Boomerang Days: Barfly

Boomerang Days

A Longhorn does college all over again.

Dear Reader—oh, the things I do for you. I hurl my body into the fires of youthful celebration for you! Though safely in my 40s, I have returned to the university to track down my old favorite bars and whatever else has popped up. All for you!

Joining me on this heroic mission is my friend Southpaw: a songwriter, philosopher, and celebrator of thirst. We are your Lewis and Clark, your Thelma and Louise, your Public and Intoxication.

I told my wife I wouldn’t be late.

I lied.

Pints & Professors

We begin at the tried and true Cactus Cafe, the working liver of the UT campus.

Not much has changed since my college days: It’s the same chairs, the same cozy corner stage, and there are still professors meeting for post-class pints and wayward study groups chatting about economics. This is the ivory tower of watering holes. There’s no bar trivia here; there’s nothing trivial about actual knowledge.

We have a couple of beers on the Alcalde expense account and move on.

Biblical Hotspots

We make it through Drag whistle-wetters and pizza joints and into Space 24 Twenty, which sounds like someone’s forgotten Yahoo! password. With food trucks and an outdoor bar, it’s like an open-air mall for your gullet.

Most of the 24th Street hydration options have changed since my day, but Cain and Abel’s has managed to maintain the same bro-and-bleached-blonde atmosphere of the ’90s. There seems to be some strange gravitational peculiarity in the bar that forces baseball hats to turn backward. Fraternity brothers love this bar, which is ironic considering it’s named for two brothers, one of whom murders the other.

One of the many newer spots is Tap 24, built in the shell of an old mechanic’s garage. The mechanics might have gone home, but the place is still full of dipsticks. We don’t stay long.

Southpaw recommends Freedmen’s, located next door. The barbeque is outstanding, even for Austin standards. I’m so happy I switch from beer to whiskey. Is this wise? No, it is not wise.


South of campus has lost some mainstays. Players, famous for its beer, burgers, and goblet milkshakes, was torn down, lowering Austin’s collected cholesterol by 22 percent. Dog & Duck moved locations, forcing Anglophilic Longhorns to drink at home while watching reruns of Downton Abbey and nibbling on crumpets.

We head north, stopping by an old favorite: Hole in the Wall. I adore this place. The same cloud of smoke lingers about the rafters a decade after the smoking ban, the graffiti is all pre-internet, and some of the grime is old enough to order shots. I consider getting another whiskey, but they offer a sweet little package deal of a beer and a whiskey. Thrifty!

Northern Exposure

By now I’ve lost any reticence, and I’m approaching every table in Crown & Anchor bragging that I’m actually working. “This is my job! Who wants a beer? Put it on my Alcalde expense account!”

I learn that this is more of a grad school and alumni bar. One alumnus actually recognizes me from the frighteningly authentic portraits accompanying my columns. I demand he buy me a drink and kiss me on the mouth. “I’m a writing celebrity!” He stops talking to me.

We head back toward the Drag, passing Trudy’s, Spider House, and Growler USA, which treats each beer like a pint-sized miracle of joy, soul, and yeast. Austin is starting to look blurry.

Southpaw leads me into Love Goat (not to be mistaken for goat love, a popular pastime in College Station). Behind the bar sits a plastic tub filled with some purple liquid and a hand-drawn label that reads “PURP.”

I ask what’s in it, and the bartender rattles off what sounds like Keith Richards’ grocery list. I order a double.


Thanks to Purp, my skull is now outfitted with wall-to-wall shag carpeting, strobe lighting, and a karaoke machine with no off button. Southpaw and I argue about the racier episodes of The Love Boat. Why? Because Love Boat rhymes with Love Goat, and that’s all the logic my post-Purp brain needs.

We make our way to The Local, which once was Texas Showdown Saloon. The place is packed with fresh-faced undergrads. The bouncer doesn’t even check our IDs. He tells us that older folks hang out in the backyard.

I stumble about, asking more questions, but my mouth is having trouble working. A Chihuahua snaps at me and I spill my whiskey on it. I consider licking the dog’s wet fur, but think better of it. Instead I ask the dog’s owner if she’ll wring the dog over my glass.

This a clear sign it’s time to go.

Hungover and Out

What did I learn, dear reader? Bars are fun. Avoid drinking anything purple. And I don’t actually have an Alcalde expense account.

Illustration by Mario Zucca


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