The Early Bird Special is green. Not with envy, though. It’s got Incredible Hulk green, Green Goblin green, and darker stuff, too. We drove through the narrow alleys next to and behind the bar (parking might be a serious issue at times), coming up right in front for a quick get-away, if necessary. The inside looks twice as big as the exterior indicates. It’s the shades of green interior that flashes past the three pool tables. It’s the bar, near the middle, that must have been built quite some time after the building itself. It’s the wide open space of the back and the black ceiling, that, while low, seems infinite when you’re not concentrating on it.
A pillar in the middle of the room near the bar is covered with handwritten signs: “No escupa en el piso.” This is no touristy, wooden sign at the Buckhorn where no one would conceive of spitting on the floor; this is a sign telling people that they really can’t. We ordered a round of Coronas ($2.75, while domestics are just $1.75) and sat down at one of the fold-out Rubbermaid tables to wait for an open expanse of green felt (or one red one). After a few minutes the bartender, a young, friendly guy, came over to say that the middle table was free. We hitched up our pants and dug around in our pockets for 50 cents. I lost the first game, but at least I didn’t have to abide by one of the other cardinal rules: “Any ball on the floor, pay $1.00 for the juke box.”
I sat down to study the bar, a rectangular protrusion, paved with cream-colored tiles. Above the bar a piece of drywall hung from the ceiling, sturdied by white spindles lining the bar, giving the ordering area a drive-through window appearance — one I quite liked. As I walked to the restroom, I noticed an isolated pool table sitting across from a rectangular dance area fenced in by ornamental, wooden pickets and lattice, reminiscent, somehow, of an old, San Anto vaquero bar with its otherworldly Western implications. And the patrons did look like modern-day vaqueros — boots and buttondown shirts (mostly) — pool players. I imagine the place is full on Thursdays, when pool is free.
When I returned, my friends were finished, and so we sat at yet another table to finish off yet another round, listen to the last of our jukebox selections (the array is fantastic, e.g. “Suavecito” by Malo, “La Ley del Monte” by Vincente Fernandez), and decide where to fly off to next. — Lyle Rosdahl
The Bar Tab
Early bird special No. 1
South Zarzamora, just north of San Luis
Vaquero pool hall
Billiards, with an excellent Tejano jukebox soundtrack