What’s a dive bar? It’s a question which merits discussion if you have nothing better to do—itself a great reason to hang out at dive bars. I’d argue that, at its finest, a good dive bar is a scuzzed-down community center, a place you can walk into and feel, immediately and intangibly, that you’ve enmeshed yourself in a community that will exist in your absence. A solid dive bar—Shiloh Club, for example, or PJ’s—can spin one slow and continuous conversation from whomever limps in from the sunny afternoon for a $2 drink to the first trickle of the late-night crew, winding from patron to bartender and back again; a spidery, slurred game of Telephone.
2327 Grant St.
Lola's Depot is not a dive bar. Lola's is a beautiful hole you can crawl into. Lola's aspires to nothing and achieves it. Lola's has erected a shrine to oblivion; a nihilistic pleasure-cruise where old queers and young punks and the occasional human Polo shirt and all of their friends can slouch toward their own blotto stupors side by side, drunkenly and patiently waiting for death or last call; whichever comes first.
Lola’s is rad as hell, I’m saying.
I must’ve slumped into Lola’s a dozen times in the past year and I still couldn’t tell you what it looks like from the outside. I suppose I know what it looks like: purple, windowless, a foreboding three feet above the road, guarded from Grant Street by a row of cars and crowned with a tattered American flag. But my brain-mind can only picture an imposing, amorphous unlit void where little pieces of my my liver used to be.
The first thing you see when you step inside Lola’s is nothing. The inside is almost pitch black and in a more perfect world would still be filled with cigarette smoke. Lola’s is the kind of place that makes you want to smoke, not even for the tobacco. Something about Lola’s makes a guy want to set a bunch of chemicals on fire and pull them into his lungs; making yourself dead or slowly disgusting seems primally appealing and aesthetically—even spiritually—correct.
But in what faint red light does exist you’ll see all the appropriate accoutrements of a 30-year-old punk bar (increasingly and distressingly hard to find in Houston!): a tremendous array of stickers, mostly from bands; flotsam and jetsam from the gritty Montrose reputation off of which the past five years of hip bars have been coasting; mannequins in wonderfully bizarre costumes; little trinkets and mementos which seem to have been laid wantonly by the free hand of the tallboy-palming market. The jukebox has some gems—I’m going to play The Dead Milkmen and nobody can stop me—and some Rob Zombie.
You don’t need more than $15 to numb an entire evening. A PBR tallboy costs $1.75. A tiny cup of margarita from a machine full of cold goo drops you $2.75, which throws a rip-off twinge until you realize how wide a tunnel these little friends can carve into you. The pours are respectably irresponsible; the Lola’s gin and tonic remains a great choice for people who don’t care for tonic water.
I usually stumble into the large, enclosed back patio, which—after 7:30 p.m., especially on hot days—offers most of the action. There may be no patio less inhibited in Montrose: nobody here has felt shy since a few drinks ago. Between the well-graffiti’d fence and cutouts of superheros, little social nuclei tend to adopt a habit of swirling around; never lingering too long, but never leaving anyone’s business theirs alone. Here, drunk old jerks keep trying to buy drugs from me; here, a dude in a Texans jersey took a swing at my friend but was entirely unable to explain why; here, we all once watched a young woman very enthusiastically have relations on a picnic bench. This bar is pure id: everyone just wants someone to kiss or punch.
And thank God for this vulgar explosion. Stand on the roof and throw a rock; it will probably land on a cocktail bar or a coffee shop full of pretty people. Which isn’t a knock against all bars that aren’t Lola’s: those establishments fill their niche well. Walk into a bar west of Montrose Ave. or east into downtown and you’re assured of a fun evening in a fun bar where everyone is fun and cool and good-looking and having fun.
But some nights you don’t want to float among the pretty people. Some nights—hell, some afternoons—you want to sink. You don’t walk into Lola’s, you climb down into it. And once you’re down there, why bother crawling back out? You’ve got nowhere better to be.