Follow the red neon wrought iron gates.
In the pantheon of dive bar options, VFW posts hold a special position, a unique combination of affordable drinking and focus on a specific community that creates the kind of authenticity and relaxed atmosphere perfect for divey drinking. Though VFWs sometimes feel like members-only institutions, generally speaking they are not only open to the public but appreciate the outside support as every dollar spent on beer goes toward supporting the local veterans who frequent the post. All that said, VFW Post 76 in San Antonio has to be one of the most public-facing, everyone-come-drink-here VFW posts in the country.
As the red neon atop a wrought iron arch just outside of the post’s front door says, VFW Post 76 is the oldest VFW post in Texas, chartered in 1917 by veterans of the Spanish American War. The building that houses the post today was sold to the group in 1947, a massive Victorian building that doubles as both the oldest VFW post in Texas and the largest. Named The Petty House, originally built in 1904, the building serves as one of the last remnants of San Antonio’s days past as the city’s explosive growth has turned over nearly every piece of real estate in the area.
The white paint, the columns, the wrap around front porch, the architecture of VFW Post 76 looks almost stately, a monument set against the San Antonio River that snakes through downtown San Antonio. For those visiting, a pro tip that though there is street parking throughout the area surrounding the post, the lot just under the metal archway is available for VFW Post 76 visitors, despite looking restricted in some of the lot’s signage. At night, someone did an excellent job on exterior lighting as the building bathes in the kind of lighting that even further accentuates the feeling of getting a glimpse of some kind of dive bar monument.
In the parking lot that surrounds the post’s main building, an elevated wooden platform is easily seen with neon along its ceiling inscribed with “Cigar Deck.” In reality, this is a multi-purpose area, one that occasionally features live music playing to the large quantity of picnic tables set up outside. During the many river-based San Antonio events, such as Fiesta, VFW Post 76 becomes an outdoor drinking destination complete with dedicated drink tents and beer sales catering to the large crowds. River Walk access can be found near the wooden structure, a few steps down to one of the quieter parts of San Antonio’s marquee pedestrian feature.
Not immediately apparent, the front entrance to VFW Post 76 can be found to the right of the wraparound porch, leading into a cross between your grandmother’s living room and the dive bar she frequented in her younger days. A very official, faded green door with the name of the post on it leads into a foyer of sorts, the white exterior melding into a stark, white interior. On first visit, the layout can be a bit confusing, though following the typical noises associated with drinking helps. A left turn out of this quasi-sitting room opens up to one of two bars found inside, a short counter with room for about four stools. The liquor selection here is limited, housed on a single shelf behind the bar, complemented by beer coolers and not much else.
A secondary bar, with a bit of an expanded liquor selection can be found in one of the adjoining rooms, the entire floorplan a cycle of spaces that were undoubtedly once kitchen, living room, family room, etc. Today, the pair of bar areas is broken up by seating at tall tables with padded stools, a feeling that resembles a friend’s home in an old part of town during a party. The types of displays that make sense in a VFW post can be found along the walls and on top of mantles throughout the space, from ceremonial flags to collections of badges. Some additional areas are available based on the events of the day, including access to the second floor and its second-story wraparound porch. Event space inside is also made available when the need arises and Texas weather requires it.
VFW Post 76 is not the typical VFW experience, an experience typically a bit off the beaten path and very much akin to a neighborhood dive bar. Instead, Post 76 and its prime San Antonio location serves as a frequent and well-trafficked drinking destination, particularly during the city’s frequent outdoor events. But even with its polish and outdoor event focus, this is still a VFW at heart, one that happens to be laced with neon and the feeling of drinking in an aunt’s living room.