Posted on Yelp!, August 2007:
Leon’s Country Store in Rockne (pop. 200) was recently voted first runner-up for “Best Bar” and first place for “Coldest Beer” in Bastrop. Owner Herman Goertz took it over from his dad, who’d been serving icy brews to thirsty Texans since 1969. Herman and his brother, the local DA, are equally beloved – though by arguably different constituencies.
Before Herman’s family took it over, it was a general store. It’s still paneled with rough wood, faded and peeling a bit outside and kind of dark inside – in a good way, as old country places so often are.
We walk up the soft, worn wooden steps and cross the gallery, and open the peeling white wooden door and find ourselves smack in the middle of a smoky circle of mismatched chairs occupied by folks who eye us coolly without stopping their conversations.
“Thanks for comin’ in! Glad to have ya!” yells Herman, over the jukebox. He is compact, with thick, messy hair, and a build that looks as though he could have built this place with his bare hands. His eyes are large and expressive in a tired, lined face.
He turns toward the bar. “Holly,” he bellows. “Holly! Get these girls what they want to drink.”
Holly gets our beers in record speed – they are definitely cold, hallelujah – and we take a walk through the place. Behind the circle of chairs and parallel to the front counter are a few bookcases and shelves featuring country-store-type items, including cases of grape Nehi. The top shelves are crowded with dozens of spit-polished trophies from dart tournaments.
The backs of the bookcases are covered with hundreds of snapshots from past nights at Leon’s: Halloween parties with sumo wrestlers, Marilyn lookalikes, and men in pig suits; a guy on his horse inside the bar; Herman in a Santa suit surrounded by sweet young things. Here and there, a year scrawled on the picture by a Sharpie gives a rough timeline to the colorful chaos.
There’s a room to the farthest side of the building that folks use for events, family reunions and other parties, but it is closed up and empty. We turn back toward the music and laughter and opt for the two open stools at the end of the bar in the middle room, next to the pool tables and the dance floor, and under a sign that says
WILL NOT SERVE
and in smaller type, adds
The bar is full of people in jeans and tees and cowboy hats who know each other well enough to yell and abuse each other – and, we find out later, dress up as each other at Halloween. A bumper sticker on the wall reads, “God bless Johnny Cash.” The jukebox plays and a couple two-steps around the room, dodging pool cues and good-natured taunts.
The crowd at the bar are so friendly, they more than offset the little group at the front in the circle of chairs. A cute blonde in a hot pink “South Padre!” t-shirt and crystal necklace hops down from her stool. “I don’t think I know you girls. I’m Tanya,” she smiles, holding out her hand.
We allow as we were both named Jennifer, and she laughs. “Oh, good, only one name to remember! Where you girls from?”
We tell her, and Jen asks Tanya where she lives. Tanya gestures over her shoulder. “Oh, just about 50 paces that way.”
Jen teases her. “So if we can’t drive home, we can just knock on your door?”
Tanya gives each of us a hug, and says cheerfully, “Sure, honey! Mi casa es su casa. I have a fold-out bed and an air bed so you just come on over. So nice to meet you! Y’all come back!”
I love Texas.
We are entertained most of the evening by a darling 24-year-old man who lives nearby, but was just back from a month traveling through Ecuador. During that time, someone swiped his electric bill payment from his mailbox, stole his identity, forged some checks, and shopped at three different Wal-Marts. If we ever go to Ecuador, he tells us, the drinks are cheap, and if you drink enough, they’ll give you more drinks for free, just to say thanks for drinking so much. Good to know.
Leon’s has egg rolls and Hot Pockets for $1.50, but no glasses. You drink out of the can or bottle. Luckily, they have brown paper bags full of coozies that customers have brought in. Jen gets one from the District 28 electrical workers’ union. Mine celebrates an obscure Venezuelan musical tradition, courtesy of Miller’s Latin American marketing team.
We’ll be back. The beers are cold and cheap, the company is fun, and no one is trying to be hipper than anyone else. It’s a great, laid-back place.
Leon’s is open from 10am to, apparently, whenever.
NOTE: If you’re a non-smoker, be prepared to peel your clothes off the second you get home and put them directly in the washing machine.