The right place for a dive bar double feature.
The tiny town of Hunter, Texas, was once a bustling community supported by an active cotton industry and a pair of real depots. After the depots were shuttered and the cotton industry moved out, the population dwindled to a reported 30 people in 2000. And yet, Hunter is home to two Texas-legit dive bars, Riley’s Tavern down the road holding the historical edge as the first liquor license granted in Texas post-Prohibition. But Happy Cow Bar & Grill about a three-minute walk from Riley’s more than holds its own as a classic Texas-style dive bar.
Opened in 2009, Happy Cow is the young dive bar on the block compared to Riley’s Tavern, but the years have been kind, developing a spacious dive bar committed to live music just off of I-35 running from San Antonio to Austin. Dual stages provide one of the primary lures to Happy Cow, one inside and one outside (the aptly named Happy Cow Backyard), both significantly sized to house the stream of bands booked every weekend.
Out front, the word ‘complex’ comes to mind, a low building giving way to an extensive mural that in turn gives way to a wood fence reminiscent of a old-school fort. A spacious parking lot is difficult to miss with a rope light-adorned sign spelling the name of the bar prominently displayed. The mural along the building’s front wall depicts a steam-powered namesake of the dive bar’s signature Train Shot. The bar’s railroad-adjacent location lends Happy Cow its most interesting quirk, the Train Shot, a rotating shot special activated any time a train passes the dive bar.
Inside, the structure feels a little bit like a warehouse converted into a dive bar, an absolutely cavernous space with little impeding the flow of beer throughout. Happy Cow’s bar sets up shop in the center of the space, a winding counter that runs nearly the length of the building. A full menu is available at Happy Cow, part of this behind-the-bar area dedicated to a kitchen known for its burgers. The usual bar selection of pizzas and sandwiches can also be had here.
Apart from the padded stools that run along the bar, high top tables dot the space to provide additional seating. Dual pool tables command one end of the interior space, adjacent to the bar’s bathrooms over which a neon sign reading “2P” can be found. Far from stapled dollar bills or classic dive bar clutter, the décor inside is measured, a handful of beer lights and street-style signs along the walls. The two signature elements inside include the vintage-style Shiner lights over the pool tables and the definitely vintage baseball-themed arcade game, an old school hybrid between a carnival game and pinball cabinet.
Outside, the patio is extensive, supported by the main stage already mentioned underneath a considerable canopy of trees. The stretching arms of the trees overhead are more than scenic, providing critical shade amid sweltering Texas heat that makes patio drinking more viable. Really the only signature dive bar sticker explosion can be found adjacent to the patio area, the back door leading into the bar one of the few destinations for stickers of all varieties.
Happy Cow Bar & Grill may be relatively young with its 2009 opening date, but what has been established here is a solid, spacious, Texas-style dive bar and home to live music. Those interested in a little history with their beer can start a trip to Hunter, Texas, at Riley’s a few feet away before soaking in live music under oak tree-provided shade a block away.