Nintendo was introduced, single-handedly if momentarily making Mike Tyson a demigod to an entire generation, The Cosby Show debuted and — probably most relevant to this space — Cecil's Tavern (600 W. Gray) opened.
Cecil's is a come-as-you-are bar located in Fourth Ward; at least we think it is. Nobody really seems certain of Fourth Ward's boundaries, least of all the citizens who may or may not live there. It's kind of like how people never really know if they're alcoholics or not.
At any rate, the tavern has existed in basically the same space for more than 20 years, and has carved out a nice little alcove for itself among the locals. So much so, in fact, that a weekend trip to Cecil's, usually the opportune time to visit any bar, is the least appropriate time to see what it's really like.
"It's more wild [sic] in here during the weekend," says bartender Jay Malone-Stein. "We get a bunch of the Midtown crowd coming in. During the week it's definitely a lot more regulars, a lot more calm."
Malone-Stein's simple analysis couldn't be more dead-on. To wit, it is Monday night, and the crowd — which is genuinely of mixed age/race/status — is almost all either regulars or people native to the area. Even the ones who aren't, like 24-year-old Rachael DeBlanc, seem to have ties to the place.
"This was 'my bar,'" says DeBlanc, who moved to the suburbs after her months-old daughter was born. "I live in Spring now. I hate Spring bars. People don't judge you here. I fit in here."
Sitting in Cecil's, it takes all of about 12 seconds to figure out what DeBlanc means. In addition to the tavern's warm decor — huge outdoor patio/deck, authentic wood floors, wonderfully slipshod wall hangings, cozy seating — three occurrences happen that neatly wrap up why Cecil's has been able to stay relevant for so long.
First, while at the bar, a bartender wanders over and DeBlanc brightly mentions her baby. Most new parents do, because they've yet to have their souls dampened by doing something they never, ever anticipated having to do but are now required to do twice weekly, like clean poop out of the refrigerator.
She playfully tells the bartender how baby DeBlanc would sass him if she were here, and he quickly responds, "Whatever, I'll eat that baby."
You don't tell someone you'll eat their baby unless you're G.G. Allin or you've got at least a semi-close relationship with that person. In this instance, it's the latter. And it's hardly uncommon at Cecil's.
Second, in an attempt to help a stranger retrieve a stuck ball from the bowels of a pool table, a guy who looks like Johnny Depp in Secret Window picks up one end of the table to try and get the ball to roll out. It doesn't work, but still, those things weigh like 400 pounds. We don't even hold doors open for old people.
Finally, late in the evening, a three-song set consisting of Warren G's "Regulate," Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" and Boyz II Men's "Motownphilly" plays on the jukebox, and there's no group of a-holes in the back laughing at their super-funny picks. Somebody genuinely wanted to hear those songs, and nobody within earshot of the speakers thinks that's weird. That alone might be all you need to know about the place.
Cecil's is a bona fide neighborhood bar. If that's your bag, make it a point to go by and visit. But even if you don't, we're fairly certain they'll be just fine without you.
This Thursday, Hearts of Animals, one of our favorite local bands that we enjoy listening to but will never admit to, will be out at The Mink (3718 Main). If everything in the world had an audible sound, HOA would probably be something like a piece of flamboyant costume jewelry. Mlee, the heart of HOA, is just about as indie as indie-pop gets; we're confident she's been described as dreamy or ethereal at least 1,000 times. Thursday's show will be $7, but listen to her at www.myspace.com/heartsofanimals if you can't swing cover.
Oh, and periodically on Cecil's patio, a guy dressed like a chef sells burgers and whatnot. Good stuff.