Last Call: Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Starlight Lounge
3137 Alta Mere
Be Cool

“Dennis,” according to Dennis, was once, a long time ago, a superstar pool hustler in Las Vegas, a quaint little locale you may have heard of. “I was so good,” he said, “no one would shoot me.” I asked if that meant that no one would play him. “No,” he said. “Nobody’d shoot me.”
From there, I learned that this guy sitting next to me at the Starlight Lounge on Alta Mere Drive is one of those people who has done it all and not in a way whitey dread-heads who’ve been to Costa Rica a couple times have. Dennis said he served in ’Nam and later ran with bikers. In Vegas, he knew mobsters, and he also made a living playing “three-cushion billiards,” a type of pool I still don’t understand despite a lengthy explanation. He also dabbled in martial arts, largely because of the influence of Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do. I bummed one of his Winstons and then sheepishly bummed a light. “You want me to smoke it for you, too?” he said.
I’m all about outré culture, but I also harbor a soft spot for any blue-collar dive built in the mid to late ’70s. Alta Mere has them in spades, and while each has its own individual charm, they all share certain elements to which I’m decidedly partial: wood veneer and foam ceiling tiles, gigantic back-bar mirrors and soft-lighting, Don Henley and Bob Seger on the juke, and croaking whiskey-cured bartenders who are appreciative of your business but not of your bullshit. More than all of that, I love the Characters, and that’s why I stopped into the Starlight.
There, beers and wells are “two an’ a quarter”: no pretentious “guess what our special is?,” no sloppy “nickel drafts!,” just cheap drinks. And for you college kids looking for a place that sells “Currs Or’ij’nal,” this is the spot for you. But even if you aren’t looking for company, there’s bound to be someone who will talk to you. Like “Dennis.”
San Antonio has the Riverwalk. Dallas, Lower Greenville. Austin, the Red River District. And so on. But here in the Fort, the cool drinking neighborhoods are flung haphazardly all over town. Not so hotso if you’re prone to blowing all of your cab fare on last call or if you have a history of burning your designated drivers by barfing in their backseats or by forcing marches to Whataburger drive-thrus at 3 a.m. In other words, we’re all kind of constricted to one part of town.
Do you do West Berry Street? Or should you try Lancaster/Division? Or how ’bout the North Side? If you’re going to be stuck — and stuck in a nightlife rut — I suggest the Southwestern edge of town. And by “Southwestern,” I mean Alta Mere specifically. If you’re interested in looking cool, Alta Mere ain’t gonna work for you. But if you want to be cool, it’s an optimal spot, a bizarro paradise full of characters as large as the drink prices are small.

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