GREETINGS FROM TEXAS
Postcards from the Greatest Book Tour in History
I had the idea to wrap up a trio of stories about my new book Texas Dives: Enduring Neighborhood Bars of the Lone Star State by sending a postcard to JUKE following each stop on the book-release tour. After all, there had never, ever, ever been a book tour carried out in over a dozen Texas dive bars. (I checked, honestly.)
Unfortunately, my head swam with delight and amazement before, during, and after each show of the Texas Dives World Book Tour (July 30-September 28, 2022) and the whole crew was just having too much fun to think outside the dive. Still, this was history in the making. This was easily the greatest literary event to happen in Texas since Stephen Harrigan moved here from Oklahoma. So, let’s pretend I had regularly sent out these “postcards,” but they all arrived at the same time.
Riley’s Tavern, Hunter
A terrific spot to kick things off because it’s close to home for co-author Kirk Weddle (photographer) and myself. Lots of friendly faces, including those of our wives. Because of microphone/sound issues, most of my jokes bombed and I flopped pretty bad. However, I’d decided beforehand that our tour needed something extra-special, which is why Austin-based singer/songwriter Sid Grimes (above, right) became the tour’s musical headliner. For Riley’s, she brought along Brother John, who plays pedal steel, and they kept the crowd excited. Bar owner Joel had told me earlier that the chapter on Riley’s was “honest and humorous.” Who could ask for better praise? We’re off and running.
Texas T Pub, San Antonio
Tonight in San Antonio I truly realized we’re really doing something special. The T was packed. Long-time regular customers expressed how proud they were to belong to a bar that ended up in the book. The bar catered dinner. Our musicians were on fire. We sold every book we had; one guy followed us out the door and down the street in an attempt to buy the book I read from during the shows. The only dose of reality was being informed that a few of the people we featured had died in the years between research and publication. Kirk started keeping track of this sad situation at all the bars.
Saddle Bronc, San Angelo
Ila co-owns Saddle Bronc with her husband, and she don’t take no guff from nobody. Above, she proudly shows off her Swear Jar, which fills up each year with cash because the F-word is verboten in the bar and customers must pay a fine (or leave) when they slip up. (Ila buys a special dinner for the regulars with all the money collected.)
She actually misted up when we presented her with a copy of the book. I began telling a lot of “A guy walked into a bar” jokes, and just kept them until the “boos” and “hisses” began. I loved it.
Showdown, San Marcos
Showdown was disappointing because Sid couldn’t play (management wouldn’t budge), although in many, many way, it was terrific. Many friends and family dropped by. The best part was when some guy told us that he'd already started his "bucket list" tour. It was surreal watching him gather signatures from people who appeared in the book—just like yearbook day in high school.
A Great Notion, Fort Worth
Can you believe the above shot is real? Not staged at all. I’m actually reading a book to a bunch of regulars inside a dive bar—and they were loving it! Gail and Carl, the owners, went all out by serving brisket and cake; there were balloons and even a piñata. Lots of familiar faces encouraged one another to have a roaring good time. It was tough to leave the bar that night. So far, Fort Worth is the high-water mark of the tour.
The Goat, Dallas
I really dig Adam, the owner (far left); he’s a smart conversationalist and has a gnarly story about losing one of his fingers. He was playing pool with some customers when we got there, and told us to just “do what [we] need to do” while he continued to get his ass kicked at the game. A very receptive crowd showed up; I got to meet Lota, one of the bar’s former owners, who named the bar after her favorite Pontiac GTO (often nicknamed “goat”). We sold lots of books!
Duddley’s Draw, College Station
At the tail end of Duddley’s 45th anniversary weekend, our tour came through on Sunday to kick up the energy one last time before the week got underway. You can see how Sid plays while Kirk and I sell and sign books, and I’m just gonna say it: It was a brilliant idea on my part to have her on tour. She brings people to the room and entertains them while they wait in line. She volunteered to come on the tour; I try to pay her from our profits, but it’s never enough to match her output.
Shorty’s Place, Port Aransas
An important show for many reasons, not the least of which because the owners are—at this very moment—planning to move the entire building to a new location. For anyone who reads the book, it becomes obvious that Shorty’s is Texas’ unofficial official dive bar. It’s got some cosmic pull to it. In the future, there will likely be more foot traffic, and the bar could very well survive and thrive, but I fear Shorty’s won’t quite be the same after the move. These things happen in the dive world because location is 90 percent of the magic. Shorty’s marked the half-way point of our tour.
Johnny’s Gold Brick, Houston
Who’s Alice? She owned Alice’s Tall Texan in Houston, but it closed during the pandemic. Johnny’s stepped up to honor Alice’s legacy and hosted us. The venue was hip and comfortable and I could spend lots of time there. The crowd—including many from Alice’s family—was very enthusiastic and appreciative. In my attempts to honor her, I made Alice cry in front of everyone. What a heel.
Warren’s Inn, Houston
This was a second night in Alice’s honor. Warren’s, a bar in which Alice likes to spend time, hosted us this time. The crowd was mostly the same as the previous show, but we got to meet a few more new friends. Alice remained composed even though she was still moved by all the attention. I kept the subjects to bowling and her love of 3-card poker, just to be safe.
The Alibi, Galveston
It was sort of like being in a dream: I know I’m someplace, but it’s really someplace else. The last time we were in this very building, it was called the Wizzard, owned by Glynda (left). After she recently retired, the Wizzard became the Alibi, with new owners who wanted to honor Glynda’s legacy by hosting a stop on our tour. It was another wonderful show, filled with laughs and memories and funny stories and Glynda even revealed publicly the reason her bar had two Zs in the name (I’ll never tell). Still—it all felt kinda dreamy.
Mynars Bar, West
As the penultimate bar of the book tour, Mynars was full of very happy, raucous regulars. So raucous that I eventually gave up trying to tell my terrible jokes and just let Sid take over. She enjoyed the high-ceiling acoustics and thus sounded great. Here’s the odd thing about Mynars: For decades upon decades there has been no apostrophe in the bar’s name, Mynars. Now, all of a sudden, they’ve decided to add an apostrophe. And I hate change. It will always be Mynars to me. The book reveals why this was probably the most important bar we visited.
La Perla, Austin
This, our final show of the tour, was quite a fun evening. Inside, La Perla was packed to the rafters, and there was no room to set up. So, we headed outside to the back lot. Eddie, the owner, and Walter White, the dog, were our two biggest fans for the night. Eddie even had a Modelo beer truck parked nearby to keep the beer flowing. We livestreamed the event. Sid and Brother John played fiercely. Kirk actually said something to the crowd (first time all tour). We sold books and then said goodbye.
I’d always wanted to be a rock star, and I came pretty damn close to that dream with this historical book tour. At each stop, we were greeted with fascination and a bit of disbelief that we actually got the damn book published—and that it took off and became a bestseller. I’m proud of getting some of these undocumented narratives into the official record. I’m grateful to the IRS for conceding that, yes, this whole thing—research and tour—was tax deductible.
To see many more photos from our trailblazing book tour check out:
Photos by Kirk Weddle, Sid Grimes, and Anthony Head.
We hope you’re enjoying Juke! Subscribe for free to receive our posts by email. For special member-only posts and benefits, please consider supporting our writers with a monthly or yearly paid subscription.
Anthony Head mostly writes about Texas.