Night Life

The Almeda-Genoa Icehouse Crawl

If you're gonna open up a service establishment like a bar or restaurant, you need permits: alcohol permits, food permits, Dumpster permits, blah, blah, blah. But if you want to open up a real Texas-style icehouse, there's a whole 'nother list of permits you'll need.

You'll need stuffed-animal-head permits and beer-can-wind chime permits, plus one for your 3-D rendering of "Dogs Playing Poker" and another for those multiple autographed pictures of Texans cheerleaders. And don't forget the permits for wooden signs with quirky sayings and the rickety old pool table.

The three icehouses along Almeda-Genoa between Blackhawk and Monroe are all up to code.

In fact, Windmill Icehouse, the furthest from I-45, is apparently so far in the black that the owner totally rejected our friendly request and said he "didn't need any promotion."

The staff at Big Dawg's Saloon (8806 Almeda-Genoa), however, was considerably more cooperative. If you don't have the standard icehouse "look," walking in feels kind of like driving at night through all that construction on Kirby between Reliant Stadium and the Village: It's not like you're not supposed to be there, but you're still a little uncertain you belong. Despite the initial uneasy feelings, though, the place is a gem.

Opened in 2000 by current owner Tony Bash, Big Dawg's is the sort of place where the TVs are slightly off-color and flyers display screen shots of a burglar with "Have you seen this dickhead?" penned across the top.

Sometimes six-foot-tall cowboys come sauntering in with their guitars to play impromptu sets of some of the South's finest country ballads. Big ups to Tommy Olson, who we've officially dubbed "Mouth," and Charlie Eddleman for their most recent afternoon "concert."

It's the kind of place where regulars like Joe Martin, an older, tattooed gentleman, are revered and respected, and come day after day after day because "to me, it's nice and quiet and just like home." Meanwhile, women like Linda Eddleman, Big Dawg's manager for all eight years, dish out sassy charm and wit just as easily as they do $2 bottles of beer.

And beneath its gruff exterior, Big Dawg has raised thousands of dollars for friends and neighbors in need, has a wall commemorating its passed-on patrons and hosts events like an upcoming August 2 fund-raiser for autistic children.

Just a stone's throw from Big Dawg's front door — assuming you can throw a stone several hundred yards — is E.C.'s Jukebox Lounge (9030-A Almeda-Genoa), a wonderfully open place cut from the same cloth as its neighbor up the road.

However, E.C.'s has been open for nearly twice as long. Current owner E.C. Vinson has held the reins for almost 15 years, and at first glance, the place looks like more of the same.

But Jukebox, like most other storied haunts, is more than beers that are run through an electric cooler first and placed in an actual ice cooler later, SRV and ­Martin Del Ray jukebox selections, and a Ford and Chevy truck-packed parking lot.

The ethos of an icehouse is in the details. E.C.'s pack-rat decor and stories that can be "told but not printed" chronicle the nonsensical history behind the neighborhood hangout.

In the Jukebox Lounge's case, it's the nine taxidermied deer heads hanging from the wall, the framed Eurypeima Spincrus and Palamnersus specimens (which we assume are Latin for "big-ass spider" and "big-ass scorpion") and the thousand-plus 45s stapled to the ceiling that tell its story.

What do they all mean? We know now. And we'll leave it to you to find out for yourself. Just ask for E.C., and he'll fill you in.

"We're just an ol' neighborhood watering hole," he says. "People come here to tell old jokes and drink cold beer. Icehouses are a dying breed. The city doesn't like 'em, but we're here. Come by, we'll talk."

Last Call

Icehouses may be a dying breed, but they're not dead yet. There's tried-and-true West Alabama Icehouse (1919 W. Alabama) — Friday night they have hot dogs, which can only be either really, really good or completely terrible; Jimmie's Place (2803 White Oak) — These guys allow dogs. Not sure why, but they do; and C & F Inn (6714 N. Main) — Little-known fact: C & F stands for Chlorine and Fluorine, the owner's favorite elements. (Probably not true.)

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Shea Serrano