I wasn’t at the Rail Club Monday night, but area bass player and Jerry Jonestown Massacre podcast co-host Dustin Schneider was, and he shot a clip of the Rail’s now-former owner Chris Polone giving a farewell speech of sorts in between bands. Clad in the dark hues of his usual Rail Club uniform, Polone took the stage — blue Solo cup in one hand, mic in the other, foot propped on the center monitor, looking like he was about to launch into the breakdown verse of a Rage Against the Machine song — and said, “If you don’t know, we’re the bar that told the government where they could shove it on July 4, 2020,” he began.
Three minutes later, he had delivered the bad news. After years of throwing every part of himself into keeping the Rail alive, he was finally stepping down. In doing so, the Rail will live on, but Polone will no longer be part of the business — in effect, he’s the state’s price for the Westside venue to apply for a new permit to sell booze.
Though I would have liked to see this speech live, I did happen to be at the Rail on that July day Polone was talking about, when I shot my own video of him decrying the absurdity of the state rule that he said couldn’t bring customers to his bar to buy alcohol though Applebee’s could, on account of the mysterious, virus-repellent properties of hamburgers?
The policy was dumb, more so because the Rail strictly followed COVID safety protocols (masks and socially distanced seating) to stay open. Of course, the TABC had shown up earlier during the show and asked if the Rail wanted to shut down to avoid a suspension. Polone, in the video I recorded, said that he had told them, “Why? We’re not breaking the law. There’s not a drop of alcohol in this building.”
The TABC cops departed, and the show continued. But Polone had only begun to fight.
The Rail, along with dozens of other members of the Texas Bar and Nightclub Association, sued the state in the summer of 2020 for forcing bars to close in June of that year after Gov. Greg Abbott’s failed reopening in the spring. Polone’s resistance was impressive, but his legal tenacity would come back to haunt him, as the Rail finally lost its liquor license on Dec 16, 2021.
In Schneider’s video, Polone says the TABC labeled the venue an “imminent threat” and pulled the permit. And in a Facebook post from the night of Feb 14, 2022, Polone said, “As long as I am a part of this club, we can’t get a liquor permit due to our ongoing lawsuit against [the state]. … Therefore, my only choice to save our club and the incredible community we have built is to give it to someone who will carry on our legacy. … I will be assuming all debt. I will take all the grief. I live and breathe for our home, and I am happy to part ways with her to ensure her survival and ability to help others! I don’t matter! I never did … I was never an owner … I was simply blessed with being a caretaker of the incredible community we have built.”
I don’t know who will take on the Rail Club business in Polone’s wake, but undoubtedly he has set the bar for doing whatever it takes to keep the saloon doors swinging. For that, he deserves a lot of respect. — Steve Steward
Contact HearSay at Anthony@FWWeekly.com.