A couple of weekends ago I went out to visit my buddy Bret, a sportswriter for the El Paso Times and the very first friend I made in college way back in Stone Age. Although I'd driven through Texas' westernmost city a long time ago, this was the first time I'd ever truly visited it, so other than knowing that the Franklin Mountains run right through the center of the city, I honestly couldn't say I was any more familiar with it than Timbuktu. While some of you non-Texans might hold a certain stereotype of Lone Star State geography (i.e., all one big desert), the truth is that it has several distinct geographic regions ranging from plains to mountains to piney forests to sandy beaches, and Austin and El Paso are as different as night and day, both in terms of landscape and culture.
Bret showed me a good weekend, mostly revolving around sports, natch, since he had to work. We took in a high school football game, the Conference USA cross country championships (he and I were teammates on the Texas Longhorns' cross country team, and we're still big fans of running even though we're both now too decrepit to do it ourselves), an exciting college football shootout between the UTEP Miners and the Houston Cougars, and all-day NFL-watching at the neighborhood sports bar.
Now, knowing that El Paso isn't quite the snooty place that Austin is, I didn't have real high expectations for quality beer. I'm happy to report that I was proven wrong.
But I'll get to that in a second – first, the bar experience that you must have if you're ever in that neck of the woods is to cross the border into Juarez, Mexico, and hit the world-famous Kentucky Club. The best you'll do on beer there is Tecate or Dos Equis, but that's not really the point (I recommend you go for the margarita instead). What's more important is to say you grabbed a drink and a good plate of enchiladas at kick-ass old bar that has been in business since 1920 and that supposedly has counted Bob Dylan, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan and Marilyn Monroe among its patrons. When you cross the main international bridge, just keep walking directly down the street, ignore the cab drivers offering to take you to a whorehouse, and the Kentucky will be on your right after a few blocks. Keep a sharp eye – it's not a flashy place, so you might miss it.
Back on this side of the border, unfortunately, we never made it over to EP's brewpub, Jaxon's. Bret tells me the beer there is good. However, we hit the UTEP party strip on Cincinnati Street, and found some fine brews at Hemingway's. It's a little hole in the wall with a big beer selection. I suspect I'd be there a lot if I lived out there. Any time I spot Arrogant Bastard in the bottled beer case, I know I'm home. We hit it twice, and enjoyed Broken Halo IPA on draft. The next day, we spent the afternoon watching NFL football at a place called Brew. Atmosphere-wise, it's a pretty standard sports bar, but the beer selection was first-class. I resisted the urge to order the Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (!) because I didn't want to be ridiculed as a fruit-beer drinking pussy by Bret – I already catch enough shit from him for liking beans in my chili – but I did enjoy some Fireman's 4, Samuel Adam's Winter Lager, and Dogfish Head 60 Minute, among others. And they had some good fried bar snacks, a surprisingly good cheesesteak, and really cute waitresses. (Not that I was interested in that sort of thing, honey – I just went there to humor my single friend. And hey, I stayed away from the hookers like you told me to.)