The West Side gets a bad rap. If you’ve lived in San Antonio for any length of time, some well-intentioned person has warned you that it’s dangerous and rife with crime.
But for all that talk of seediness, the area doesn’t have a ton of dive bars. Even as a native Westsider, I had to scour the area for good spots. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by the people and places I found. Looking for great drinks, people and parties? Head west, because I can’t imagine a better crowd.
5402 Enrique M. Barrera Parkway, 7 p.m-2 a.m.
Barcode is located just minutes away from the Food Bank, but it’s easy to pass up if you’re driving too fast. This bar is friendly, dark, appropriately puro and operates by the motto, “If your money is green, you’re welcome. We absolutely do not discriminate.” To be sure, the establishment seemed to welcome everyone, from the veterans and Stetson-wearing gentlemen at the bar to the same-sex couples casually playing pool. And when someone made a good pool shot, the place erupted in applause. The bartenders wasted no time in serving me the Tuesday night special, a $1.75 cherry sour, and brought out a freshly popped basket of popcorn. My cocktail was deliciously well-blended, and the place offers a good selection of spirits and beers. Worth noting: Barcode doesn’t accept bills over $20.
Monte Carlo Club
4549 W. Cesar E. Chavez Blvd., noon-midnight
As a child, my mother would point at the building across from St. Jude’s Catholic Church and warn me against visiting it or getting to know the people inside. Twenty-odd years later, I found myself inside the dark interior of that place, the Monte Carlo Club, but I felt right at home. The West Side staple is filled with more than 40 years of history, and the proprietor, Tony, serves up $2 beers and $5 cocktails, including generous rum and cokes. Unfortunately, the bar is on its last legs, and Tony plans to close shop soon. I sat with one other patron, a regular, who shared stories about the old West Side, its people and spicy chicharrones. It’s a shame to see a piece of the West Side history disappear, so I recommend swinging by for a drink before Tony closes his doors for good.
5139 Commerce St., 10 a.m-2 a.m.
Rumor is Rumors has been open a long time, and its patrons didn’t seem keen to meet new people. The bartender and regulars gawked as I made my way to the bar. I quickly figured out that the place caters to an old-school crowd that takes its pool seriously and only jokes with each other. One guy even had a clapper and made serious noise anytime someone made a shot. I can’t say I felt welcome here, but these guys took the game to another level. Maybe if I brought my pool stick, things would have been different. The limited beer selection and the clientele will deter me from another visit, but if you crave cheap beer and want the challenge of going up against some seriously good pool players, this may be your kind of dive. As a bonus, Rumors is located across from a church on San Joaquin Avenue, which could make it a little more fun to drink your $3 beer.
1755 S. General McMullen Dr., noon-2 a.m.
Everyone has that one crazy tio who relives his high school years by singing oldies and reminiscing over the football pass that could have taken the Kennedy Rockets to the championship at the Chili Bowl. That’s who you’ll find at Squeeze Inn: a slew of tios and tias getting sloshed while singing to oldies and Tejano. You’ll find the requisite dart boards and pool tables here, but the karaoke is the real star. While not a full spirit bar, the beer selection is decent, and they serve up a mean Michelada. Even though I stuck out like a sore thumb, the patrons welcomed me and even encouraged me to sing. I’m a professional mariachi, but I felt my chops weren’t up to par with some of these cats. The highlight of the evening was when an old, Flaco Jimenez-looking vato hit the dancefloor and got down to cumbias. A younger lady soon joined him, and the crowd went wild. Will I be back? Absolutely.
Los Gallos Bar and Grill
434 Enrique M. Barrera Parkway, Hours unknown
Every Westsider knows the story about the dancing devil at El Camaroncito Night Club, on Old Highway 90 — ahem, Enrique Barrera Parkway. In case that urban legend is new to you, here’s the spoiler: he had goat’s feet and escaped in a sulfur-smelling tornado. Hoping to get in on any lingering remnants of that diablo action, I visited Los Gallos Bar and Grill, located across from the old El Camaroncito. Instead of fire and brimstone, I found a cool, quiet and relaxing atmosphere. I sat there in silence, watching the local news with other patrons and enjoying a wine cooler. No, you won’t find craft cocktails or chef-prepared bites here, but it is a place to relax, play some games and daydream about El Camaroncito in its heyday. Don’t believe what the locals tell you about the sulfur, the place doesn’t smell.
Manny’s Corner Pocket
2110 Frio City Road, 2 p.m-midnight
Compared to other dives I visited, Manny’s Corner Pocket was relatively quiet and empty. The bar shares a border with the Southside, and the area seemed sparsely populated. Even so, Manny’s allows visitors to find a corner, drink and throw gritos as the jukebox plays Vicente Fernandez tunes. It’s secluded, comfortable and unimposing. The friendly bartender made several delectable Tequila Sunrises, which only set me back $2 each. And, unlike many bars in the area, Manny’s has a decent selection of spirits, meaning you can get well drinks or hefty schooners of draft beer. Happy hour runs 4-8 p.m. daily and specials vary. Manny’s closes at midnight, so I was surprised when the bartender informed me of last call so early. I didn’t mind, though. It felt like a good place to conclude my West Side crawl.
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