Ocho, siete, seis, cinco…

Ocho, at the Havana Inn, airily extends along the riverwalk. It’s a lovely bar/restaurant. Well-lighted via the large garage-style doors that line the wall that overlooks the Riverwalk. It was a bit of a mess in places last we were there (sugar packs propping up a table leg, crumbs on the long, velvety sectional) but that’s easily overlooked. In fact, just look up…

Ocho

The piecemeal furniture has that down-on-its-luck sprezzatura feel to it, which I like. Not quite pretentious: more colonial Kenya somehow. I mean that in the best possible sense as San Antonio sometimes feels like a beleaguered, overrun city hosting tourists to survive. You have to find the more sincere places to drink when you’re downtown. This is one of them.

Ocho

The first drink is free with your Artpace membership, which is nice considering that Modelos are $5. Still, as you can see from the photos below, the light is just so.

Menu
Menu

At the bar: a single goldfish in a unusually shaped fishbowl — o fishy fishy fishy o!

from the bar
from the bar

I’ve always loved this space and now it’s even better. Less linear with the couches and the bar at one end, Ocho feels like a place to relax, sip a beer and, wonderfully TVless, have a conversation about art (or football or whatever).While I couldn’t spend every afternoon here (the above mentioned price), the occasional Friday afternoon is perfect.

The beauty of bats

Near the boat dock under IH-35 at Newell & Camden a bachelor colony of Mexican Freetail bats hangs under the rumbling trucks and cars. (Yes, the females live in larger colonies elsewhere like the enormous colony under the Congress Street bridge in Austin.) Four Tuesdays in July and August (including the one tonight, 7/27 @ 8pm, 8/9 @ 7.30pm & 8/23 @ 7.30pm) San Antonio River Authority in partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife give an educational presentations prior to the emerging of the bats for their nightly feast.

BatsThe colony, according to Maura from SARA, is somewhere around 10,000 bats. They roost here in South Texas from about April to October then migrate to warmer climes down south. Of the 47 species of bats in the US, Texas is home to 32 of them. Unfortunately, though, bats in the US are being smitten with White-Nose Syndrome, a white fungus that is killing thousands of them.Luckily it is not yet in Texas, but there have been cases of it as close as Oklahoma. This is scary stuff.

Bats

The bats came out at 8:25 pm and streamed up over the highway for about five minutes or so. It’s a much smaller  showing than Austin’s but no less spectacular. There’s something magical about seeing the ribbon coming out from under the highway and disappearing around the phone tower. The ancient echolocation of bats against the cellular sky.

Fish under the bridge

View from the boat dock when you're not looking at the bats.

—Lyle Rosdahl

Bland at Blue Star Brewing Company

Blue Star Brewing Company

1414 S. Alamo, Suite 105 • 210.212.5506

$5.00

As we rolled into the Blue Star Arts Complex, Lyle commented that the sidewalks along S. Alamo are going to be expanded in order to meet the needs of a large pedestrian population. Being that it was 2:30 on a Monday afternoon, pedestrians were nowhere to be seen and parking was ample. Approximately 8 – 10 people dined on a late lunch, while the bar remained unpopulated. We took a seat and ordered a Blue Star Michelada.

Beer: ✪✪✪✪

  • Your choice. Currently, according to their website because I can’t remember what was actually posted in person, Blue Star offers six house-brewed beers on tap: Texican, Pilsner, Apache Amber, Smoke Dark, Stout, and Pale Ale. Both, Lyle and I, opted for the Texas conceived, Mexican inspired, playfully named, Texican.

Dressing: ✪✪

  • I’ve only found chile powder dressing at two places as I am presently in the infant stages of my michelada hunt. Instead, salt dressing is the norm. I can’t fault Blue Star for going the salt route, but let it be known chile powder earns one more stars.

Spiciness: ✪✪

  • The bartender didn’t skimp on his pepper pouring with each sip offering plenty of punch. Unfortunately, due to the beers solely being on tap, Blue Star doesn’t provide michelada minions the usual portion of beer remaining in the bottle. Otherwise known as the chaser, used at times when the michelada gets too spicy.

Color:

  • Our micheladas looked like iced tea with shards of pepper. This unappealing color stemmed from the noticeable absence of tomato juice/Clamato  from Blue Star’s recipe. Moreover, the mountain of ice initially heaped into the glass quickly watered the color of the beer and the michelada’s other ingredients (Worcestershire sauce, lime, possibly soy sauce).

Overall Taste:

  • What a disappointment. For starters, they don’t use the necessary tomato juice. There was entirely too much ice that caused the beer to quickly deteriorate from its intended taste. In other words, I left Blue Star with the feeling that I had paid extra to have someone water down my Texican, and in the process dump some pepper on the beer water.

