There is a dog doing shots of Purina on the bar, and a raucous cover of a Sam Cooke song is crackling through the speakers at a near-deafening volume. I’ve just finished talking to a guy who swears his name is Stephen Hawking. I’m four beers in. It is Saturday night at Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge, and although it’s nearly 2 a.m., it will be five more hours before the party dies down and I and the other hangers-on go home.
How did I get here? How did any of the 200 or so people who filter in and out of the bar during the course of the night (and morning) end up there? I suspect part of the reason is represented by what is happening on Oak Street a few blocks west of Snake & Jake’s.
The gentrifying effect of hip new restaurants, bars, and coffee shops is strong on that side of Carrollton, but it has not yet hopped the streetcar line that bisects the avenue. That’s where the real magic is happening. On this block of Oak, east of Carrollton, deep in the residential enclave of townhouses, shotguns, and elegant bungalows that crowd in around massive willow and oak trees, Snake & Jake’s offers what is perhaps the least pretentious, friendliest drinking experience on this side of the Mississippi.
Dogs wander the cramped space in between the joint’s tables and the bar. A small shrine to a cat named Jake—who was named after the bar, and not the other way around, I’d later discover—hovers above the serving area, where the heavy-handed bartenders pour and pour and pour, then spritz drinks with a dusting of soda or fruit juice.
The bar is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. every single day, especially on Christmas. So, in late-December, I decided to spend my night—7 p.m. to 7 a.m.—trying to put words to the bar’s magic.
“Let me deal with the paying customers before I worry about you freeloaders,” the lone bartender yells to one of his two friends seated at the bar. I later learn that one of the freeloaders owns the bar. The other has a lead on some oysters. The trio are hatching a plan to potentially serve oysters at the bar at some future, unspecified date. It’s just the four of us at first, but within minutes, we’re joined by 10 to 15 people starting their nights with a little Christmas spirit.
My new friends Ben and Holly, in New Orleans on vacation from Atlanta, are explaining the concept of clothing-optional bars to me. It is actually pretty straightforward. It’s like a clothing-optional beach, except drinks are served, and I assume the furniture has to be cleaned a lot more often.
Out on the patio, an old-timer holding a Miller High Life in one hand and a cigarette in the other takes a seat at my table. I offer him the neck of my bottle, to which he clinks the neck of his own. He starts telling me about plans underway now, highly—ahem—remunerative plans that I probably definitely will want to get in on ASAP, to harvest the plastic from that Texas-sized mass floating in the Pacific Ocean. That plastic will—with proper investment of finances and energy—be turned into paving material. He briefly touches on transcendentalism before starting on Beavis & Butt-Head. He jumps from subject to subject like a water bug. I like this guy.
Out of nowhere, he mentions that Matt Groening and the cast and crew of The Simpsons once visited him in Mexico. I ask him how he came to know Matt Groening. He replies with a five-minute story about meeting the Counting Crows at a bar in Florida in 1993, right as “Mr. Jones” began its ascent up the charts.
“Wow, so the Counting Crows introduced you to Matt Groening?”
“What? No, man. Matt just wanted to meet me.”
Jake the cat is something of a legend. The story around the bar is that Jake is so mean he will A.) lap at your drink if you leave it unattended for even a moment (he prefers scotch), and then B.) he will bite you. But more than that, if he forgets to bite you and starts to walk away, he will realize his error, come back, and take a chunk out of your hand or arm.
I’m exchanging celebrity-sighting stories with Julie, who once met John Cusack, Zac Efron, and Channing Tatum at a party near Magazine Street. John winked at her, Zac took a picture with her, and Channing endured her sort of merciless critique of his outfit (jeans, rhinestone-studded Ed Hardy shirt, and fedora). Her story blows my John-Malkovich-once-walked-by-me-on-Magazine-Street story out of the water. As well as my I-once-stood-adjacent-to-the-Pelicans’-Dante-Cunningham-at-Ted’s-Frostop story.
Bradley likes Radiohead, playing guitar, and the new Star Wars movie, but what Bradley likes most is Victoria, the pretty girl who found a place at the bar beside us. She and her friend order drinks before looking our way and asking what brings us to the bar.
My reply: “Journalism.”
Bradley’s: “Just moved into the neighborhood.”
Victoria’s big brown eyes light up as she, Bradley, and I begin talking about the Catalan independence referendum. She has just returned to the states—Houston, to be exact—after two years living in Barcelona, and she has opinions on the pressing issues of the day. The talk gets heated as this group and that group are compared to Nazis or are just called Nazis. It’s kind of a lazy rhetorical tool—calling every group you disagree with Nazis—but it’s employed sporadically throughout the conversation. The discussion meanders, and eventually, Victoria leaves in search of her friend.
Bradley wonders if he should have offered her a cigarette. We briefly discuss the logistical challenges of living in New Orleans while dating someone in Houston. He walks outside and torches a cigarette.
I polish off my Schlitz, settle my tab, and head for the door. As I walk into the pinkish morning light, Bradley is still outside smoking a cigarette and talking about Victoria’s eyes and smile.
I, being an appreciator of Radiohead’s catalogue and the proud owner of a Fender Jazzmaster, almost ask Bradley for his number so we can jam sometime or just have a drink. But I figure I’ll probably see him again at Snake & Jake’s in the not-too-distant future. People have a way of connecting at places like this, and places like this are becoming fewer and farther between.