 Banks) opened in its place, but thus far they like what they've seen. The Darkhorse continues to pull them to a place many feel is an increasingly unappealing square in Houston's nightlife quilt.
"This is the only place on the Washington strip I would frequent," says Scott with a half-smile. But even though he's "new," Scott's thinking is already in line with that of many longtime Taverners.
First-time bar owner Brian Leubecker opened the Darkhorse waaayyyy back in July 2004, back before Washington was known for anything other than used-car lots, taquerias and long-gone music venues like Mary Jane's (now Pearl Bar, 4216 Washington). It's a small, narrow bar, with an occupancy rate that barely reaches past a few dozen.
The storefront — a timeless brick facade with two small neon signs blinking in the window and a sturdy door of glass and wood — seems like it was built solely to have guys stand in front of it and smoke cigarettes while someone snaps black-and-white pictures of them.
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The interior is equally, and enjoyably, spartan. The space between the concrete floors and 11-foot ceilings is filled with antique furniture the property owner has collected over the years. There's a sturdy buffet, chests with some old board games thrown inside and a few century-old church pews.
More modern accessories include a Pac-Man video game, two TVs, an electronic jukebox and a Sopranos pinball machine complete with two tiny plastic strippers inside. The whole setup provides an easy backdrop for easy conversation.
"It's [a] chill, laid-back and open-minded group of people," says recent college graduate Shania Williams, 23.
Naturally, given its attributes and overall character, many are quick to label the Darkhorse a "dive" bar. Leubecker disagrees, though not vehemently, and really only semantically.
"On the weekends we get a wide range of people coming in, but there are people that have been coming in here since the first week," he says. "During the week, we're the epitome of a neighborhood bar. I think it's kind of funny that if you're not a clubby kind of place on Washington, then you're a dive."
It's a valid point. Just because you don't feel like you have to put on your distressed Armani Exchange jeans when you go to a bar doesn't mean it's a dive. It simply means you made a good wardrobe decision for the night.
"All the places that have been around the longest are just bars," notes Leubecker. "Rudyard's (2010 Waugh), Cecil's (600 W. Gray), they're just bars. They've been around forever. That's what I want [Darkhorse] to be."
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It is. And it's likely not going anywhere anytime soon.
There's lots of music going on this weekend, but if you can only make it out to a single show, let it be this Friday at the Dosey Doe Coffee House (25911 I-45 N., The Woodlands). Rocker/bluesman/jazz dude Edgar Winter will be performing, and he will most assuredly rip that mother to shreds. That is a fact. If there's one thing we've learned in life, it's to never ever bet against an albino multi-instrumentalist from Beaumont, Texas.