Where nobody knows your name

Release Date: 2008-09-24

The great thing about bars, besides the booze of course, is the people. Patrons call these places home and in return the bars embrace the communal nature of the city. These are watering holes rivaled only by those of Africa where the animals congregate (the lions with the antelope) to lap up life-sustaining liquid. El Tenampa is an exquisite example of just such a community (the suburbs haven’t killed us yet). The co-owner called it the Mexican Cheers, and, as I sat drinking Dos Equis watching the regulars trickle in, I felt at home.

On the corner of West Houston and Cameron streets, near Market Square, this unassuming sand-colored building opens onto the corner. It had been a bicycle shop and an auto-repair shop, and now it is a bar of murals. Thematically pastoral, the murals focus on horses and bulls and bull fighters — a time of Federico García Lorca and mariachi. The large mural opposite the bar is of the back side of a naked female matador. The bull marked with banderillas pushes into her cape. It’s a surreal scene compounded by the mirrors behind the bar and along the far wall that reflect the room at angles and shroud it in paintings. The sharp crack of light as the door opens breaks my trance. Over my shoulder a man greets the owner and sits down.

The tables in the middle of the small room are covered in clean, white, fabric tablecloths. A pool table cuts through them. I turn on my Naugahyde bar stool and finish another Dos Equis. Coldest beer in town, the co-owner says, replacing my empty with a new gleaming, green bottle. I definitely like it here. It’s cool and dark and outside is Houston Street. And the locals are friendly. The co-owner tells me about native celebrities who come in because they want a place to go where people won’t bother them. And that’s how it feels — even the brand-spanking-new jukebox and the three TVs quietly displaying golf, then football, and I make a note (a huge banner-size note) to come back on a Sunday. This is a clean, dimly lighted place that Hemingway himself would be proud of.

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