Things I’ve Learned at the College Street Pub, Waxahachie, Texas
I’m not a country music fan, but I know what Toby Keith is singing about in his song “I Love This Bar.” I love the College Street Pub in Waxahachie, Texas — owned and operated by Wayne and Tammy Strickland since 2003, which I shall call just “The Pub.”
It was a pioneering enterprise for the city of Waxahachie, which had long been dry. Wayne and Tammy are entrepreneurial pioneers. Having to qualify simultaneously as a restaurant, always part of their plans, they brilliantly brought in as their chef Joe Garofano of Joe’s Bestburger, the icon hamburger place that had gone under (Since, the new burger-without-beer icon is Oma’s.). Everyone who grew up and lived in Waxahachie recognized so many of the items on The Pub’s menu already (like the delicious French burger); it was like being at Joe’s again.
But not exactly like the old Bestburger…
The Pub tries admirably to live up to its name by being an English-style “watering hole” with its massive bar of dark wood, its portrait of Winston Churchill on one exposed-brick wall and another of the Queen on the other brick wall, all in tribute to Wayne’s early years in the UK. But don’t let this fool you; you don’t have to be an Anglophile to appreciate this place. It is an enterprise in Texas manned and womaned by Texans.
I have some favorite particulars about The Pub. Atop the center mirror’s shelf of the bar is a “headjug” crafted by C.W. Block, one of the coolest teachers and damnedest artists I know. Out back is a deck whereupon one can sit during the many days of gorgeous weather Waxahachie enjoys and view the creek babbling alongside The Pub. Conveniently, The Pub is two doors down from the Waxahachie Police Department, a fact of much comfort to patrons and visitors, in case riff-raff like myself get out-of-hand. It is also just a block away from Waxahachie’s famous courthouse. Just beyond the police parking lot and the parking lot across College Street where so many of us park is the railroad, with its clock-like schedule of trains. The long trains, especially those loaded with fuel mined in Montana for power plants near Houston, literally shake your pint of libation as they lumber down the rails, and, when the whistle blasts, which it must do frequently within the city limits, conversationalists must either momentarily stop the conversation, or, else, raise their voice inappropriately. (I felt a pang of hypocrisy there, as many times as I’ve been told to tone it down at The Pub.)
Patrons of restaurants and bars everywhere know what the phrase “take care of you” means, in reference to the service rendered by the establishment’s staff. I’ve learned that they “take care of you” at The Pub, and, for me, the phrase has names, Nici — Wayne and Tammy’s daughter (usually behind the bar), Lauren (usually waiting tables or sometimes behind the bar), and Ashley (usually waiting tables). From the friendly greeting when you walk in the door to the friendly farewell when you exit, you are “taken care of.” For regular patrons, Nici usually has their chosen drink sitting in front of them before all the greetings are exchanged. The invitation to order something from the menu is always prompt and welcomed. I’ve learned that Nici has long ago seen through my little game of not ordering the same thing in succession; she knows I like my Dos Equis on tap as my starter; Nici knows I’m not as unpredictable on my drink order as I pretend to be; she knows that when I order a Shiner bock on tap, that is the last one. If I order a salad, either with or without an entrée, she knows I prefer their superb ranch dressing.
I’ve learned the clientele of The Pub is a broad cross-section of Waxahachie, and of present-day society in general. I have taught so long it seems at least half of them are former students of mine! Every Waxahachian seems to be represented: blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, farmers and ranchers, retirees of all types, former pro athletes, lawyers, city officials, bikers (motorcycles, not bicycles), students (who are always ID’ed), and business persons of all types. And, of course, visitors: I remember meeting and toasting a young servicewoman passing through on leave. Not that long ago I was invited to a table of three young businessmen passing through on their way back home, and, after spinning for them my favorite Waxahachie yarns, they bought my French burger and all my drinks, from my Dos Equis to my Shiner! It doesn’t get much better than that! And all because of The Pub.
I will only name two “regulars.” To try to name them all would risk leaving someone out, and I do not want to do that. But no one would begrudge my naming Thomas — a retiree from a municipal career, and one of the nicest, gentlest people you will ever meet. Nor would anyone begrudge me naming Bobby Huskins, a native Waxahachian, a conversation with whom alone is worth the trip to The Pub. With Bobby I love to talk baseball, whether it be the local high school team, college ball, the minor leagues, or the major leagues. But that is only one of many topics, as Bobby is an accomplished musician and a great source on the “true” history of Waxahachie. I will always regret not taking him up on his offer to drive into Dallas with him on a weeknight and hear Joan Baez.
