For reasons we will surely discuss some other time, I was in a really bad mood on Thursday. I was in Austin, TX, a place that I love to visit, and I was becoming ever so frustrated with work and life…something had to change. I was a walking knot of frustration. Worse than that, I was wasting the precious time spent in this favorite geographic region in a miserable, emotional pool of sorrow and self-pity. I was in need of beer, and balance.
I explained my predicament to the concierge at my hotel in downtown Austin, and I asked him, “Where can I find beer and balance?”
“Do I look like a fucking psychiatrist to you? What are you, some kind of sissy or something?” he replied. I hate it when people reply to my questions with questions. I think he was new at his job.
So I said, “Shut up!”
“You shut up!”
“NO! YOU SHUT UP!” And since I replied to him with all capital letters and an exclamation point, I won the argument. Unfortunately, I still had no idea where to go. I was advised earlier to try a Mexican place that had a great reputation, and this reputable place was within easy walking distance of my hotel. I wasn’t feeling very Mexican this evening, but without any alternative advice immediately available, I thought I should head in that direction until I could devise a plan.
So I defiantly pushed my way through the revolving door and stepped out onto the funky streets of downtown Austin. It was about 5:30, the working folk who were my age, were heading back home to suburbia, in a hurry to make it to their kid’s soccer practices, fantasy football drafts, and barbeque grills…and the working folk who were much younger than me were heading to the local pubs, cafés and eateries. The city streets were alive with motion on this hot and sticky evening.
A few blocks into my journey, while standing on the corner of Willie Nelson & Brazos Drive, I heard a sound that seemed familiar, sort of a “clinking” sound. I recognized it as a happy sound, and I felt just the slightest loosening of my neck muscles. I turned towards the direction of the sound, and I heard some conversation, and some laughter…I was drawn. I lost my sense of decency at an early age, so my other senses are a little more acute than most people’s; I could smell fryers boiling with canola oil, bacon cooking in cast iron pans, and I could smell beer. So I walked a little further down Brazos, and I saw a neon sign that spoke to me. It simply said, “Beer Garden”.
I’m no detective, but all the signs (including the bright neon one) were telling me that there might be a beer in this place. I thought I should stop in and take a look inside, do a little “horticultural research”, so to speak, and then maybe go to the Mexican place for my evening sustenance. It’s always important to have a plan, and I now had a plan in place.
And then I walked in the door, The Cedar Door to be exact (that’s the name of the place), and then my plan fell apart.
The plan fell apart because Austin, a 20-something year old beauty from New Jersey who looks like she belongs on a beach, gives an excellent first impression. When Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys wrote Surfer Girl, a girl like Austin was the picture in his head. Austin asked me if I wanted a table, but I chose the bar; there was a TV with the Yankees and the Red Sox baseball game on, a few tap handles that I had not seen before, and the bar area was a beehive of hot waitresses, quirky patrons, and good times. I can’t even remember the name of that Mexican place that I was going to…Austin’s (the girl, not the town) hotness wiped my memory card clean of all unnecessary data.
So I take my seat at the bar (I just love saying that!), and Jesse (a good dude from Cincinnati) the bartender informs me that “all Texas brewed beers are on sale for $3 a pint. We have some nice local brews on tap.”
It’s like he knew me before I even sat down. This was a very different interaction than my experience with my hotel’s concierge.
I asked, “Do you have a local I.P.A.?”
“The Five One Two” was his reply. Jesse, like most Texans from Cincinnati, is not a man of many words, but he makes his words count. This is an enviable quality.
“Giddy – up!” I said, enthusiastically, with a hand gesture that expressed my anticipated satisfaction with the impending transaction. I love this place, and I’m less than 2 minutes in the door.
“Giddy – up” echoes back to me, but not from Jesse, it came from the service area of the bar, that place where all the waitresses pick up their drink orders. So I look in the direction of the comment, and just as my heart rate is settling from meeting Austin, the excitement of a skilled bartender that can read my mind, and the realization that I am walking back to my hotel room, so responsible consumption of alcoholic beverages won’t be necessary this evening…just as I’m getting over all THAT; Sheena walks into my life.
