Sole of Houston: Strip Mall Taverns on the Southwest Side

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A couple of weeks ago David Beebe and I and special guest Sole-r Sam Smith attempted an overly bold trek from the Brazoria County Line all the way up South Post Oak to Willowbend, from whence we intended to continue hiking on to South Main and thence downtown, to Allen’s Landing.

We didn’t make it.

For two reasons: one, it was too hot. The heat index had to be about 107 degrees, at least.

Number two, the prospect of slogging up South Main through that sterile low-end big box retail zone around the Astrodome, and then through the equally bland Med Center, somehow failed to enchant us after 12 miles in the scorching sun.

So this trip ended up as little more than a Bataan death pub crawl, taking in three unjustly obscure near southwest side strip mall taverns.

A few firsts marked this trek: it was our first on a Saturday and our first with three people. (Smith, our rookie, is a fairly recent transplant to Houston from somewhere up in Yankeeland, but is in very good shape and handled the heat well.) Also, this time we indulged heavily in a drug more powerful than booze. I’m talking brown, that Kentuckian marching powder...W.E. Garrett & Sons Sweet and Mild snuff.

I was also in trouble with my wife from the moment I left the door, although I didn’t know it until we reached the West Loop Park and Ride after a two-mile walk. Apparently, I had walked out the door with both sets of car keys. And she had to go to a job interview. After she got done yelling at me and hung up the phone, I took my first drink of the day – a shot of tequila left over from our last hike, right there at the Park and Ride. (I know, nobody has ever illegally swilled booze at one of these before.)

One variation of the South Post Oak #33 bus takes you all the way down the street, while the other veers east at Fuqua and heads from the Hiram Clarke Transit Center. We were on the latter, and we got off the bus on a semi-rural area off Fuqua. There wasn’t much out there save for tarpaper churches with black or Mexican congregations, auto shops, salones de belleza, and vacant lots awash in tall waving sunflowers. And lots of Vince Young billboards.

Since we were on the fringes of DJ Screw’s old ‘hood, I dialed up some screwed and chopped Southside rap on the iPod. Heat can have some of the effects as codeine, and the slowed-and-throwed music fit that day like Chopin does the Polish countryside.

Evidently, they don’t take kindly to trespassers down there:

At South Post Oak we turned north and popped in a Ralston’s Liquors for provisions. Sam bought a bottle of dark rum, I got my usual Sauza silver, and Beebe was overjoyed to find that little canister of snuff, the only tobacco product he indulges in.

South Post Oak is a Happy Hunting Ground for maverick shopping carts. We counted several dozens, but what impressed us most down here was their innovative deployment.

Across the street sprawled one of those Southwest Side ‘hood specials – the personal storage lot turned minimall. In one of the stalls, Beebe found a Ms. Pac Man machine he is thinking of hauling off to Marfa.

Not far from the Watkins Entertainment Center / Beauty Salon, a Buddhist Temple was under construction. We found this sylvan little scene of true Nirvana a hundred feet or so from the sweltering sidewalk:

VY looks on over a roadside flea market. This one had office water coolers for $49 and up.

The Crowe Bar, our first watering hole of the day.

Annie’s Hamburgers owns one of the coolest retro neon signs in town. Like a lot of South Post Oak, it positively exudes 1979-ness.

You can get your head both correct and cut at this barber shop. (The banner over the door reads “Mentoring young men back to the basics after the cut.”)

This apartment complex offers special enclosed shopping cart parking.

Hunter’s Pub, our second refilling station. Here, we were accosted by an off-duty barmaid and her friend, the on-duty barmaid, both of whom were in Saturday night form on Saturday afternoon.

This mural adorns the wall at refilling stop #3, Carolyn’s off of Willowbend. This little hole in the wall has cheap beer, an incredible honky-tonk/swam pop jukebox, and a lax smoking policy.

By this time, I was wearing some McDonald’s crew member’s hat I had found by the side of the road.

And we bailed a little after that pic was taken. The heat was just too much. By that time we all stank, were about half-drunk, and our snuff was dribbling out of our noses in brown snail-trails. Fun stuff. – John Nova Lomax

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