"You and all your friends are welcome here," says the bartender to Mr. Happy Face, who accompanies the aliens. "You can be a bad boy tonight." He proceeds to pull out ...
Just then the real bartender asks if I want another beer, and I turn from the L.A. David cartoon on the wall to say, "Maybe in a minute."
With the doors open, the place gets drafty, but cheap beer has an odd warming effect. Wind from West Avenue blows through the Happy Hut to a big table-covered lawn in the back, past the bar, the old photos, the jukebox, and covered porch. In the pool room, removed from the cold, everybody wears T-shirts and pulls on iced long necks.
The sobriquet is a chicken-and-the-egg type of thing: either only happy people come to the ice house or the name lets everybody know how to act.
Even first-timers are included in the barstool banter. When I set my empty bottle next to a few others on the bar, a guy says to me, "Did you drink all those? Man, you're fast!" So what if the joke was flatter than a day-old can of Big Red? He was being nice and, as the only Anglo in the place, I appreciated inclusion (for the record, I was told when I got to San Antonio that new folks in town "shouldn't go to the West Side unless you're in a group. Or you tan first." Har, har).
The guys holding court at the L-shaped bar don't stop with the jokes — especially at each other.
"No, don't ask him, he'll just tell you it's a South Side thing."
"Hey, you ever hear of 'lecher?'"
"Mean 'leche?' That's a Southside word. You leche."
I don't know what that means, but yes, bartender, I'm staying for another.
The Happy Hut
1902 West Ave.
Pros: cozy — feels like a playhouse turned ice house; table service (when it's not too busy); deep jukebox
Cons: long walk to nearest taco trailer