I look at her, she looks back at me and she smiles. Sheena is not a big girl; she is just a big presence. Sheena has big expressive eyes, a gorgeous big mane of dark hair, several tattoos, and a nose ring. I’m a 51-year-old Republican with a young daughter, and puritan principles. All of my internal wiring and emotionally conservative pathology should have turned me away from this visually wild young lady, but simply put, she was too striking to turn away from. Sheena was from Houston, by way of Nantucket, and Sheena, like Austin, was beautiful. She was also very funny, and she taught me some book and cover kinds of lessons that I won’t soon forget.
So I get my beer, I continue to responsibly admire the pretty young waitresses, and I look over the menu hoping that I can find any excuse to stay at this quirky little bar. The menu doesn’t blow you away with its diversity, or its volume. There is a limited selection of “bar food”; appetizers, burgers, and a few salad offerings. I asked Jesse to “give me a reason to stay”, and after some discussion, he suggested the White Wings (chicken breast chunks, stuffed with a slice of jalapeño, wrapped in bacon, and dredged in Buffalo sauce) and a salad, and another beer. I challenged his suggestion, offering to him that I hail from the country’s most bountiful wing region, and his response was, “Dude, this isn’t like anything you’ve ever had – trust me”. I did, and he was right. This was an outstanding, very simple meal. Other people who I spoke with that evening said the whole menu is like that…simple food done well, with a clever twist here and there.
The 512 (pronounced “Five One Two”, not “Five Twelve”…I was corrected) beers were very good. The brewery is named for Austin’s (the city, not the girl) area code. I tried the I.P. A., and the Pecan Porter. I would give both of these brews a solid 3 ½ thongs on The Large Man’s 5 thong scale. My final brew choice was the Thirsty Goat Amber from Thirsty Goat Brewing, and again, 3 ½ thongs would be my rating.
While enjoying my beer, watching the game, talking to the other staff members, and waiting for my food, I met one more beauty, Brittany from Bloomington (IL). While Sheena, and Austin, had a look that distinctively said something, Brit was just classically beautiful; pretty blonde hair, blue eyes that shine like the stars over Texas on a moonless night, and a smile that only shows itself while she talks to someone. She seems to be the sweet one of the gang, but I’m not sure. The first time I noticed her, she was getting her drink order, and being lightly pelted by ice chips tossed from Jesse. When she laughed she melted the ice chips, and pretty much every heart in the bar. Pretty girls and skilled bartenders do a lot for the pub experience. It doesn’t get much better than The Cedar Door.
Three times during my meal, patrons from the bar, or customers coming to get a pick up order chatted me up. Big Lou, a rather large, well built, Latino looking gentleman in a Dallas Cowboy’s tee shirt kept sneaking out of the kitchen to check on the score of the game. He told me he was a Sox fan, “ever since I was a little kid”. It was hard to imagine Lou ever being little, but he was a good guy, and he cheered like a little kid when Big Papi hit a 3 run homer in the 6th.
The Cedar Door is friendly, and fun, and it was just what the doctor ordered for my sour mood. I am sure the Universe felt my need, and steered me to the corner of Willie & Brazos, and that beautiful neon “Beer Garden” sign; my senses did the rest.
A couple of times during the evening I discussed The Large Man Chronicles with Jesse, Brit, Austin and Sheena, I told them the things that I liked to write about, and at some point I asked if I could use their names in my blog, and Sheena asks, “Is it gonna be dirty?” As I started my flustered reply, she interrupted me, “…cause that’s ok.” Then she smiled that big mischievous smile…and then I realized that the knot in my shoulders was missing, and the stiffness in my neck was gone, and I couldn’t remember what I was trying to forget when I walked into the place.
Pretty girls and skilled bartenders will do that.
Thanks for reading.