A wonderful write-up from our opening in January 2011:
In college, tech school, the circus or whatever institution of higher learning you skipped class in, you probably had a favorite haunt that became part of your shared experience. For me, it was The Den in San Marcos, a mere fifty feet from the hovel in which I resided, and just as close to my heart. I think my crew kept the place in business for three years, pumping quarters into the shuffleboard table and ordering cheap pitchers of tepid, domestic beer. Flash forward a few years and a lot has changed. Watery well drinks and cheese fries no longer sell me on an establishment. I’m glad there’s no smoking in most bars nowadays. However, nostalgia always kicks in when visiting somewhere new, and I always end up comparing the latest joint to that golden standard of my youth.
The Railyard ditches the old-school cons, keeps all the good stuff, and improves on a few aspects from back in the day. It looks like a cleaner version of the dive of your memories, with its exposed duct work, ancient wood, concrete floor and bare brick, but past that,
The Railyard wins out on some very crucial criteria:
Drinks: Cocktails were watery but cheap at that old, college dive, but nights never ended well when drinking margaritas made with Russian tequila. (Got old after the third senior year.)
Instead of weak and watery pours, The Railyard makes a strong cocktail, and their happy hour, from 4-7, Monday-Friday, brings back collegiate prices of yore. Their choice of brews on tap is small, but priced fairly. Four dollar Bloody Marys, micheladas and mimosas on Sundays is a nice touch for us after-church drinkers. Those machines that keep a constant chill and churn going on a typical margarita mix keep pretense miles away, as do buckets of Lonestar and Coors Light for $13.
Service: At your old respite? Even after the 15th visit, that cute bartender you were trying to get to know still insisted on smacking gum while staring through you and mixing up your tab at the end of the night.
At The Railyard, service is quick, it’s friendly and it’s not merely gushing for a tip. You don’t have to visit more than once for Tony to remember your name. You’ll remember his too, because he’ll remind you of comedian John Caparulo.
Clientele and Atmosphere: When it was $2 you-call-it night back in your heyday, it was like flies to a dead horse, but having to elbow-check your date to get to your beer was never really worth it.
The Railyard is slightly more subdued. Because it’s a little bit off the beaten path, the crowd that gathers is a like-minded group of Houstonians in their 30’s looking to cut loose, minus the pressure of having to see and be seen. To the background beat of freight trains thumping along on the nearby tracks, a schizophrenic juke box spits out old-school Metallica and follows it with Jimmy Buffett. It epitomizes The Railyard’s laid-back attitude. Feel like watching the game? Have at it. Feel like dancing? Dance. Feel like cuddling up in a corner with a date or hollering for a round of shots with the after-work crowd? Cuddle up or party down. Throw in all the trappings of a sports bar (flatscreens in all the right places), some arcade throwbacks (Golden Tee and Big Buck Hunter) and a photo booth for no particular reason, and you’ve got yourself a bar that feels like college, but grew up, got a job and doesn’t live in its mom’s basement anymore. A genuine neighborhood bar.
Being thirty-ish is strange. It leaves you feeling stuck in that purgatory of being old enough to know better, but still too young to care. And while the memories forged at your old stomping grounds can never be replaced, they have less to do with the bars themselves, and more to do with the people, conversations and wild times associated. The Railyard is right there with us. For all its college charm, it exudes an undeniable wisdom, reminding us of the journey that was, but that the best is yet to come.