In the mid-to-late aughts, I worked at a company headquartered in the Stock Exchange Building on East Exchange Avenue. During that time, I probably put on 15 pounds of lunch-break weight from patronizing places like Dos Molinas, El Asadero, and the original Riscky’s Barbeque, on Azle Avenue. In fact, if I had to guess, I’d bet I ate at Riscky’s once a week on average, which means that I drove past the Stockyards Tavern probably 400 times. Now and then, during those hurried dashes down 25th Street (as much as hurrying down 25th is even possible), I’d see one character or another pull open the bar’s steel door and disappear into the dark, and I’d always be a little envious of people who were able to drink at noon.
As it happens, the Stockyards Tavern actually opens long before noon. I got there around 9:30 a.m. last Tuesday, and the bartender had been serving coffee and beers since 7. She was a nice lady in her 60s with silver caps on her front teeth and an expressed distaste for talk shows.
“I like Channel 4 news in the morning, but I don’t like that show that comes on after it, that talk show with Michael and whoever,” she said.
Instead of Live! With Kelly and Michael, the TV at the end of the bar nearest her flashed with the Today show. The one at the other end of the back bar (there’s a back bar) showed the black-and-white Disney Zorro serial.
As the caped crusader clowned hapless soldiers, the bartender asked me if I wanted to play some music on the internet jukebox. I declined, saying that I was enjoying the conversation and comparative silence.
“You sure?” she said. “Music’s free on Tuesdays, and we have free pool on Thursdays.”
Three billiards tables are arranged parallel to one another a short distance from the front door. Behind them long, tall cocktail tables extend from the wall, making the room feel cozy without being cramped, though I bet a busy night means boisterous hand-talkers might inadvertently invade a lot of personal spaces. The inside has a weathered feel to it, but everything was clean and tidy. I wouldn’t say the wood paneling looked scrubbed or polished, but the people who run the place seem to give a shit about making their dive look as nice as possible.
Noticing an absence of liquor bottles, I asked if the place sold only beer. Yes. Yes, they do. I didn’t say so to my hostess, but that’s probably a smart move for a small bar in a rough part of town — if you got mad enough to swing a pool cue in there, you’d likely hit half the patrons before catching your antagonist. Not that belligerent jerks only Hulk-out with hooch, but the pace of aggression is a little slower when the only fuel is Natty Light.
The Stockyards Tavern carries Natural Light in a bottle, by the way, advertised prominently by the only neon sign hanging behind the bar.
I opted for a Budweiser and resolved to come back again. My only real disappointment stemmed from a distinct lack of early-morning weirdo drunks. But then, after I’d finished half my beer, a skinny, sketchy, fast-talking man blew in the front door. As near as I could tell, he needed to make change and wanted to buy a beer, leave, come right back, and drink it. I could tell from the bartender’s cool reaction that this guy probably always needed something beyond merely popping the top off a bottle. It made me want to watch for that drama on future mornings. –– Steve Steward
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