The bar that time forgot

Release Date: 2008-09-10

A couple of years ago, Forbes ranked America’s drunkest cities. We were 12th. Not bad. But we beat out every other American metropolitan area in one category: heavy drinkers. What’s that mean? We have our fair share of teetotalers and so the rest of us have to make up for it. I decided to do my part at a little, obscure bar on North Flores and Commerce. The sign on the large, glass windows said Reyes Bar & Sons Since 1946. I was already impressed (partially because of the date and partially because of the odd wording).

The swinging front doors offered entrance to a great San Antonio dive (and I’ve been to my share — we have dives the same way that New York has art galleries). The single large room boasted an old wooden bar 20 feet long that, if tipped on its end, might reach the wooden ceiling. I sidled up, noticing the sign that read, “favor de no poner sus pies en las sillas,” the updated version of “no spitting on the walls or floors.” The owner’s mother, who tended the bar, told me that she had Bud, Bud Light, and Miller Lite. Feet planted firmly on the ground, I ordered (eeny, meeny, miny, moe) a couple of Bud Lights, and, after eyeballing the antique cash register on the counter behind the bar, asked for a receipt. She laughed. “No,” she said. “You want a receipt for $3.50?” I decided for that much I didn’t much care.

I hunkered down at one of the 10 small, formica-topped tables and surveyed the sparse interior. Three narrow pillars did nothing to break up the enormous room. The bottom half of the stucco walls barely held a thin wood finish while the brown paint on the upper half cracked and peeled. Near the industrial steel sink in the corner (you have to wash your hands somewhere after emerging from the courtyard bathroom’s screen door) hung a bare lightbulb, which was supplemented by a couple of fluorescent lights over the bar. In the constant gloaming, the regulars murmured and laughed as the obviously anachronistic (that is, brand-new) jukebox played Tejano and light Spanish pop.

Reyes is not for the fainthearted (or the chronically employed, as they “open late and close early” `noonish to sixish, Monday through Friday`), but then again, what great dive is? We few must persist and engage in necessary — no, winsome — evils wherever and whenever we can.

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