Ice House Rules

photo 3In the middle of Upper Kirby, a quiet neighborhood to the west of downtown Houston, sits the old ice house.  In the days before air conditioning and refrigerators, people from Upper Kirby would come to the ice house to get blocks for their ice boxes.  In time the ice house was converted into an outdoor bar and roadhouse for the local tradesmen and roughnecks and more lately a center of posers and doutche bags, at least according to several folks I spoke with about the city.  Oh the Ice house, I used to love that place but man it’s changed, said the bar tender and part-time musician.  No more live music since the neighborhood gentrified, said another bar man.  No more free hotdogs on Friday, according to a reviewer on Yelp… I guess they ran out of hotdogs or whatever.  I can’t evaluate as a historian, I can only put on my anthropologist hat and listen, which is a very strange hat to wear in public since that hat is constructed of feathers, stones, and carved ancestors holding enormous erections in their hands.
photo 5Whateverthehell it may have been Backingtheday, today this ice house out on West Alabama road is more an activity complex than just a bar.  Along with a stage that may-or-may-not house musical acts from time-to-time, there is a horseshoe pit, basketball hoop, pool table table, and a ping pong table. The flaps of the old ice house are open during business hours and this forms the core of the complex.  Inside this core are the waitresses/trons.  The offerings are but bottled beer and wine by the plastic cup and the staff move about as in any typical bar opening and pouring and wiping and tab closing out.  From this core the wings spread out in a set of extensions and additions to shield patrons from the pouring ran or the pounding sun or both at the same time since this is Texas and in the Big Country one can be standing in the rain and get a sunburn concurrently.
photo 2Perhaps gone are the electricians, plumbers, and average Working Mans, but it seems here and there sitting at the bar or a table or two are some old members of a useful trade.  The rest are members of I guess useless but higher paid trades that take longer to master the art of the bunk.  University student-looking people clustered about tables and talking about Leben und Kunst, Gotterdammerung, and Schmuck. Men ridding $40,000 USD motorcycles park them outside and then cluster together in loud groups.  And the typical crowd of tattoos and fun people one would expect at any bar on a weekday.  Were to have just a little less history, and a little more irony, it could be Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  However, when the Honky-Tonk plays on the jukebox, and one spies the poster proclaiming that someone, probably a staff member, is having a baby, and the dog on the table starts barking at an imaginary specter, it is clearly no place like Gotham (except for perhaps the Gowanus Yacht Club).  Additionally, when one sits down for a beer or ten, it is common to be talked to by other patrons or even the bar tender.  This happens frequently outside of Gotham.
photo 4It seems that bar culture in Gotham is a lonely affair.  Sad and broken individuals cluster at the bar surrounded by the din of those smart enough to have come with friends and have someone to talk to, even if it is to loudly talk about the same shit you talk about at the office.  It is on rare occasion that this writer has been spoken to at at bar in Gotham, and usually it is by someone who wants to eat some part of my body with fafa beans, metaphorically or not.  Outside of Gotham, drinking at a bar is not a solitary time to contemplate, meditate, and get shitfaced.  No sooner have I made myself a seat, opened up my book, that someone speaks.  To me.  At first this took me by complete surprise.  Did you not know I came in here to be alone?  I have this book and I like to have a drink as I read and I am too lazy to make it myself.  I’m just here to observe, not participate.  Nevertheless, I have warmed up to this idle chatter from all who may be close by, different ages, genders, occupations, and levels of alcoholism, and when someone says, “Oh so where are you from,” I don’t stare at them in disbelief or consider they must be talking to the ghost sitting behind me…
photo 1The ice house out on West Alabama road is indeed a unique gathering spot and great place to enjoy after work when the sun has set low.  The Texas heat is mitigated a little by the series of fans, but it is still in the outdoors and one may sweat as much as the frosty bottle in front of you. Everything abruptly stops about 11PM since closing time is midnight, an ordnance in Houston for places that don’t serve hard alcohol. It lets the patrons shuffle back to their condos, bungalows, or ride on into the night on Memorial Drive on their expensive toys.  Whatever the ice house may have been ten or twenty years ago may have changed as has the area.  And for some, that is indeed for the better.
photo 2(1)Editor’s Note: No animals were harmed in the writing of this blog.

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