August 19th, 2009

West Alabama Icehouse: Come Man, Beast and Child

In 6 Words: Outdoor, Cerberus, H-O-R-S-E, Horseshoes, Dogs, Hogs

Heat, humidity and mosquitoes are the three heads of the Cerberus guarding against the enjoyment of the outdoors in the Houston Summer. One place hasn’t given up the fight. In fact, they remain stubborn and steadfast, only offering outdoor seating. But, the people have chosen to support their Houston Hercules’ battle. The expanse of picnic tables at the West Alabama Ice House are populated rain, shine, heat and even on the rare days of bitter cold.

It’s a blazing August afternoon when I call my friend, desperate to find a place to live with my lease’s expiration date closing in on me. I need a recommendation. He answers the phone and instead offers me an invitation: Icehouse at 6:00PM. Sometimes a beer cures all woes. Sometimes it creates some that you didn’t need. Today it seems like a perfect bookend for a frustrating Friday.

As always, parking is quite the crusade. If you get there early enough you can sidle up your ride along side a fleet of hogs on the side of the Icehouse. Then again, “early” may mean close to noon on any given day. If you miss your window, don’t fret. The streets are mostly clear of “Do Not Park” signs. A little walk up to the bar never hurt a fly. Half the fun of arriving anywhere is in the journey.

My group of friends that range from 20-somthings to 30+ sit about as far away as you can get from the rest of the West Alabama Icehouse community. Past the first rows of picinic tables, “shedhouse” and the makeshift basketball court, they have found their table against the fence that separates the grounds from Heather Bowen Antiques next door. This strategy seems counter-intuitive to the community vibe.


I sit down just in time to swat away a basketball careening toward our group. Patting myself on the back for already proving useful to my friends, I ask if anyone wants a beer. All heads shake “no” and I make the journey to the open air bar. Being careful to avoid disrupting the game of “H-O-R-S-E” in progress on the dusty slab of concrete I walk through a patch that under different circumstances would serve as a stretch for a horeshoe run. A child plays in the pit by the opposite stake building castles made of sand.

The West Alabama Icehouse seems like a land of locals. The people here know each other. Their dogs know each other even better. The beasts are free to roam. Only a few have been tied down by their master’s to prevent play. Their would be playmates still approach, either to rub in their restraint or to comfort their peer. I make it into the glorified shack where the bar stands to find a man who seems to have been sitting at this same stool for not just hours, but days… maybe months, years. He commands his seat and spot in front of him with the air of ownership.

By the time that I’ve received my beverage of choice – St. Arnold’s Lawnmower – and return back to my station at the table everyone has moved. From one side of the court to the other, they’ve traded the mosquitoes of the dark corner for the sun poised to set. Luckily, the entire area is covered with large shade trees providing the perfect defense at more mid-day hours. For right now, they only prove to be obstacles and/or assistants in the game of “H-O-R-S-E” as friends try to knock each other out for a free drink or two.


After a little while longer talking about different apartments to live in the city and a point/counterpoint pitting Lawnmower against Bohemia (from the brewers of Tecate and Carta Blanca) a table opens up closer to the bar. We make a move yet again, this time to find respite under the fans blowing mist over the few patrons lucky enough to be seated within their reach.

A woman sitting by herself at a picnic table next to our new one, a golden blond dog at her feet asks us “how many times are ya’ll planning on moving around?” Her dog’s name is Hollywood and he’s being harassed by an awkward looking dog named Baxter. Hopefully, this is the last relocation. A bell sounds and a couple of my friends stand up. Not again. No more moving. Please.

“Why are you guys getting up,” I ask.

“Hot dogs are ready.”

Friday nights are free hot dog night. This is a point of which I’ve not been aware. The bell triggers the Pavlovian response all across the sea of red benches as people stand to wait in line for their fare. The dogs cruise around following anyone and everyone that walks away from the grill, hoping to be gifted a bite. My friend remarks, “if anyone gave Shiner (his dog) a piece of their hot dog, he would just follow them home.” So much for loyalty.

The three man band plays on as the sun gets closer to the horizon. One man, drunk or completely immersed in the music, dances in front of the stage. He wears a hat, sunglasses with croakies and a blackberry clipped to the outside of his khaki shorts. We’re not a group to judge, but we are one to point out the eccentric. He follows Baz Lurhmann’s advice of 1997: Dance like nobody’s watching.


As the dusk turns into night, the empty soldiers prove more of a liability of crashing off the table top than badge of beers imbibed. I begin to clear the table of the menace as a platter of tamales begins to make it’s rounds about the premises. I make a quick detour to the bar to grab one last beer before making it back to the table in time to make an order from the choice of chicken, beef or pork tamales. We settle on pork – but really, does it make a difference? – and I split the lot rolled in aluminum foil with my friend dousing each hot treat with copious amounts of hot sauce provided.

Washing down the taste of tamales Hollywood’s owner approaches one more time.

“So what are you guys doing here?”

“Just having a couple brews,” I say. “What about you?”

“The same. I come here a bit.” A point obvious by the fact that she knew every dog’s name that came close to her beloved Hollywood. “But, what are you doing. You have your camera and these flyers. Are you promoting something?”

“Not promoting, per se. I write and take pictures for”

I sign my receipt, hand over a flyer and hope that a trip to the West Alabama Icehouse has garnered us a fan of the cause. If not, it will be an easy excuse to make yet another trip to Montrose’s favorite icehouse.


Where – Montrose  (1919 West Alabama, Houston, Texas 77006) View Map
What – Outdoor Icehouse Calling All Comers
Wear – Whatever You Want As Long As You’re Prepared to Sweat Through It
Who – Men, Women, Children, Beasts of the Dog Variety
How Much – Won’t Go Broke After Losing to Your Buddies at H-O-R-S-E
When – Mon-Fri 10:00-12:00; Sat 1o:00-1:00; Sun 12:00-12:00

— Paul


Jquizz — Wednesday, August 19, 2009 2:36 pm

i didn’t know about the free hot dog night…i’m definitely going to try that out. gracias~

Mel — Wednesday, August 19, 2009 6:30 pm

very well written. in fact, it makes me want to go and sweat if I must

heidorama — Sunday, August 23, 2009 7:41 pm

1st spot friend took me to in houston
bonus: baz reference!

adriana — Monday, August 24, 2009 9:34 am

the hot dog man does take tips since he just does the hot dog thing just because he wants to. also, don’t forget the dog that runs the place, Takki (sp?). he makes his rounds making sure things are in order.

next time also make a visit to T.K. Bitterman’s that’s across the street!

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