I’m assuming the impending renovations will increase foot traffic to-and-from the Blue Star Arts Complex. That being said, I can guarantee no one’s going to be running to the Blue Star Brewing Company for a michelada.

Next, please.

— Ryan Sachetta

The Monterey’s Michelada

The Monterey

1127 S. St. Mary’s • 210.745.2581

$3.50

Beer: ✪✪

  • Pearl – the faux-Texas beer. No longer brewed in San Antonio, Pearl is brewed by Miller Brewing Company in Fort Worth. I noticed a gentleman seated at the bar drinking a michelada with a can of Brooklyn Brewery’s Summer Ale. Thus, I’m not sure if you can request a substitute beer (possibly for an additional charge) or maybe the patron at the bar is a regular.

Dressing:

  • The glass lacked dressing (salt/ chile powder) around its rim.

Spiciness: 

  • This michelada lacked that smack of spicy. I probably said “this could use more pepper” on several occasions.

Color:

  • Personally, I prefer micheladas with an indistinguishable red color (that way I don’t have to ask the bartender if tomato juice is included in their recipe). The Monterey’s was a faded tomato red, highlighting its perfect beer:tomato juice ratio.

Overall Taste:

  • Despite this michelada’s poor showing in individual categories, its overall taste was indisputably refreshing. The light, is-this-even-beer-taste of Pearl coupled with the tomato juice made for a quenching summer drink. I appreciate a spicy michelada and The Monterey’s completely lacked in that department. Nonetheless, at only $3.50 in the comfy confines of The Monterey, it’s well worth a try.

— Ryan Sachetta

Speedys/The Steer

Departing from Lyle’s Southtown abode, we headed east looking for food to eat at a place we’d never been before. Preferably, a place we’d never heard of. After driving a five-mile lap past unappealing places or now vacant spaces that once billed good food, we changed our trajectory and headed west.

Speedy’s Chicken is located on S.W. Military Drive among a sea of fly-by-night businesses, payday loan predators, fast food franchises, and the necessary H-E-B. The white exterior of Speedy’s has the nondescript look you associate with a space that’s been through several tenants. The interior walls of Speedy’s are this beach bathroom looking white tile coupled with occasional lines of smaller red tiles. I commented to Lyle that it felt like I had entered a locker room.

I’m predictable when it comes to chicken strips. Bill Miller’s is my usual choice because it’s relatively inexpensive, large portion, and the chicken’s battered in-house. That being said, I’d like to switch my allegiance to Speedy’s Chicken. I ordered the # 1, which comes with three (gargantuan) chicken strips, one side (I got french fries), dinner roll, side of gravy, and a gas-station sized soft drink. All for five dollars and some change.

The Diet Coke I sipped on while I waited for my order was flat, but fountain drinks are often inconsistent. Within five minutes, I had my meal in front of me. The cumulative size of the three chicken strips could easily hold its own against any mainstream competitor – Bill Miller’s, Popeyes, Church’s, etc. The strips were generously battered, but not to the point that it overwhelmed the chicken. Gravy proved creamy, but not too thick. I wasn’t impressed by the french fries that lacked in salt. Then again, I’d rather a fried chicken establishment concentrate a majority of its energy on the namesake chicken rather than defrosted and eventually grease-dropped french fries.

In short, if you are looking for above average fried chicken at a decent prize, hurry to Speedy’s Chicken. Order the iced tea, according to their menu it’s 46-cents. (Does it not come with ice? Because right next to tea on the menu it reads there’s a charge of 46-cents for a cup of ice.)

I’m glad I wore athletic shorts to eat. Forget luxury, spandex is a necessity after consuming the generous portions at Speedy’s.
Lyle and I decided to stop in for a few beers at The Steer, a dull, boxy looking bar we passed on the way to Speedy’s. I had my doubts about going in for several reasons. One, it had no windows. Two, it looked like a seedy strip club that, assuming the strippers walked to work, had less than five cars in the parking lot. (Digression: Who wants to be that guy who finds out he’s just walked into a deserted strip club at 3:30 on a Monday afternoon?)

Laughs were shared, but Lyle and I eventually walked into the Steer. Coming inside from the blinding sun light proved disorienting for a moment as my eyes required adjustment. As soon as you walk into the Steer, a seat at the bar is less than five foot steps away.

Beer selection is sparse, Corona might have been their fanciest beer. There was a Bud Ice sighting, you know, the good stuff. After sitting at the bar for about five minutes with beers in hand, and the handful of other patrons glued to the Maury Povich show, Lyle and I opted to play pool. A game of pool costs 75-cents, which doesn’t sound bad. However, that doesn’t include the opportunity cost of having to go find the sole piece of cue stick chalk.

