Sure, it’s cool inside the Elbow Room with the dozens of red lights hanging up, Star Trek memorabilia scattered about sporadically, and a Dolly Parton pinball machine in the corner, but all the décor and atmospheric qualities aside, it’s the charm existing in every part of the bar experience that has kept patrons returning throughout the past 50 years.
There aren’t any TVs to distract people from enjoying a conversation. The bartender always pours your beer into a cold frosty mug, even if it’s coming from a can. The Jukebox against the wall only plays 45s and at least half of the songs titles, ranging from Hank Williams to Michael Jackson, have been penciled in by hand. It’s warm and friendly inside, but it’s not fake or forced. And the pizza is really great.
Lesa Touchette and her husband Fred have been leasing the neighborhood bar for the last five years, from the original owner of 45 years, Jim Flynn. Touchette and Flynn are both sitting at a round table near the bar, often referred to as the Mafia table, sipping their respective beers.
“It was always supposed to have kind of a speakeasy feel to it,” Touchette said. “And it’s definitely been a romantic spot. There have been so many first dates here, and engagements, and even a few weddings.
Touchette and her husband have brought in just a few things, but overall the bar is just as it’s always been.
“We’ve added some more drafts, added about 40 more beers all together, a bigger wine selection, and some additional food choices,” Touchette said. “And the board games were one of the things we wanted to bring in.”
The mountain of board games towering along the wall has come to include a myriad of favorites like Jenga and Connect Four, but also has some new titles worked in, like Cards Against Humanity.
Touchette had been coming to the Elbow Room since she was 14, with her grandmother, who would go up to the bar to sit with Flynn’s mother Maggie, when she was bartending.
Flynn was in the military as a young man, and was exposed to the bar scene while stationed in the south of France.
“I just fell in love with the business,” Flynn said. “The clubs over there didn’t have the gaudy lights, not like the discos did.”
Flynn became a regular and a friend to the owners at a bar in France and was able to get his first hands-on experience with the bar business.
“I had really gotten to know the owners, and they’d let me run the stereo and the bar sometimes,” Flynn said.
When Flynn bought the Elbow Room, it was right next door to where the Elbow Room currently is now. The rent at the original spot had gone up tremendously, so Flynn purchased the current spot, and rebuilt the Elbow Room exactly as it had been next door, just in a more affordable spot.
The red lights and Schlitz simply moved over a few feet, and have continued to be some of the most popular characteristics of the bar.
“The first beer I ever had, when I was 17, was a Schlitz,” Flynn said. “I liked the taste, and I’ve just always liked the beer since.”
As for the red lights—they’re just plain flattering.
“Well, red was my favorite color, and red is also the best color for the human complexion,” Flynn said. “I mean look at me, I’m a hundred and thirty but in this light you can’t tell.”
The Elbow Room was closed for a few months, right before Touchette and her husband decided to take over.
“Jim had the doors locked for a little while, and I was really craving the ham and cheese sandwich, and other people were craving the pizza,” Touchette said. “We just really needed to have it back.”
The doors opened back up and people once again rejoiced in the small comforts of a great bar. Since then, the bar has made it to its 50th anniversary, yet another reason for the regulars to rejoice.
“You’re gonna keep it forever right?” Flynn asked Touchette at the mafia table.
“At least for another 50 years,” Touchette said. She smiles and takes a sip of her beer.
The Elbow Room will have all of its traditional merchandise, like hoodies, koozies, and bar glasses, but will also have updated pieces that include the 50th anniversary logo. And course, there will be specials.
“If you buy a koozie, you’ll get fifty percent off Schlitz for the entire anniversary weekend,” Touchette said. “And if you wear a t-shirt or your hoodie, you’ll get a dollar off all weekend.”
Come and celebrate Friday, Oct. 4, the official anniversary day, through the weekend, and join in with the four generations that have continued to support the Elbow Room and all that is has to offer.
“I don’t think there’s really anything else like it,” Touchette said.
The Elbow Room
2213 W. Cervantes St.