Nothing says dive bar like blacked out windows and spray paint John Wayne.
Austin’s hipster reputation is more of a convenient bit of shorthand today than a universal truth to the drinking and dining scene in the city. Of course the trendy and freshly minted wish-they-were-dive-bars exist in Austin, attracting crowds that may or may not include a hipster or two, but this is Texas, and where there are Texans, there are remarkable places to drink. Buddy’s Place is best viewed through that lens, an Austin dive bar that fits its home state a little bit more readily than the perception of its home city.
The striking, immediate sign that Buddy’s Place is a dive bar rests in the design choice to black out the large, exterior windows in favor of inscriptions listing the essentials to be found inside: pool, darts, shuffleboard, sports TV. Open noon to midnight (as the inscription on the other front-facing window makes clear) and sporting a Texas flag mural on the side of its building, Buddy’s Place is as pure a Texas bar as one is likely to find in north Austin. Christmas lights line the exterior of the building, tipping off the aesthetic inside, and blue painted brick offers just the right kind of contrast to those famous, whitewashed used-to-be-windows.
And while Buddy’s Place sits on a relatively well-trafficked road that includes both a TopGolf and a Walmart just a few blocks away, the parking lot feels like pulling off to the side of the road in a lost part of the city. The building and parking lot share Buddy’s Place with a cash for gold-style establishment next door, shedding a little light on just what part of town Buddy’s Place calls home. But as those well versed in hunting dive bars are aware, these are the truly rich areas of major cities to dig into. Buddy’s Place is a reward in that respect.
Generally speaking, the Austin dive bar’s interior can be split into two halves, one for music, one for games. Buddy’s Place hosts a string of acts on the stage to be found just off the main entrance, even going so far on the dive bar’s web site to take a little inspiration from the Blues Brothers and proclaim that both types of music can be found inside: Country and Western. A handful of low tables can be found here within the elevated, carpeted space that gives way to what looks to be a small dance floor (used in part as open storage on this reviewer’s visit).
Glimpses of John Wayne exist throughout Buddy’s Place, extending from some airbrushed artwork outside to a full-size cutout of the man a few feet from the stage. The John Wayne Code, a book of ‘timeless advice from the American icon’ provides a light reading option at the bar, just one of a stack of Wayne-related periodicals to explore. The t-shirts sold with Buddy’s Place inscribed on them continue the theme, partnering a few choice words with Wayne’s face.
The devotion does seem fitting, the ambiance inside Buddy’s Place a throwback in every way. The largely domestic beer options hang on hooks from the ceiling, a comforting reminder that this is that kind of dive bar. Christmas lights continue the outdoor theme, here ringing the interior ceiling of the short lip around the bar. The L-shape of the bar itself makes a right turn into what could justifiably be called the dive bar’s game room that includes a pair of pool tables.
Visual landmarks surround the space, a gun behind the bar atop a sign that says “We Ain’t Dialin’ 911” drawing a worthy share of the attention. A few spare dollars can be seen stapled to the ceiling in between a handful of largely beer-related flags. Lone Star is well represented throughout Buddy’s Place, but the vintage light over the pool table is particularly inspiring, emitting that kind of soft brown light that feels like it would probably taste like Lone Star if you could drink it.
Buddy’s Place is an Austin dive bar that channels a bit more Texas than it does some of the worn out misconceptions of the city that surrounds it. While it may be difficult to envision John Wayne in today’s version of Austin, Texas, seeing the Duke drinking Lone Star the Buddy’s Place bar seems entirely fitting, and if that isn’t an implicit recommendation to visit, I’m not sure what is.