I spend a lot of time talking about new kids on the block in the Fort Worth drinking scene. Mostly that’s because Steve Steward already expertly covered the local stalwarts over the numerous years he wrote this column, and it seems pointless to retread ground. But as I write this, I’m celebrating the 13th anniversary of my move to Texas, so pardon me if I feel like waxing a bit nostalgic today.
I can already hear some people grousing that living here this long does not make me a Texan and I agree. But Lyle Lovett once sang, “That’s right, you’re not from Texas / Texas wants you anyway,” which is a polite way to translate “Suck it, you’re stuck with me” in Chicagoan. Fort Worth got under my skin, and I endured years of commuting to uptown Dallas for work so I could live in this city.
Unlike many who move here, I didn’t end up with a group of fellow Tex-pat buddies gravitating to hot spots with that new bar smell. Instead, my friends were locals who took me to places like J&J’s Hideaway, the Black Dog Tavern, Yupp’s, University Pub, and the Keys Lounge for my nightlife education. On Saturday night, I found myself back at the Keys currently in its 38th year of business, a shocking feat in industry longevity. It’s apropos that the Keys is primarily a blues joint, as our group gathered to celebrate the life of a dear friend who passed recently and listen to his favorite Beatles cover band, Me & My Monkey.
Some things had not changed since my first visit back in 2004. It was still in a strip mall that houses a Mexican restaurant, beauty parlor, and the broadly named Church of God, where I’d like to believe all deities are worshipped, including the American Gods and some obscure Nordic ones as well. Great talent continues to pack the calendar, and the lounge lacks the pretensions of newer, slicker venues around town.
But a lot about the Keys has changed since my first visit, back when I was wide-eyed and homesick for a dive that played the blues like back home in Chicago. Mostly, the dive-y blues bar is bigger and no longer a windowless box of smoke. In 2009, the back wall of the building was blown out to create additional seating and listening space. This past weekend, the bar was packed, but the dance floor remained available for its intended purpose, instead of cramming patrons like sardines in a can.
A few years ago, owner Danny Ross listened to musicians who requested a nonsmoking environment for shows and made it a permanent situation. Gone are the days where you came home carrying a part of the Keys that lingered in every pore and fiber of your being, including a hacking cough à la Camels. Couple that with early show times of 9pm, and there’s no excuse to not head straight over there after dinner for a nightcap and some live music. The Keys Lounge is open only Wed-Sun nights, with Thursday reserved as jam night. Luckily, the sound guy isn’t so deaf that every act gets turned up to 11 to compensate, and you can actually converse with your crew and leave without a migraine.
I live in Southwest Fort Worth now, buried in the W-streets, so having a nonsmoking bastion of the live music scene a mile from my doorstep is aces. Besides, as the sign inside says, “You must be weird, or you wouldn’t be here.” So they are cool with my kind of people, no matter when we set up stakes on Fort Worth soil.
5677 Westcreek Dr, Ste H. 817-292-8627.