A couple of years ago, when The Wild Rooster changed owners, hired a new manager, fired a bunch of old staffers, and then went under in less than a year, I talked to one of the bartenders who’d gotten the ax. She was understandably bitter about being let go and commensurately ecstatic to have joined Magnolia Motor Lounge, but the one thing she said about the Rooster that struck a chord with me was how she loved working at “that dive bar.”
Personally, I never thought of the Rooster as a dive. While it wasn’t that expensive to drink there, it wasn’t dive-level cheap, either. And though it was dark, it was never dingy and always well-maintained, and it had a stage with a good sound system. More than anything, it just struck me as a well-meaning Lola’s wannabe. I played there a few times in several different bands. Some shows were fun. Others I would’ve rather been anywhere else on Earth, and the few times I popped in for a drink, it was probably because someone I knew was working — I thought the staffers were what made the bar, because their convivial attitudes made it pretty easy to become a regular.
When the bartender roster turned over, my enthusiasm for the Wild Rooster, already sort of tepid, petered out, and I didn’t much care when it closed only to reopen the following March, dropping the “the” from its name and replacing the neon beer signs and Hill Country ice-house affectations with black-and-white paintings of oil derricks. Maybe Wild Rooster was trying to get Petroleum Club members to leave their downtown high-rises?
Whoever its owners were courting, not enough of them, or of people of any stripe, showed up. Wild Rooster, naturally, went the way of its definitively articled predecessor. And now the space has reopened as yet another similar bar.
Essentially, Uptown Tavern is Wild Rooster minus any décor, and I’m being only a little facetious. It’s pretty much just gray walls in there now –– recently painted gray walls, mind you, but gray walls all the same. And it’s definitely playing up the “dive” aspect. Along with karaoke on Wednesdays and cover bands and singer-songwriters on Thursdays and Fridays, there’s bar food (and an internet jukebox). Bland? Maybe, but for appreciators of simplicity, it could be interesting.
The high points: The service is good and eager, and the happy-hour crowd, suit-and-tie types mixed in among blue-collar folk, is rather fun. On a couple of recent visits, I detected the potential for some sort of Friday meat-market action. I think it fits Uptown Tavern’s self-asserted dive bar title. As for the name, I didn’t know that Fort Worth had an “uptown,” though I’m sure the Dallas-based developers behind a lot of the businesses inhabiting the zone between West 7th Street and Lancaster Avenue desperately want people to start using that boring, Dallas-sounding, utterly made-up designation. Though I thought the prices were too high, I appreciated the bare-bones menu (a single laminated page offering a handful of options in addition to a cheeseburger and grilled chicken sandwich), and it has enough draft options to satisfy burgeoning beer nerds or at least give them something to quiz the bartender about.
Still, I kind of miss the original Rooster. The wall of record sleeves by the bathroom remains, but the vibe that made the place enjoyable for me is gone. If Uptown Tavern sticks around long enough, maybe an atmosphere that’s distinctly its own will emerge. For now, it’s a certifiably divey place to enjoy a beer. Hopefully, the staff will give you a reason to stay there and have a few more. –– Steve Steward
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