The last time I was in Texas, I felt like a novelty item. “She lives in New York City!” exclaimed this woman who’d dragged her sister over to meet me, as though she’d happened upon a bearded lady or the One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater.
Perhaps that saying about needing a passport to leave the Lone Star State isn’t so far off.
As if traversing the open plains themselves, the walk to Whistlin’ Dixie’s Texas Tavern (714 Eleventh Avenue) was so far west we may as well have crossed a border. “Is that the Alamo?” I wondered. Ah, no, it’s the U-Haul rental facility. But perhaps after a few Diablo Margaritas, that might change.
Now, the good old boys of Alabama sang: “If you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band.” I wouldn’t worry so much about the fiddle, but if you’re headed to Whistlin’ Dixie’s, you gotta bring some friends. Though tumbleweed could seemingly blow down quiet Eleventh Avenue, inside was a decent venue to hold a large, no-frills gathering. Along with a picket fence, five flat-screen TVs bordered the range, which was further adorned with kitschy paraphernalia—Texas license plates, a Tequila Mockingbird book jacket, cowboy photos, etc. The mounted longhorn head presided over the scene as classic rock blared and beer-pong skills were refined in the back room. Thirtysomethings walked around with pitchers of Bud in hand, as blissfully happy as college freshmen who’ve never experienced the confines of a cubicle.
Though a Corona would’ve been more fitting, I ordered a Blue Moon—hey, at least the slice of orange brought out the hanging University of Texas flag’s colors. And in a city where people don’t bat an eye at $7 beers, this puppy was only four bucks: Everything is better in Texas. (Note to those whose wallet resembles a ranch hand’s: Cheap drink specials are offered every night of the week under thematic names like “Wild West Wednesdays.”) And if a few brews start to lube the appetite, Dixie’s menu offers an array of Tex-Mex grub—though grub may be the operative word, it’s hard to go too wrong when salsa is involved. Selecting among the “To Kick It Off Y’all” appetizers, my friend had the Bite-Size Sizzling Fajitas ($6.25), which served their purpose.
Would I wave my pom-poms for this spot, like the Cowboys cheerleader featured in framed photos on the wall? Not exactly, but grabbing a beer is grabbing a beer. Back out on deserted Eleventh Avenue, we rounded 52nd Street and headed toward Tenth. Is that the Alamo? Ah, no, it’s a gas station. In the words of George Strait, I actually found myself longing for a night where “The prairie sky is wide and high. [Clap, clap, clap, clap.] Deep in the heart of Texas.”
Though it can’t help but be cheesy, this Texas-themed bar (complete with free peanuts and honky-tonk piano) has enough down-home country charm to lasso in the crowds. 375 Third Avenue, 212-683-6500
Double Down Saloon
“What’s in your Ass Juice?” is a hard question to ask with a straight face, but we wanted to know what we were in for when ordering this East Village spot’s dubiously named shot. We kind of liked the fruity-tasting $3 Ass Juice; the actual bar we’re still not sure about. A beloved Las Vegas sleaze spot since 1993, the Double Down has opened a second location on Avenue A with the same murals, reminiscent of ’60s Playboy comics, that cover the original’s walls, not to mention the same “You puke, you clean” motto. The New York location carefully replicates the endearing qualities of the original, from the rockabilly clientele to the drinks, like the Bacon Martini ($6), which you wouldn’t dream of ordering until after you’ve had a few. 14 Avenue A, 212-982-0543