8 a.m. Eight Ball
Is there a good reason for drinking at 9 in the morning on a weekday? I’m sure there are several (some hospital folk don’t get off work until daybreak), but the only one that matters to me is because you can.
I thought about this the other day after a Ben E. Keith rep told me that The Woodshed opens at 7 a.m., and this person was pretty sure you could get a margarita that early, so last Monday night, I set my alarm for 6:30 a.m. and went to sleep dreaming of expensive margaritas with jalapeño bits floating on top.
OK, to be honest, I don’t remember what I dreamed about. I also didn’t end up rolling out of bed until 8, and even though I’d heard wonderful things about The Woodshed’s food, I just didn’t have the stomach for locally sourced turtle tacos or whatever was on the daily wild-game menu. And when I got there about 45 minutes later, I realized that if I were going to be up before noon, I didn’t want to spend those extra three hours smelling like the barbecue wafting out of The Woodshed’s door. Never mind that I probably didn’t have the fortitude to suck down a glass of top-shelf tequila and hand-made mixer before lunch. Whether or not you can get one of those at The Woodshed for breakfast, I never found out. I guess I’m just not the kind of drunk who gets tequila-hammered before the Today Show is over.
That kind of serious drinker doesn’t go to a place like The Woodshed anyway. He hangs out at places like The Office on Belknap Street and, presumably, at places along Jacksboro Highway. Or so I figured.
As I cruised north on Jacksboro, past the string of pawn shops, wheel shops, car lots, vacant lots, and a gas well almost hidden behind the scruffy trees on the south side of the road, I didn’t see the kind of bars I was expecting. In my defense, if you’ve been in a neighborhood only at night, the contextual switch to daytime is a little disorienting. Whatever the reason, I thought there were way more dives sagging into the dust and grit of ancient parking lots than there actually are. When I saw the “for lease” sign on The Buggy Wheel, I started to get disheartened.
After crossing into Sansom Park, though, I hit pay-dirt. Or gravel, anyway. Eight Ball’s Billiards and Bar had cars parked in its lot, and the door opened when I pulled on the handle. Inside I found a spacious, somewhat dilapidated saloon, divided nearly in half by a long, scuffed, staple-shaped wooden bar, where some carpenters were reinforcing its supports for an impending granite countertop. I asked the barkeep, a middle-aged woman named Becky, if there were any drink specials. She thought for a second.
“Dollar wells,” she finally said, and I later learned that Eight Ball’s happy hour actually doesn’t start until 3, so maybe she was doing me a favor, since I was her only customer. I ordered a whiskey and water.
Open for more than 10 years, Eight Ball used to be a bait shop, a bit of history that surprised me given the room’s size — to give you an idea, the western half housed four pool tables, and the other side had three, with plenty of room in between for comfortable shots. Hanging over the tables were old Budweiser lamps, their chains festooned with gold tinsel the way kudzu covers a telephone line. Painted metal poles held up the ceiling at intervals, each wrapped in thick rope. “Do you get a lot of people bonking into those?” I asked.
“Nah, that rope’s to keep me from pole dancing,” she joked.
I asked if she had a regular early- morning crowd. “Well, I did when I first started” seven years ago, she said. “But they were a lot of older people, and, well, you know what happens to old people.”
“Especially when you drink at 9 in the morning,” I said.
She laughed and looked at my empty glass. “You want another one, baby?” –– Steve Steward
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