One good thing about neighborhood watering holes is that they’re a great place to visit when you get locked out of your house. On Saturday, I’d driven up to Justin to hang out at Electric Barryland, the recording studio on my friend Barry’s farm where my other friend, Jordan Richardson, tracks local bands. Normally you call Barry to let you in the front gate, but on that day, he was without a phone signal, which left me sitting for awhile out front. At the same time, Jordan had managed to lock himself out of the studio. With Barry out of pocket, and nothing to do for an hour, I waited while he walked the half-mile from the studio to the gate, and from there Jordan and I went looking for beers.
Normally, when it’s time for a studio beer break, we head east on Hwy. 114 to the Chili’s in Roanoke, but I remembered there was a place in Justin I’d read about called The Mule Barn, where country legend John Anderson played last April. I’d actually written a Dallas Observer preview for the show, not realizing that my editor had actually meant the Jon Anderson who used to be in Yes, not the Floridian who sings on behalf of the alligator and the gar.
Located on the west side of FM 156, about three miles north from 114, The Mule Barn is lofty and spacious but smells a lot better than a real mule abode. And you can get a hamburger there. Hamburgers are always a plus, right? There’s also the usual roster of fried bar snacks. And while its main claim is being a sports bar and grill, it’s also a concert venue, though the lineups cater to the regulars, many of whom would probably say they listened to “both kinds of music –– country and western” if you asked. Troubadours like Cody Canada, Roger Creager, and Phil Hamilton have all played here. It looks big enough to hold about 300 people, though on the non-show night I went, the room was set up to accommodate more diners than dancers.
Its interior is brightly lit and seems built to appeal to the NASCAR set –– Texas Motor Speedway is right around the corner, after all — but it retains enough old-school, Buick-inspired honkytonk vibe that you don’t feel like you’re drinking at a more family-friendly version of Redneck Heaven. The servers are good-lookin’ but dressed tastefully, so you won’t be embarrassed taking your mom here, in other words. The interior walls are brick, covered in places by either wood or corrugated aluminum, accented with neon lights and metal beer signs. The accents you hear are decidedly thicker than you’d hear in Fort Worth, and the music pumping out of the speakers is as country as Charlie Daniels spitting Skoal on a fencepost.
The bartenders serve the beer in schooners so cold the head freezes, and the bar is backed by TVs, which also hang above the tall tables arranged throughout the room. And while it’s a pretty huge place, it still had the feel of a corner pub because at the other end of the bar from where we were sitting, a half-dozen guys were captivated by one guy spinning yarns. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I think he mentioned a tragicomic U-Haul rental.
I wish I’d been able to pop in there on a show night, but you can’t always match up a specific good time with the happenstance of your friend accidentally pressing the button lock on your doorknob with the keys locked inside. But whether the music is live or piped in from a satellite, listening to it at The Mule Barn is a good time. –– Steve Steward
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[box_info]The Mule Barn
218 FM 156, Justin.