Admittedly, I don’t know if I have much to say about the Steer. Would I go back? Probably not. Between the meager beer selection, suspect television programming, the man who requested country on the jukebox, the lingering smell of smoke that glues to you worse than the awful baked smell one wears when they leave a Subway restaurant, and the child left sitting in the corner while his father drank at the bar, it was only as good as the company one brings.

My opinion of the Steer is meaningless. For the few patrons I saw while I was there, it was their comfort spot. A place to find a sliver of community. Silence and shade from the rigors of daily life.

The Steer was a place I’d never been to nor heard of.

I found what I had sought.

A bar review in which I avoid tasteless rhymes: The Steer

Lyle Rosdahl

The Steer. The name conjures up some kind of beefcake club, but the actual bar, from the outside, calls to mind a strip club, all windowless cinder block and wood. The door, while itself a pretty standard sturdy bar door, is framed by the rust-colored wood presenting a strangely stately illusion, especially when coupled with the gas-lamp lighting fixture above it. The used car lot next door puts the finishing touch on the eclectic site. Ryan and I got our collective nerve up and walked into the dim bar at 735 SW Military.

The Steer

The thing with windowless bars is that, paradoxically, you never know what they’ll look like inside but somehow the interiors are always the same. It’s the possibility of something absolutely insane that’s vaguely unsettling but exciting. But since reviewing The Red Baron, another bizarrely square bar on Burr Road, I’ve had a suspicion that they all have one of those horseshoe shaped sunken bars at which you sit in regular height chairs. After moving around the L-shaped foyer, another staple of such bars — it keeps the bulk of the sunlight from flashing the customers — we took in the bar in all its immediate glory: bar and down a step two pool tables. And, yes, the bar is in fact sunken and three-sided (I’m batting a thousand). Mirrors barely reflected anything in the dimness particularly the diagonal swaths of mirror between the rustic wood in the corner where the tiny linoleum dance floor/stage clung to the floor.

The jolly woman bartender bounded up and asked for our IDs immediately, which was particularly odd considering the kid, eight or nine, wandering around inside the cool, quiet darkness. Whatever: he wasn’t drinking and sat quietly in the corner. We ordered a couple of Coronas and found out that the domestics went from $2.25 to $1.75 at four o’clock and that Kamikazes were on special at $3 (there was also an Apple Bootlegger, or something like that, up on the board for $1.50). The Coronas were $3 a pop. Ah, the cool vaguely beery taste of Mexico’s most famous beer.

We quickly made our way over to the pool tables for a couple of 75¢ games. We won’t dwell on the results, but rest assured that they were fairly one-sided. Then back to the bar and another round. On the TVs: Maury and Dr. Phil. Mercifully (that couldn’t possibly be the word) the sound was only on the TV showing Maury. The smattering of happy bar flies gabbed and made remarks about baby daddies and DNA (well, mostly baby daddies). Another round. Ryan and I listened in to bits and pieces of conversations, made our own witty banter.

It was so dark and cool in the bar that soon the hundred degree weather and blinding sunlight were distant memories. I can’t say that it’s a particularly pleasant feeling really. I love San Antonio because of the sun. I need my vitamin D. Give me a bright, airy bar any day of the week and I’m a happy bar fly myself. Still there is that subset of the bar fly group that thrives off the time-warping, temperature-thwarting necessity of cave dwelling forgetfulness. Unfortunately this same subset tends to also include lots of smokers. I’m pretty sure a Venn Diagram would show eclipsing circles. Needless to say my clothes reeked. That’s always a strike (or two) in my book.

Finally we staggered out, not from the drink but from the horrible nineties country pop which had suddenly accosted us, and then reeled from the combo punch of light and heat. The other drawback to these bars is that you have to emerge sometime (probably better to wait until darkness) thus compounding the sense of guilt at having been in such a place, which is ironically and cyclically assuaged by having been in such a place…

We blinked a few times to get our bearings and then we were gone, the little box disappearing into the clutter of SW Military Hwy.

The Steer Sign

TRANS/ACTION @ Guadalupe Gallery

Lyle Rosdahl

Unfortunately this exhibit at the Guadalupe Gallery is just about finished (June 25th). But there is still time. In its interest:

Trans/Action consists of four artist: Kimberly Aubuchon (San Antonio, TX), Margarita Cabrera (El Paso, TX), Máximo González (Distrito Federal, MX) & Ester Partegàs (New York, NY).

