July 12th, 2010

Shady Tavern: Biker Bars and Other Strange Decisions

I don’t condone much physical activity, at least any that requires more dexterity than making a sandwich or throwing rocks at your neighbor’s cats, while intoxicated. There’s a strange, purgatory-ish between-season in Texas that occurs in February and March each year though, and when it’s finally shattered by the sunlight of a Houston spring, I throw a little logic out the window. In a prime example of Houston spring insanity, I hoisted myself onto a two-wheeled death machine, known to most as a bicycle, and journeyed from the heart of Montrose to Shady’s Tavern on 1206 W. 20th St.

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I would probably look much cooler roaring up to Shady’s on a sleek Harley-Davidson Softail (with or without fumanchu and Viking helmet), but I instead settled on huffing and panting my way there on a 60’s replica beach cruiser. Yes, it even has a bell. Don’t judge. Funny thing about it is that no one batted an eye as I arrived completely out of breath. There were no snide remarks as I surrendered my remaining shards of dignity after showcasing my inability to dismount without brutally scraping my shins and no one scoffed as I clumsily dumped my bike on its side before figuring out the quantum physics behind a kickstand.

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Maybe that had more to do with the fact that the only patrons visiting Shady’s at 3 p.m.were an ancient couple smoking Kools and playing chess on the cedar plank picnic tables and a welder-capped pool shooter grooving to Silver Bullet Bob Seger. No matter their reasons for withholding scornful glances and forgoing eye rolls, I had an epiphany. The temptation for any business is to buddy up with the young, credit card milking Lexus brigade, and all things considered, that’s a pretty solid business model. But, to get a gauge on the real mettle of a bar, a restaurant, a coffee shop, a museum or any other public venue, just take a look at how they treat the patrons who show up on foot or via two wheels, sweaty, dusty, often in ratty jeans, a ball cap and thirsty as hell.

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Shady’s sits just a block down from bustling Cedar Creek, tucked into a grand grove of oaks and pecans.However, instead of idolizing a city they don’t do business in to a near pathetic extent(no offense, Austin), Shady’s is a perfect extension of the Bayou City. Simple. Gritty. Working class. Instead of a pseudo-artsy, Starbucks barista, fake Cuban military drab serving you a chardonnay with your leek salad ala the place down the road, Shady’s employs real bartenders that actually give a crap about your day.

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There’s a big back yard for pooches and a large patio for Parcheesi. A barbecue pit that looks more like Optimus Prime, gets lit up for special occasions and the grub that comes off it is top notch. Shoot pool in what is, unmistakably, a converted mechanic’s garage, complete with sliding tin doors. The brew is cold and there’s no better place if you’re in a Lone Star or PBR frame of mind. If you really need a gigantic selection of micros and drafts, you may want to look elsewhere. Their BYOL (liquor) policy is just another way they refuse to price gouge visitors, and a gigantic projector screen for Astros and Rockets games seals the deal for anyone with PWSD (Post Work Stress Disorder).

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If you’re looking for their happy hour (which includes some serious Americana backyard grub) prices and a schedule of events like chili cook-offs and live music, good luck. It would be a shame for me to plug the place like any other pop-up, scratch-and-sniff dive bar replica. Shady’s is a genuine Ice House, so trust me when I say that anytime you show up, they’ll have a cheap cold one for you, but for more information you’ll have to give them a buzz at (713) 869-7000. Or, you can check out their My Space page at http://www.myspace.com/theshadytavern. The fact that these guys use a My Space page as a website only reinforces their casual, who-gives-a-damn style, and I love it. No Twooter. No Farcebook. None of it; they poke people and friend request them the good old fashioned way when they walk in the door by showing them a good time and asking them to come back any time. Don’t believe me? Try it out…on two wheels.

— Tea Jones

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