The Pershing Inn - A Once Classic Bar

The Pershing Inn - A Once Classic Bar

And so goes another one…

I have to admit, this one hit really close to home. I mean that figuratively and literally. I live in a small community about 45 miles from El Paso, Texas. The images of squalor and desperation you see on the nightly news – there’s a lot more to this place.

For starters it’s probably the wildest old west city in our nation. I know that westerns would have you believe it might be Tombstone or Dodge City or some other backwater, but trust me, El Paso is the real deal. Along the border with Juarez, Mexico, it was filled with brothels and gunfights. This is where John Wesley Hardin – one of the most notorious of old west outlaws – was gunned down while throwing dice in a saloon.

Imagine how much fun this place was.

It still is.

There are dozens of great bars in El Paso, but one of my favorites, which sadly just closed, was called the Pershing Inn.

Residing on 2909 Pershing Drive this place oozed cool from its founding in 1949. By the way, if it wasn’t obvious, its name comes from the road that fronted its doors, just like all the businesses around it (next door was a Pershing Theater, for example), which was named for General “Blackjack” Pershing’s punitive expedition to pursue Pancho Villa after his raids along the border in 1916.

In any case the Pershing Inn was one of those tiny, homey-type saloons, seating perhaps 50 people at the most, with a few beers on tap and the basics behind the bar. But it was friendly and welcoming, and over the decades grew popular with locals and the military crowd stationed at nearby Fort Bliss.

The owner, Ray Haddad, sponsored every type of local sports known to man, especially recreational softball teams, basketball, and even bowling. Early newspapers are filled with articles about the Pershing Inn winning this tournament or that.

The area the bar resided in, called the Five Points, was an older, central part of the city, meaning that at some point it started to show its age. As buildings decayed and businesses fled, the Pershing Inn held on. The regulars and young soldiers kept the bar in business, and over the decades it continued pouring honest drinks at fair prices.

Maybe that’s why I liked this place so much. Up until about fifteen years ago there was no pretense to it. As bars go today, it really didn’t offer that much. There was a small space, a small bar, and a quiet place to sit and have a drink. What more do you need? A DJ? A dance floor? Axe-throwing for God’s sake?

For about 50 years this small, humble watering hole filled the most basic role of small bars, and that was enough. Eventually, though, new owners bought it and expanded it, building a backyard patio, bar and stage, and bringing in live music. A kitchen was added and they started serving food. Eventually, they even got a website. None of this bodes well for old curmudgeons like me, but I guess that’s progress.  

As the Five Points neighborhood went through gentrification, the bar was sold again, and a new, craft cocktail bar was added, and before you knew it, the place was frequented by a different crowd. It was still a good bar, just different. No longer a dive, no longer a hole in the wall, now a destination, a place to get a few drinks before or after a concert, where you could order a $20 mixed drink and listen to some live, local music.

Inevitably the place finally closed, just a few months ago, in fact. I say “inevitably” because that’s what happens to bars that chase trends – eventually the trend goes away and they can either chase the next one or they can simply be a bar again. The owners chose the third option – sell out and let someone else take up the chase.

Recently news came out that the Pershing Inn was bought and was going to be “reimagined” as a new dive bar. To be honest I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds awful. Dive bars, after all, aren’t things that are made, they are honest evolutions of bars that refused to succumb to trends. The Pershing Inn was like that at one time, and now it’s not.

I miss the Pershing Inn, the real one that ceased to exist over a decade ago. I’ve had a lot of time to mourn it, so although the final closing does hurt, it doesn’t hurt as much as might be had the bar never changed in the first place.

So, today I lift my glass to those bars that resisted the temptation to chase a trend, those bars that simply stayed a neighborhood watering hole. To them and to the original Pershing Inn, Cheers!