Celebrating Alice’s Tall Texan, Houston’s Kindest Bar (Seriously)

Let’s say it’s a little before midnight Saturday at Alice’s Tall Texan. The regulars are long gone, and the hipster kids who read at the bar on Main Street are deep into their recent cold trophies of Lon Star and Shiner Bock. Owner Alice Ward manages everything; In 15 minutes she’s going to kick people out.

Then the door opens, and in steps are Felipe Galvan and the band of his Latin skunk-punk rebels, Los Skarnales. The band members, an institution in Houston for more than 25 years, sit around a table. Ward gasps.

“She looks like she’s ready to go, and then he will [expletive] 10 of us, “says Galvan.” She would say ‘Ah!’ “

So Gelben and his bandmates would pull beers and reduce shots quickly so as not to further upset Ward.

But they were not the only ones who felt her rage in the last conversation.

“If he did not hurry and get out of there … My God,” laughs Debbie Martinez, a 30-year-old patroness of the tall Texan Alice, who at one time visited up to five times a week with her husband, Hector. Martinez remembers a trick Ward would do to get people out quickly. “She would turn off the air conditioner.”

Ward says there is a very simple reason for all this.

“It’s time for them to go so I can drink my drink,” she says. If it closes at 1am, she could drive quickly to Sheila Club in Studewood for her lone vodka tonic of the evening.

Galvan wrote a song about being taken out of the bar. Called “you are disconnected”, it led A clip shot in Tall Texan. Susan Espinosa, the veteran worker, even made an amulet, each of which stuck brooms toward the camera as if to direct the viewer to the exit, as they have done in recent years. Los Skarnales was scheduled to premiere the video at the bar during St. Patrick’s Day party, of course on March 17th.

But that day all the bars in Houston were ordered to close because of the spread of Cubid-19.

“Damn,” Galvan says. “How ironic, man.”

After Governor Greg Abbott reopened the bars in May, the High Texan returned for a few weeks, but it closed again in late June after Abbott returned. On July 30, Ward announced that the bar would be closed permanently, closing after August.

Immediately fans and former patrons of Bar Heights, also known as Tall Texas Drive In, reached out to mourn the end of an era and celebrate a community event that hosted birthday parties, holiday events, plenty of astro clock parties, and was responsible for more than a few wild nights. Much of this stems from the woman behind this bar pouring the cheap beer and sometimes, when the time comes, yelling at people who went to hell.

Ward, who worked as the bar manager in 1984, took the tall Texan from her boss Roland Smith, who was forced to give her up because of an opportunity at a brewery. She kept a lot of things the same, like pouring a lone star and a cheap book shiner from the tap into a cup or a frozen cup or a cup (read: chalice), and letting the patrons free a quarter into the box. However, she did not like any song that came out of it.

“My mother hated ‘Free Bird’ after a while,” says Ward’s daughter Dina Ward about the 1973 Lynyrd Skynyrd classic song. “In the old music box she put out ‘Free Bird’, but they put a music box on the internet, and put it back there.”

There was a lot of country from the old school there, and sometimes Ward was a little cool Frank Sinatra in the mix. The local Tejanos played music in their name. In later years “hipsters”, as almost every ordinary person calls them, would sing along with modern pop. One song that got old quickly: “Tennessee Whiskey” by Chris Stapleton.

“It started nicely, but it lasted so long,” Ward says. “It wears all the time.”

Because it has been around for decades, the drinking action in Tall Texan has actually been passed down from generation to generation. World War II veterans, Baby Boomer retirees, middle-aged Houstonians and younger drinkers could be spotted single stars at the same time.

“I’ve seen generations at the bar,” Espinosa says. “I mean, my grandfather would have come there and my father would have come there. I can imagine Alice has seen much more than that.”

Perhaps because these young masses continued to show, it seemed as if the well would operate forever. In recent years stories have been written online about the status of the high Texan already leading the way, a place for a cheap cold beer, a great conversation and a community of people who have reunited through Pot-Lock parties, for the good and hard times. It was the kind of bar that is just too hard to find these days.

But July proved to be a challenge in several ways. The need to close after only a few weeks of opening hit the bottom line of the bar. Worse, some of the high-ranking Texan regulars have died, like Ronny Black and also Papa Juan and Alicia Para – less than three weeks apart, no less. Papa Juan died on July 11, and about two weeks later, Ward announced the closure of the bar.

The High Texan asked people to visit on July 31 and August 1 to buy all the beer left in cans and bottles, with goblets and cups complementary with each purchase of a six. The queues were outside the door and around the block.

“I do not think any of us expected such a response,” says Dina Ward, who is the bar’s social media guru. (Alice Ward has some knowledge on the Internet: “Facebook and YouTube and no matter how you read all this stuff”).

There will be a few more opportunities to say goodbye. Between 3pm and 7pm on Saturday, August 15th, the tall Texan will sell grain-to-go barrels from Lone Star and Shiner Bock, and if there is no sale, it will open at the same time on Sunday to end the sale. Souvenirs for the bar such as signs and accessories will go on sale from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 22.

But what about Ward? What is the matriarch of the Houston bars going to do now that her place is closed?

“I want to try to get back to my bowling,” says Ward, who peaked in the 1940s. In addition, every year for 25 years she and her friends have traveled to major national bowling tournaments, visiting places like Niagara Falls and Indianapolis. She’s not sure if she’ll be traveling in the future, but she’s excited to spend some time in something that does not run a bar.

Still, no matter how much her customers have upset her over the years, no matter how much she’s heard “Free Bird,” and no matter who gets into Tal Texan, she’s going to miss it terribly.

“I know I’ve met a lot of people, and I have some good friends at the bar,” she says. “It would be sad not to see the same people every day.”


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