Once you could walk into The Esquire at 155 E Commerce and get frisked and then buy a shirt that said “I got frisked at The Esquire.” Those days are long gone. No frisking anymore. In fact quite the opposite greeted my friend Forrest and I when we went in for drinks last Friday evening. A comely (to put it mildly) woman asked if we wanted a booth or a table or to stand at the bar. After she dropped us off she sauntered back to the door. Wait staff aside, they’re all pretty people — or at least trendy: I counted no less than three pairs of suspenders– the place looks largely the same.
“We still have that local color,” The Esquire owner Chris Hill laughs when I suggest that there may not be any more knife fights on a Friday night. Remnants of times past. When I had ducked in quickly for a Dos XX and a shot of tequila on Battle of the Flowers people still came all the way down the newly refinished bar to look for the crumby, mercifully gone bathrooms. The place has certainly been gussied up. Reupholstered booths, re-stained wood, excellent old-timey light bulbs in which the corkscrewed filaments glow golden giving off a diffused dimness. “We get folks in who want to remember the past,” Hill said. And it appears that they can. A bar rail runs along the length of the wooden somewhere in excess of 80 feet and you’re meant to put a foot up and lean on the counter. An old cigarette machine dispenses some kind of trinkets. Even the flat screen TVs showed a loop of The Way Things Go (1987), a Rube Goldstein-like obstacle course powered entirely by chemical reactions. The second time back a loop of Jillian Mayer’s Scenic Jogging played over and over. An intriguing short of a woman running along a street while on and behind her a projection of a field and other pastoral pictures play out.
The hours of operation extend from morning until night (11am until 11pm Sunday through Thursday and until 2am on Friday and Saturday), which is nice to know (who doesn’t hear the calling of that pre-noon brew every now and again?). And the menu has changed for the better. That is, no more cheap beer (remember the shot of tequila and tall boy Lone Star for something like $2.50?), but that’s traded out for a variety of Texas microbrews on tap including 512, Ranger Creek and Live Oak (all but two beers on tap are Texan beers). Prices range from $5 – 6. That’s really the going rate anymore but it made me just a little teary-eyed and nostalgic. The tasteful, tasty and undoubtedly beneficial for the state’s economy Texas Micros have taken over the low-brow, swill of the conglomerate. Now that happy hour extends until seven, you can go in early and get a half a liter of Live Oak Hefeweizen, a delicious summer wheat, for just $3.50 (or get a Fireman #4 or another Big Bark Amber, another Live Oak beer for the same price). Three cocktails round out the happy hour. The food is pricey but looks good. For $5, the Chili Salt Fries, though a little overdone, went well with the cumin aioli. Most entrees (sandwiches and salads) are between $8 – $10. It’s not a cheap stop, but it is an good one and one you must make.
I’ve held my midnight vigil and gotten over it: The Esquire is dead! Long live The Esquire!