Keller is a town of about 45,000 souls located 18 miles north-northeast of downtown Fort Worth. The most direct route there is to brave I-35N, then drop on to Golden Triangle Boulevard and Keller Parkway. With a sharp eye, you will find the right turn for Backstreet Bar and Grill (104 Navajo Dr, 817-337-7917).
Our first port of call on the Friday after Independence Day was not so much grill, as the kitchen was closed for refurbishment. No mind. We were there for the booze and atmosphere. Backstreet was lightly populated with a few couples and some ubiquitous bar flies. The long room boasts a small, well-stocked bar at one end with two pool tables and four dartboards at the other. The game-playing area looked well–kept with fresh cloth on the tables. Between bar and games was an array of high and low tables, stools, and chairs. The whole place felt clean and new-ish, with the air of a place people cared about.
Two bar staffers on duty were super–friendly and informative. I settled in for a domestic followed by liquor. My Coors Light was cold and crisp, just as it should be. On asking for a vodka tonic, I was very pleased to be given the option of Tito’s – always a “hell, yeah!” from me – and, get this, diet tonic. The drink was as short and punchy as local welterweight boxer Errol Spence Jr. While it was relatively early in the evening, and days after public holidays can be a little quiet, I would have liked more atmosphere. I still saw enough to earmark Backstreet for a return next time I am in the area.
A very short hop along Keller Parkway took us to Manny G’s (444 Keller Pkwy, 817-431-9393), a bar and restaurant owned by a former Navy pilot. A narrow corridor linked the bicameral joint. The small bar is packed with Navy memorabilia, and our server was enthusiastic about sharing some of its provenance. My pint of Fireman’s Four was solid if not spectacular, though it was soon forgotten in my excitement at spying a bottle of Stolichnaya on the liquor shelf. Stoli rocks really was the “Chocks away!” moment of the night. Regulars came and went, chatting to our server. Some cracked on to me with a simple “hi,” but conversation went no further. The regulars were enjoying the night air on the beer garden, which doubled as a smoking area. On the way, my olfactory sense was assailed by the stench of old cooking oil. Note to self: Stick to liquor.
Keller Tavern (128 S Main St, 817-337-6711) is the least chain-y of the bars and restaurants along the well-planned-out park-and-walk strip of South Main Street. From the parking lot, I entered through the back of the bar through a busy beer garden free from smoke and into a legit-looking tavern-style bar. We bellied up to stools at the bar to chat with our knowledgeable server about the beer selection. I opted to open with a Tejas Light, a very good Mexican-style beer from local Shannon Brewery that’s ideal for those nights when it is still 90 degrees long after sunset. A decent array of craft brews was overshadowed by the vast liquor selection. With Stoli still coursing through my grateful veins, I stuck to beer. This place was by far the busiest of the three we visited. Patrons were mostly under 40, and many of them seemed to know one another. Our server was great, but he clocked out shortly after we arrived. For the most part, the remaining bar staff seemed more in love with the idea of working at the Keller Tavern than actually serving with any promptness or passion. I get it. I have been on both sides of many bars like this in my long career as a beer enthusiast.
Honestly, I am not sure I found a dive in Keller. Backstreet had all the credentials of a dive, but it was too well cared for. What I found were two neighborhood bars and Manny G’s, a slightly careworn labor of love.