The Place: Lone Star Saloon 1900 Travis 713-757-1616
The Deals: $13 buckets, daily $4 shot/cocktail specials
The Hours: 1 to 7 p.m. Mondays; 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 2 to 7 p.m. Sundays
The Scene: The newly-off-duty bartender, who'd made a smooth transition to the other side of the bar, rang the bell suspended from the ceiling twice during the hour we spent at the Lone Star's Sunday happy hour. First when a guy who looked like an assistant high school football coach yelled "The [Dallas] Cowboys suck!", in response to nothing we overheard. And later when a short Metro employee -- who a few minutes ago had paid her five bucks for the privilege of giving her a friendly spanking -- declared that he owned three phallic sexual aids.
She'd also told us when we first sat down at a stool that we looked like we were in a bad mood. She may have been right at first, but it didn't last long.
It was about 6:30 the second time the bell of approval tolled, still plenty light out, and Lady GaGa's "Bad Romance" was playing on the new internet jukebox at "happiest dive downtown." Thirty minutes later, the dildo guy had gotten a ride from Fred the cabbie; the off-duty bartender had made her way home in a taxi shortly after that. The exodus sucked a little of the rowdy energy out of the narrow room, which gave us a chance to ask the current bartender about the machine that replaced the venerated analog jukebox.
"I like it," she said. "You can play pretty much anything."
(Which can be a drawback, as illustrated by the live Rush track that had just wrapped up. Sorry, Rush fans, long prog-rock live tracks are not good bar music.)
We told her we missed the old one, which was mostly stocked with classic rock, country and a few blues selections. "I miss it too," said the older lady two seats down. She had a cane and a gravelly Texas accent that made it sound like she'd be immune to bullshit. "But then again, I do love my country."
Well, so do we. When we put on a Dwight Yoakam song, she started dancing with her beer a little bit. That felt good.
Even with the new web-jukebox, Lone Star maintains its identity as an iconic Houston dive. (You don't make the cover of this book for nothing.) Little else has changed in the years we've been going there, except maybe the patio out back, which has been built up and torn down at least once in 24 months. There's even a story about a regular going out for a smoke when the deck was in a half-built state, having a heart attack, falling between the slats and remaining there for a full day before a passing firefighter noticed him and got him some medical attention. Sounds apocryphal as hell, but we wouldn't bet our life savings against it happening like that.
My only gripe about this strange 1,400-square foot* universe is the strict pour control and the prices, which are a little steep for a dive. I spent nearly 100 bucks there one night and didn't even get all that drunk. So happy hour buckets for $13 are nice. Most of the $4 daily shot/cocktail specials are a little sugary - Blue Hawaii Mondays, Midori Breeze Wednesdays, Rosy Nipple Fridays - but the Sunday Bloody Mary isn't bad at all.
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It's a great way to kill a Sunday hangover. If you're not sensitive to the sound of bells or adverse to a fun house-mirror version of life in downtown Houston.
*This is according to Harris County Appraisal District, which also lists Lone Star's Economic Obsolescence as "Poor." The more you know.