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A Down and Out Guide to North Austin Dive Bars

2010 January 29

Pictures of Marilyn Monroe adorn the walls of The Poodle Dog Lounge.

Downtown, SoCo and East Austin are great for going out. But sometimes it’s more fun to become invisible in a place populated by regulars cemented into their bar stools. You know, the kind of place where the under 40 crowd is glanced over and ignored. And what better place to hide than North Austin?

When all you need is a good friend and a cold beer or a cheap drink, you’ll love these bars. You can also use this as an Anti-Valentine’s Day pub crawl. And since each one of these places has heaps of special charm, none should be missed!

Stop 1: Ginny’s Little Longhorn: Go For Chicken Shit Bingo. Stay For The Honkytonk.

First stop on the crawl is Ginny’s Little Longhorn (5434 Burnet Rd, 78756). This bar wins the title for most amazing weekly event in Austin: Chicken Shit Bingo Sundays. It’s kinda like regular bingo, except instead of an old lady calling numbers pulled from a globe, your chance to get lucky hinges upon a chicken and her bowels.  Definitely worth attending.

Ginny’s has a reputation as a bit of an Austin landmark, so it can get pretty crowded. Non-Chicken Shit Bingo nights feature honkytonk bands playing to two-stepping regulars. It’s a cute place that reminds me I am most definitely in Texas.

Stop 2: Poodle Dog Lounge: Marilyn, Marilyn Everywhere And Not a Private Stall.

Two stalls, one divider, no doors.

Next stop is Poodle Dog Lounge (6507 Burnet Rd, 78757), right up the road from Ginny’s. It’s dark and smoky, and everywhere you look the walls are adorned with Marilyn Monroe photos. The ladies’ bathroom is a sight to behold: Two toilets are separated by a divider (but no doors), and computer printout copies of Thomas Kincaid paintings bedeck the walls.

This spacious bar comes complete with shuffleboard, pool tables and darts. The jukebox is digital, so the variety you might hear in the course of one beer could possibly blow your mind. They don’t have liquor, but as my lovely partner in crime pointed out to me: “They do have chips.”

My favorite part about the Poodle Dog is the amazing time I always have there. For example, once a nice man told my friend she was pretty. That’s sweet.

Stop 3: Lala’s: It’s Always Christmas in Austin

Third on my route (and my personal favorite) is Lala’s (2207 Justin Ln, 78757). On the outside it looks like any other dive, but  with 1970′s Christmas decorations adorning every surface and a big ornamented tree, inside it’s always Christmas. The overall effect is pretty amazing, especially in the summertime. Or on Halloween. And Christmas in the spring is nice, too. we’ve heard at least three stories explaining why Lala’s is full of yuletide kitsch year round-and all are equally depressing.

A giant Christmas tree provides holiday cheer year round at Lala's.

Lala’s has a full bar with Lala as bartender and a cocktail waitress on duty for table service. There is also always a cast of supporting regulars who seem as natural as the out-of-season Christmas decor. For example, this visit my favorite guest was a 70ish-year old woman who was dressed to the nines in a sequined pantsuit, platinum wig and full makeup. She was nursing a martini, smoking and humming to herself all night long. Last Halloween a 30-year old woman was dressed as a cop from the waist up, with only a G-string from the waist down.

Some bars might make a standout feel uncomfortable, but at Lala’s no one ever bats an eye. When you add one of the best jukeboxes in Austin, you’ve got yourself one hell of a dive bar night. Just don’t tell too many people; I’d hate to see Lala’s change. It truly is a special place.

STOP 4: The Carousel Lounge: Round and Round.

Circus murals cover the walls at the Carousel Lounge.

So if you’re still feeling frisky, head east to The Carousel Lounge (111o E. 52nd St, 78752). With it’s black and white floor, red vinyl booths, and circus animals painted on the walls, it boasts a 1950′s retro theme. The description might make it seem like this bar is cheerful, but it’s so brightly lit that it’s actually a little creepier and more macabre than Lala’s.

They only serve beer, but if you bring your own booze, they provide mixers.  Sometimes you can find really awkward live bands playing to fans who seem like they’re all on ecstasy and stuck in 1997. Be warned: They close at Midnight!

COMMENT: Where are your favorite down-and-out dive bars? Let us know in the comments!

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