The gallery statement of the exhibit says:

TRANS/ACTION presents four artists’ investigations into economics, corporate models and current marketing practices. These artists take a fresh look at how we view money as an indicator of value, power and love.

In some cases artists have assigned a new aesthetic value to the visual imagery of logos, currency and brand elements. In other works, the artists have taken common corporate marketing practice and offered alternative creative transactions based not he buying and selling of art. In all cases the artists of TRANS/ACTION highlight our culture’s growing preoccupation with materialism and consumerism.

Cabrera’s folkart work includes a video of her workspace, which conveys her focus on the process of creation (work) as well as the utility of that creation. Even her more conceptual pieces like Arbol de la Vida (Pala/Shovel) are linked to the nitty-gritty of an everyday manual labor life. Lovely work.

The pieces that most directly address the statement above are Partegàs’ defaced black and white photos. They feature shoppers (shopping bags recur throughout her work including Shopping Heads, which was also displayed and is one of a series [the only one at Guadalupe Gallery]) whose heads and faces have been obscured by spray paint and/or overlayed with ads (made up?). Impersonal and humiliating, these photos indicate what is really important.

González’ shredded and woven peso rugs (Untitled, Magma XX-I & three called Weave in Progress), hang intentionally unfinished on the walls, creating patterns in their incompleteness that ruminate on both the physical (visceral — though this money is out of circulation, it still somehow stings to see it all cut up) and immaterial nature of monetary systems.

The coup de grâce, though, belongs to Aubuchon (director of Unit B) whose piece entitled 500 Stieren Street, Unit B recreates the studio (which is actually a room in her house dedicated to showing art). And I mean that it has walls and a door and on the walls inside the room inside the gallery there is excellently curated art (like one of my favorites from a couple of artists, Matt Irie & Dominick Talvacchio, who I got to see talk at Palo Alto College years ago and who’s Potentialities #1 is a sheet of college ruled notebook paper with all sides “torn” from a metal spiral spine). Different video installations showed at interval throughout the exhibit on a small TV. The entirety, tucked away at the back of the gallery, is a loose recreation of the actual Unit B and questions, rightly so, the boundaries between gallery and living room (even: behind the installation around a wall in the gallery a backyard replete with charcoal grill and chairs).

500 Stieren Street, Unit B

500 Stieren Street, Unit B

Unit B @ Guadalupe Gallery

a sketch of the interior layout and a list of brilliantly curated art

From her artist statement: “Aubuchon becomes a Texas version of Gertrude Stein, mixing high art with sofa chats; and intellectual discourse with backyard bonfires and cold beer.” [Is there anything better? Absolutely not.]

The installation is more than a singular effort (as so little really is) and Aubuchon gives credit where credit is due: Chad Dawkins curated the art work; Amy Austin interior decorated; Jeremiah Teutsch drew the the faux windows and doors. And “all the while the artist drank beer and played basketball in the backyard.” I love this refreshing modesty, honesty and self-deprecating humor.

If you haven’t had a chance, check it out. Well worth it. And don’t forget the Unit B at 500 Stieren Street.

The infirmity of age

Folklife used to be my favorite San Antonio event. The different foods and events and cultural diversity spotlighted San Antonio as a unique and varied city. Not that I don’t like Fiesta, but it wasn’t all Bud Light, turkey legs and funnel cake (the quintessential San Antonio festival that spotlights general [good-natured] drunkenness — I really do love Fiesta for its own merits).

But this year, the festival turned 40 and it’s starting to sag in places. Large swaths of the event have been overrun by carny folk or just emptied entirely. The Thais didn’t go. The Czechs didn’t go. And there were others that forsook the heat (which is nothing new) and high prices (well, it just keeps going up, doesn’t it?). While there were still lots of vendors/displays in the Back Forty, the path leading back there along IH-37 is barren. Most of the South American booths near the federal courthouse/Schultze House entrance have disappeared (poor Peru was set up next to a chuck-a-ball-at-something booth). All in all, a disappointment.

Gunslinging into the Emptiness

Gunslinging into the Emptiness

Parking Lot

Parking Lot

Slide

Slide

Me with Dilapidated Dragon

Me with Dilapidated Dragon

I volunteered at the Texana booth (an excellent library department and enjoyable volunteering opportunity) again this year so I got in free for the three days but I don’t think I’ll even do that next year. Sad that this tradition of showcasing culture — so vibrant and alive in South Texas — has so quickly fallen ill.

—Lyle Rosdahl

I didn’t get frisked, but that’s all right: a review of The (new old) Esquire

Lyle Rosdahl

The Esquire

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.

The Esquire

“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 Esquire

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.

The Esquire

I’ve held my midnight vigil and gotten over it: The Esquire is dead! Long live The Esquire!