In December of last year, the boyfriend and I wanted to confirm that the neverending construction of Hawthorne Bridge was finally complete.
After passing through, we crossed over Central Avenue and, to our surprise, there stood a small wooden building on the roadside of Hawthorne Lane, just a couple hundred feet in front of the somewhat-new Lofts at Hawthorne Mill. It appeared to be a honky-tonk bar, which became all the more apparent in the sign reading “Two Buck Saloon.”
We’d never seen this curious gem before and were genuinely confused as to whether or not it had been there all along, and we’d just overlooked it. I turned to my boo and asked, “Do you think they like my kind around these parts?” We both chuckled and he replied, “I’d rather not find out,” as we passed. The secrets of this mystery locale faded behind us like a mirage.
Resigned that Two Buck wasn’t “for me,” I put the potential nightlife destination out of my thoughts. It wasn’t until months later, while at my go-to watering hole, that the enigma of the Belmont neighborhood resurfaced.
I’ve been feeling like I’m stuck in a rut going to the same place for quite some time, and while that spot never ceases to keep things fresh — from sideswipes and drunk zombies to friends you never knew you needed and people you wish you’d never met — my itch for adventure has been begging to be scratched. And so when I overheard some folks chittering about Two Buck Saloon, I asked what the place was like.
My inquisition fell on deaf ears in a sea of alcoholic bevvies. It wasn’t until I went there myself that I realized why a proper description might elude visitors.
Last Friday, I made up my mind that after dinner at The Stanley, I’d pop over to the Belmont/Plaza Midwood border bar with a gun on my hip, push through the two saloon doors and proclaim, “Howdy, neighbor!” Okay, okay, it didn’t quite go like that. The boyfriend pulled into the parking lot next to Sweet Lucille, the Sweet Lew’s BBQ food truck. The sweet smell of one of our favorite barbecue spots brought me comfort as I set out on this experience alone.
“Let me know if anything gets weird, and I’ll come back to get you,” my boyfriend said with an anxious tone. “I’m brave,” I responded sheepishly and laughed as I hopped out of the passenger’s seat.
A bit overdressed in heels, I certainly caught a few eyes as I approached the small front patio. It’s covered, I thought to myself, which was a relief on a rainy evening. The rocking chairs and “new rustic” aesthetic put me in the mind of Cracker Barrel — that “I’m a real country saloon, see?” kind of vibe.
I stood in front of the entrance and smiled to myself at the irony, or lack thereof, that two “buck” heads caught in eternal “headlights” were there to greet me hanging on either side of the door.
I took a breath and stepped through the threshold. To my left, two leather couches, a Big Buck Hunter arcade game (naturally) and pool tables with patrons sprinkled throughout unbothered by my entrance.
On the right, a man with a guitar serenaded the bar patrons next to two dartboards and a few high-top tables occupied by visitors who looked like they were “take off your shoes and stay awhile” comfy.
I observed a single four-top riding solo and prayed it would stay open long enough to provide a retreat for me once I’d grabbed a drink. In front of me, a green neon light illuminated the many options I had to ease my anxiety at the bar.
I let my guard down and took it in. “I guess it’s kind of a dive bar/saloon,” I said to myself with weary acceptance. It had all the elements, even the ones that felt forced, like the “Moonshine 4 Sale” sign that hung on the wall.
The rustic, lackadaisical facade, the effortless yet homey interior, simple social media marketing sans website, traditional games, live music … check, check, check, check.
The only things that were missing were a nonchalant staff and those deep roots — the kind that smell like history and whisper to your soul, “If these walls could talk,” the moment you walk through the door. But that makes sense, as they opened less than a year ago.
Soon after getting a pineapple cider from a refreshingly friendly bartender, as if by divine intervention and astrological synchronicity, George Middleton, the live entertainment for the night, started singing my favorite I-have-to-learn-to-like-some-country-to-hang-with-certain-friends Luke Combs jam, “Beer Never Broke My Heart.”
It was then that I finally gave in and let go of my hesitations.
It may not be the familiar, musty, decades-old dive bar filled with strange old creatures I’m used to, but as a new kid on the block, I must say it has potential.