I try to talk with anyone who wants each visit, but am never disappointed if conversation does not emerge. There are only three screens you can see from the bar area, the big flat screen where the sports event of the moment is shown (I’ve watch many an exhilarating and many a heart-breaking game on that thing.), a screen in one corner which usually has national news or the skate-boarding network on, and a screen in another corner anointed by Wayne as the dedicated soccer TV, whereupon one can see the latest from the foreign soccer leagues. Clearly, this is not what one thinks of as a sports bar. One visit might culminate in a deep philosophical discussion on the nature of religion, one might have me getting a lexicon lesson on the origin of the word “honkey,” another might have me overhearing a politically conservative rant on why our electorate should be reduced (how I did not wade into that one is beyond me), and still another might have me joining a gaggle of former students, some of whom might even buy me a round.
Sitting at the bar on the high dark wood stools, I am never far from the sight where I was able to “live the dream” and be the “lead singer” for rock songs played by the Baithouse Stompers (C.W. Block [mentioned above], Neel Brown, Sean Cagle, and Wayne [the owner]), and,therefore, never far from great memories. I’ve learned what it is like to sing “Sympathy for the Devil” in front of a mixed crowd of coaches from Waxahachie and Ennis; I’ve learned that crowds usually prefer me to do “Gloria,” but also on my playlist is a grunge version of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” “Honkey Tonk Women,” and “Spider and the Fly” — the last two from the Stones, like “Sympathy.” Great group, the Stompers, despite my guest appearances; thanks, guys! I have a fan base of two, Nici and Lauren; they are sweet and indulge me, letting me call them my “groupies.”
I’ve learned the delights of The Pub’s sound system, connected with a juke box. Today the sound is usually on a CD player controlled at the bar. The selections either on box or player are eclectic, and the only time I get to hear “my” box tunes are the rare moments when I’ve put some money in it, or, even better, the times when Wayne or Nici goes back to the box right outside the restrooms and sets it on a certain number of free plays — you just punch in what you want to hear. You can always tell when Doc Hastings is in the house or Doc has just left because he finished his Shiner when you hear in The Pub, the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” and “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the Stones’ “Sister Morphine,” “Bitch,” and “Wild Horses,” the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” and “Well Respected Man,” or Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” and “Voodoo Child.” (Extra points, boys and girls! What albums had to be on The Pub’s juke box?)
I guess I better say something about the beer. Sorry I cannot say anything about all the libations The Pub serves up, but I don’t do wine, coolers, margaritas, or mixed drinks. I’m told The Pub does a great job on these too, and I’ve learned nothing that contradicts that statement. You may have already gathered that I prefer draft, and The Pub has a small, but excellent array of taps. One or more is usually dedicated to a revolving, seasonal selection, which assures perpetual variety, despite my commitment to Dos Equis and Shiner. I like Guinness and its “mixtures,” like black-and-tans and half-and-halfs; I like hefeweisens and white beers, both Belgian and German. I like most Mexican and German beers, and dislike most American beers. And Chimay, especially Chimay red label — ale brewed by Belgian Trappist monks! I love red label Chimay so much it is the sole reason I’ve found justifying the existence of the Roman Catholic Church! The genres I do not like are porters and double bocks. Mixed I am (Yoda just channeled me there.) on IPA’s. Probably the one I like best I cannot have (Isn’t that always the case?) — Alexander Keith’s IPA, brewed in Nova Scotia and found all over Canada. For reasons I’ve not found, it is not imported from Canada. Yet, Nici is always introducing me to things Wayne decides to try at The Pub, so to her and the Pub I owe thanks for all the brews I have tried and enjoyed. My thanks to the Stricklands!
One Friday evening a while ago I was sitting about the center of The Pub’s bar somewhere between my Dos Equis and Shiner. No one was engaging me in conversation (if you believe that!), and, as I took a sip, three WWII German soldiers, one a Luftwaffe officer, walked behind me and on through past the restrooms out toward the deck! (My first thought was that I need to reduce the number of books in my personal library on Nazi Germany.) I took another sip, and a group of WWII American GI’s, one an officer that looked a lot like Patton, walked behind me in the same direction! (I realized I may have read too many books on WWII.) A third sip was followed by a couple, one looking like Gen. de Gaulle and the other a French resistance woman with a beret! (I began to believe I really had played too many war board games of strategy during high school.) When the fourth sip was followed by a parade of a British WWII soldier and officer, I was trying to decide if I needed to go into immediate therapy or suspect Nici was serving me a lot stronger drink than I ordered! Then, thankfully, I remembered that this was the beginning of the weekend when WWII reenactors gathered at the square around the courthouse in Waxahachie and reenacted a clash of forces in a generic French village, circa 1944. Only at The Pub!
Is it any wonder why each visit to the College Street Pub in Waxahachie, Texas, deserves a reverent moment of silence to the Alps of Europe? For, without them, grapes could be grown all over Europe and wine might have been the only alcoholic drink developed. As it was, grains could stand the cold, and from them came mead, ale, and beer. Here’s to the Alps! And here’s hoping that I will see you at The Pub!