Guess that this must be the place/ I can’t tell one from another/ Did I find you, or you find me?
— from “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” by Talking Heads
Last Friday, I met up with two close friends at the opening reception for Love Letters to San Anto, Joan Frederick and Mario Perez’s FotoSeptiembre exhibition at Saluté International Bar. Not surprisingly, Frederick’s photographs of Salute’s dearly departed patron saint, Esteban “Steve” Jordan (part of an altar David Zamora Casas assembled in the bar’s backroom), drew almost as much attention as the show’s key pieces — fluid black-and-white prints of conjunto dancers and glowing transparencies of the storied venue’s façade.
After two attempts to eat dinner “somewhere nice” failed miserably, my friends and I settled for the quick and guilty pleasure of Las Salsas. Normally haunted by night owls, even this place — which is open 24/7 — was quiet and looked to be at odds with the dreary weather.
After dinner, I suggested a nightcap at a new place: El Lugar — a beer bar that, according to barfinder.com at least, lies in an area known as Five Points. Recently, the Current started listing El Lugar’s weekly gigs. Over the summer, youthful rockers YG (previously Young Generation) played there, and last Thursday, blues-rock outfit Bobby G and the Drive took El Lugar’s stage. Something about the generic name (El Lugar translates to “The Place”) and the uncharted location made El Lugar seem ripe for investigation.
Once inside, my accomplices bolted for a pool table along the back wall. “Get quarters!” one ordered, with the excitement of a child. Oddly, we’d been looking for a secret spot to play pool without fear of running into familiar faces. Mission accomplished. I took a quick spin around the place and ordered a round of Dos Equis (at a winning price of $2 a pop).
El Lugar proudly caters to the motorcycle lifestyle, and gets crossover traffic from the likeminded Bar on Broadway. On the walls: A souvenir flag from the 70th Annual Sturgis Black Hills Rally and framed ephemera from Boerne’s Javelina Harley Davidson. Neon beer signs set the tone — no nonsense.
After a few increasingly sloppy games of pool and another round of beer, a woman decided to let us know she didn’t approve of our jukebox maneuvers. As she saw it, “The Sad Café” by the Eagles wasn’t going to help her get laid. “Did you play that shit?” she asked, laughing. Another stranger approached and, channeling his inner fortune-teller, told my friend she would “no longer be hurt by the men in her life, and that she would find true happiness.”
When the jukebox suddenly began playing Saxon’s “Princess of the Night,” our new friend forgot all about “The Sad Café” and offered, “If you want a story, there’s another place up the road you might like.” Then, pointing first at my Adidas high-tops and then at my plaid Western shirt said, “But you’re gonna have to do a better job of blending in if you wanna drink in there.”
You don’t have to arrive on a motorcycle to enjoy El Lugar. Did we fit in? No, not exactly, but we found about as much fun as there was to be found on a gloomy Friday night.
Against a cheery, red-orange exterior, a yellow sign announces what’s not welcome at El Lugar: “No gang activity, no colors, no drugs.” And for $2 imports, we can live with that. •
Prices: Beer (bottles only): domestic: $1.75, premiums and imports: $2-$2.50
Vibe: Neighborhood beer bar catering to lovers of motorcycle culture
Best use: Live music on Thursday nights (8-12pm). Next up: DVS
Hours: Sun, Tue-Thu: 5-12pm; Fri-Sat: 5pm-2am; closed Monday (unless there’s a football game on).