Several months ago, I was in a general funk, and decided to do something out of the ordinary in hopes of snapping out of it. I got on my bike at about 9:30 p.m. and rode down Eisenhauer for a lonely game at Astro Bowl.
I didn’t do too poorly (I broke 100), and the place brought back fond memories — like the time my Indian Guides League won a tournament there (I still have the plaque). I tried to play Ms. Pac-Man in the game room, but the joystick had been so abused that it no longer knew how to respond to my flicks of the wrist. Irritated at having wasted a whole quarter, I wandered into the Astro Lounge for a nightcap before pedaling back up the hill.
Like most bowling-alley bars, Astro Lounge has absorbed a lifetime of cigarette smoke, and fortunately it has never been the victim of an extreme makeover. In fact, most of the décor seems to be left over from its 1984 incarnation as Brass ‘N’ Brandy. Brass stag heads, anchors, and a giant bubbling wine receptacle that looks like something stolen from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang grace the walls.
“Does this place ever get crowded?” I asked Patty the bartender.
“Totally. On Saturday afternoons we get a lot of military trainees from Fort Sam,” she said. “They can only go a certain number of miles off base, and this bar is within their territory. Once they find us, they’re here like clockwork. Some bowl, others just stay in here and drink until about 5:15 when the cabs start lining up — they have to be back in their barracks at 6.”
She also told me about her league, the Party Animals, who fill the lounge most Friday nights.
The idea of seeing the place full of regulars intrigued me, so this past weekend I dragged my friend Angelina to Astro Lounge for karaoke. When we walked in it felt like we were crashing a birthday party. There were balloons everywhere, a buffet set up on card tables, and an emcee reminding the crowd, “We’ve got four cakes up here ...”
After making sure we were welcome, I ordered a couple of Pacificos ($3.50 each). Angelina contemplated singing, but chickened out after hearing how professional everyone sounded. Lori, the woman next to us at the bar was waiting for her daughter Brandi to finish talking to a talent scout who was impressed with her pipes. “You’re here with your daughter?” I asked. “Yep, my daughter Brandi and my Mom, Kris,” she said. “We love it here.”
“That’s a hard song,” Brandi said as a young woman crooned a dark, moody ballad.
After a second beer Angelina was ready to move on.
“You got your passport?” she asked. “My brother’s spinning at The Green Lantern.”