Last Call: Wednesday, May 28, 2008
The Peppermill Lounge
6825 E Lancaster Av, FW.

Let’s get one thing straight: I love dirty bars. And by “dirty,” of course, I mean completely devoid of pretense, not “unclean.” Y’know, bar-bars that are just fine with themselves, just the way they are, and don’t have any aspirations to the contrary. Good ol’ watering holes, so to speak.
You would think that in a good ol’ town like Fort Worth, bar-bars would be sitting comfortably on every other corner, but the truth is that they’re few and far between. (Trust me. I’m always on the lookout for new additions to my list, ones I either never knew about or that just opened. I do a lot of looking.) My guess is that most bar owners here, understandably, simply wanna turn a quick buck. They’d rather appeal to yuppies with a lot of disposable income than provide a clean, well-lighted place for the neighbors.
Last week, after a particularly trying day (let’s not get into why) my good buddy Steve and I set out to find a new dirty bar, mainly because we had fallen into a rut but also because we wanted to make believe we were someplace else, someplace far, far away from the rigamarole here. Luckily for us, we were already on the East Side, perhaps the only part of town whose dives have yet to become gentrified. We weren’t quite in near-Arlington, so one of our favorite hangouts — Caves Lounge — was still a good ways away. And we needed cheap drinks, fast.
Lo and behold, driving along East Lancaster Avenue, we came across a cottage-type building bearing the name the Peppermill Lounge. “What the hell,” we said.
Even though the sun was still up, the ’Mill was nearly pitch-black inside. The place was fairly quiet, a little smoky, and lit only by neon beer signs: no fancy game rooms with pool tables and darts and whatnot, no lounge tables, and not even any “crack boxes” (bar lingo for “video-poker games”), just a jukebox. Very promising.
We saddled up and perused the selection behind the bar: about a dozen beer labels to choose from and only domestics. Quaint. The liquor shelves were filled with the usual array of spirits but were especially heavy on the Jack, Jim, and Jose. Cool.
After about a minute of absolute silence, a gruff voice from a shadowy corner of the shadowy room broke the silence. “You boys thirsty?” a man gurgled. We nodded politely as a gray-haired gentleman lumbered from our side of the bar to the other, took our order, and popped the tops on our beers. In the process, he informed us that he was not, in fact, the bartender and that she would be back shortly. Hell, I thought. The guy doesn’t even work here, and he’s still dedicated to my intoxication. Excellent.
He set our beers down in front of us (on our napkins, no less — what a pro!), gave us a wink, and returned to his stool, near where, we noticed, two other customers were sitting.
After a few minutes, a middle-aged sweetheart traipsed behind the bar and greeted us with an unnecessary apology and a huge smile. Even though I’d been there only a few minutes, the Peppermill was already creeping into my Top-Five Hangouts.
Steve and I bullshitted comfortably to the soft sounds of the juke that was pretty much all classic country. Eventually, we switched from brew (which was ice-cold, BTW) to the strong stuff and were, um, floored by the stiff pours (also at bargain-basement prices).
The bartender, Cynthia, was all about customer service, a practice no doubt forged by years in the biz. She had almost instantly surmised that Steve and I were musicians and asked us if we’d ever played Peppermill’s Sunday-night open-mic jams. (No. No, we hadn’t.) And when I teased her about how much effort she put into squeezing fruit into our concoctions, she showed me her thumb – it was worn from years of citrus abuse. Somehow, this was all simultaneously gross and endearing.
After the sun went down for good, the foot traffic picked up a bit – the crowd was a veritable rogue’s gallery of characters, and each one of the three or four people we exchanged pleasantries with was nicer than the last. And even though Steve and I had arrived about an hour after happy hour ended, we were charged happy-hour prices, because, Cynthia said, she had stepped away and made us “wait.”
Peppermill is the kind of place that could serve as a mission statement of sorts. What else is a bar supposed to do other than serve strong drinks with a smile and make everyone feel at home? I can’t think of it. — Joshua Loewen
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