November 20th, 2009
The Usual Pub: Just As It Seems, Maybe
In 6 Words: Happy, Ending, 86, Concealed, Beer, Genial
It’s drinking as usual at the neighborhood dive bar. Situated off the beaten path of the oft too trendy Washington Avenue scene, The Usual serves as a welcome respite from the hipsters and trendsters commonly found just a few blocks away. It’s a place to grab a beer, catch up with some old friends and make some new ones. The dark, nondescript building hides on the corner of T.C. Jester and Allen, which makes sense when you consider that it was originally an Asian Massage parlor. Because of the location, it’s probably not the place where everyone knows your name, but stick around long enough and they will.
I am meeting a few friends for happy hour and it is my responsibility to find the bar. Having driven past the Usual on a few occasions, something about it had piqued my interest. It’s quietly situated on the corner, nothing about the building screams “trendy hotspot”, and, as an added benefit, it has it’s own parking lot. All things considered, there is nothing usual about the spot compared to the rest of Washington.
We arrive during the later part of The Usual’s happy hour to find a half-full patio and an empty bar. Apparently, they are doing some remodeling, so we step over a collection of tools at the front door. At first, I worry that they are closed, but no one yells at us as we walked in, so we continue over to the bar and sit down. The Usual has a full bar, but it’s a haven for beer drinkers with a nice collection of craft brews. Unfortunately, they get their beer shipments on Friday mornings, so good luck finding those microbrews on Thursday night.
My fellow beer snob friend and I each ask for three different beers before deciding it would be easier if the bartender just tells us what she does have. Our other friend, the one without taste buds, orders his standard Bud Light. As she brings us the three beers that they manage to have in stock, she makes sure to tell us how good one of the 86’d beers was. Insult, meet injury. We quickly make friends with the lone woman at the other end of the bar, who sides with our uncultivated drinking buddy, rubbing in “they never run out of Bud Light.”
Being macho-manly-men at a bar, the conversation quickly turns to football, and to our surprise, our new friend holds her own in the conversation. A new arrival, a gentleman who introduces himself to everyone as he sits down at the bar, but wants no part in our pigskin discussion. Everyone at the bar was congenial and talkative with the bartender doing her best to take part in any and all conversations. It’s a neighborhood bar right straight from the pages of my dad’s era of beer drinking. The Usual tends to turn the Washington stereotype on its head; bar and patrons abandon any pretense that might be unfairly attributed.
After our ordering our second round, we decide to explore. As a former Thai Massage parlor, the bar understandably feels like a collection of different rooms. Each room is separated from the others by low hanging arches. There’s an area with couch seating, a center room with a stage, and another room with Golden Tee, a pool table and an amazing collection of old beer cans on display. Finding credits in the Golden Tee machine, we decide to play a round. Midway through our game another group joins us in the “sports” room. Wanting to play pool they run into a fairly cumbersome obstacle, cans of paint thinner at one end of the table.
The new group introduces themselves and we get to talking. They’ve discarded the cans of paint thinner and shoot pool and we finish our round of computer-generated 18 holes. My girlfriend finally makes an appearance. She finds us toward the back and walks up to me whispering the question immediately, “Is this a gay bar?” I shrug my shoulders. I hadn’t come across that information in anything that I had read, but a lot seems to point to that persuasion. Maybe it is.
As the conversation evolves with our pool playing friends, one asks my friend, “You guys are straight, right?” I guess it was obvious because we weren’t dressed nicely. After receiving an affirmative, he proceeds to invite my two single friends to the Christmas parties he is planning to frequent during the holiday season. “It’s all gay men and straight women. You guys would make a killing.” They make sure to trade numbers as we depart. Consider this your all points bulletin, single ladies making your rounds this December.
The Usual is like drinking at a good friend’s house. You are always welcome to come over, but you better not expect them to go out of their way to clean up just because you show up. Grab whatever is cold in the fridge, because there are no guarantees of what you’ll be able to find, and sit back and enjoy yourself.
Is the Usual a gay bar? I don’t know and to be honest, I don’t really care. It’s a fun, easy going place to grab a good beer. The bartenders do a great job of making you feel welcome, whether you spend every night at the bar or if it’s your first time and the regulars make you feel right at home. Whether it’s a gay bar or not, it’s a place that will quickly become my usual spot to grab a frosty beverage.
Where – 5519 Allen, Houston, TX 77007 (View Map)
What – The Usual Neighborhood Bar
Wear – Be Comfortable
Who – The Friendly, Talkative and Outgoing
How Much – Won’t Break the Bank
When – Opens at 6PM Mon. and Tues. 4PM Wed. through Fri. 2PM on Sat and 12PM on Sun.
Web – http://www.theusualpub.com/