BY MELISSA DEL BOSQUE • PHOTOS BY ALAN POGUE
utside, the blinking marquee is simple and direct: Beer. Inside, the bass notes of Jimi Hendrixs Highway Chile mark the tempo for two women decked out in leather chaps as they do a bump and grind in front of the jukebox. Smoke-encrusted photographs of bikerssome dearly departed, others still marauding the highwaysline the tilting walls. Christmas lights lend a festive touch and biker graffiti on the ceiling proclaims the ultimate biker insult: Tony rides a Jap bike. Welcome to Beverlys, the kind of place where guys with names like Big Bear and Terrible Terry wear leather vests emblazoned with names of biker clubs like the Bandidos, or Latin Steel. They swoop in like Vikings on their thundering hogs pockmarked with bumper stickers. (My money and my kids go to the Texas Correctional Institution.) For 25 years the Austin biker bar has been flouting the law. But sooner or later even a tough old bird like Beverlys has to confront the citys explosive growth and the law of money. Early this year the word was out that the venerable bar on South Congress was slated to become another PetsMart or Wal-Mart. The landlords getting old; hes got children, said Beverly Ray, the proprietor who lent her name and personality to the bar for a quarter century. If they get a good price theyll sell it, she told me when we spoke last February. I hate to leave. But its a tough business. You come and you go. You should know it when you get into this business. After hearing that still another bit of Austin history was about to fade away forever, I decided to check out Beverlys and see what the fuss was all about. Its mystical in its own way, a wiry-framed guy named Warren told me. Warren, who sports a ZZ Top beard and rides with the Bandidos, was the part-time bartender and bouncer. People know right away if they belong here, he said. Others dont come back. If you dont start any shit, you wont get any shit. Then he added, But some people are goofy. If they come looking for trouble, theyll find it. uilt around World War I, the old stone building on Congress Avenue and a stones throw from Slaughter Lane has long been a refuge for outlaws and those who prefer life on the outskirts of polite society. A notorious whorehouse named Hatties was once located just down the road. The infamous bank robbers, the Newton Boys, used to stop by for a cold beer in the days when cowboys tied their horses up front and cattle grazed where I-35 now stands. As land was gobbled up for development, the old-time cowboys slowly drifted away and the bikers came thundering down Congress, inspiring mythic tales of ass-kicking, hog-riding, and beer-guzzling. In the mid-1980s a battle between a group of carnies and a gang of bikers earned Beverlys a mention in The New York Times (The Toughest Bar in Texas). One old-timer by the name of Pappy remembers the mythical battle like this: We were playing dominoes and one of the carnies pinched a bikers old lady in the bottom. The whole bar went to pieces like a bar brawl in an ol West Town. Everybody was fighting except for Old Man Charlie. He had a good hand of dominoes, so he just stood up back against the wall with his hands full of dominoes. Didnt mean shit though, since the rest of those dominoes had been scattered to hell. As the memories began to flow, spurred on by the beer, the regulars insisted that bulldozers and dump trucks would have to bury them before the bar turned into another strip mall. Wed be lost without it, said Warren, visibly angered. Hell, we dont need another Wal-Mart, but we do need a Beverlys. Another regular named Ronnie became defiant when contemplating the bars demise. They aint ever going to get rid of this place, he insisted. Its one of those places where people say, Dont go in there because theyll kick your ass
You either love this place or you hate it at first sight. On the day that I visited, Beverly was celebrating her daughters 42nd birthday. Bikers swaggered around the bar holding pieces of birthday cake on paper plates. As they did, Beverly waxed nostalgic. Id like to make it to the 50th anniversary, she said, her voice trailing off as she began to envision the bar decked out in gold. You dont realize what a good time youve had until its gone. After my visit, I began receiving e-mails from a friend and longtime patron of Beverlys. He was depressed about the imminent demise of his favorite bar. In March, he sobbed in a message that what he had long feared had finally come to pass: Beverlys had closed its doors for good. But thats not really the way this story ends. Earlier this month, the bar was given still another reprieve. Austins explosive growth and the law of money are still at the door, of course. But Beverlys lives again, thanks to the kindness of a Nigerian car salesman who is storing his cars in the large lot behind the baryet another chapter in Austin history and the history of the toughest bar in Texas. Melissa Del Bosque is a writer in Austin.