Winning the Grand Prize

The bartenders were all punch-drunk tired and most of the patrons were just plain drunk. The lightbulbs were red and the jukebox blessedly didn't have an Internet connection. The air conditioning was cold and the patio was filled with smoke. The drinks were strong and the beers were cheap.

It was a good opening night for Grand Prize, the bar that's taken over the old Ernie's on Banks space that was a Montrose classic for years.

Owner Brad Moore and his crew had been hard at work on the space since late last month, hoping to open their new bar sooner rather than later. Moore was clad in a red shirt, which matched the rubicund glow cast by the few lamps scattered around the mostly shadowy bar. His eyes were slightly puffy and his hair a mess, but he had a happy grin plastered on his face as he greeted and hugged patrons last night at Grand Prize for the first time.

"We've been here all night," he said over a coffee table in between two cozy booths upstairs. "We're not quite finished yet, but we just wanted to get the doors open."

"Did you have a date in mind that you wanted to open by?" my girlfriend asked him from the seat next to me, sipping on an incredibly intense Old Fashioned.

"No such thing," Moore laughed. "No such thing."

Upstairs, Grand Prize is a little akin to someone's grand rec room from the 1980s, a place which echoes a vacation home in Horseshoe Bay that might have lost some of its former splendor but not its charm. High ceilings and a very casual bar are the centerpieces of the relaxed space, which currently has a collection of mismatched but solidly comfortable furniture.

Downstairs, things were a little more hairy under the low ceilings and in the low light. The bar was packed, as the upstairs bar isn't quite prepped to serve yet. Cedomil, once one of the mainstay bartenders at Beaver's, had eyes glazed with the look of a few sleepless nights and dozens of orders being thrown at him at once, but he happily obliged my request for a rum swizzle. An Elvis pinball machine and a jukebox filled with Wu-Tang, Peaches, Willie Nelson and Journey flanked the crowds at the bar.

I ran into Jay Rascoe, otherwise known as the infamous Guns and Tacos, as I made my way through the crowds.

"You should have seen this place on Sunday," he enthused, Lone Star in hand. "It looks completely different." He elaborated on the mess that had littered the place just a few days prior: sawdust everywhere, unpainted walls, an unstocked bar.

"When Brad told me he was opening tonight I thought he was crazy," Rascoe laughed. "And now look at the place!"

He was right. Aside from the upstairs bar still being slightly under construction, it had cleaned up nice, like the kid down the street you agreed to take to prom because your parents forced you to, showing up at your door with clean hair, a well-fitted tux and a corsage that actually matches your dress.

Although I only stopped by to grab a drink and check out the new digs, I ended up staying for hours. It's easy to do when $10 buys you about two hours of music on the jukebox and a couple of beers.

Area residents might have been worried that they were losing one of the neighborhood's most solid beer joints, but spending an evening inside Grand Prize -- which is essentially a cleaner (but not too clean) Big Star South -- should assuage any fears.

Montrose, you have a new living room. Go check it out.

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