The roadhouse

A good roadhouse is a gathering place for people from all walks of life
florida roadhouse bar
Photo: Chris Hunt

As I pulled into the parking lot of the little dive bar located on a lonely country road outside the idyllic community of Live Oak, Fla., I was suddenly transported back to my early teens, when one of the most illicit acts for which I was ever punished was sneaking out into the living room late one night and watching the movie “Porky’s” on HBO.

The early 80s raunch-fest was the talk of my junior high. Most of us, understandably, missed the cinematic premiere of this fine slice of Americana simply because we were too young to get into the theater to watch the R-rated cult classic. No East Texas parent would readily admit that they let their 13-year-old son see the film upon its release, and in our house, we were strictly banned from watching such “garbage” on TV. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when the parental hammer came down after my dad caught me staring at the tube at 2 o’clock one morning, waiting for Coach Beulah Ballbricker to get exactly what she deserved.

I don’t remember the exact punishment. But it was lively, I’m sure. I do, though, remember the film. What 13-year-old boy with the stones to sneak out of his room to watch what passed as legitimate smut in 1982 wouldn’t?

In case you’re new to the Porky’s game, here’s the premise: A group of high-school boys are determined to lose their virginity, and they see the rural roadhouse, Porky’s, as the most obvious option for doing just that. For it's there where they’ll surely find willing assistance with their mission (Porky’s is more than just a dive bar in the middle of nowhere secluded-in-the-swamp dive bar – it’s a strip club and a clandestine brothel). Antics ensue. Breasts are bared. And nobody can seem to find a nice boy by the name of Michael Hunt.

After a day spent casting Clousers to Suwannee bass in the dark waters of the Withlacoochee River, I just wanted to find a place to watch a football game, have a beer and maybe be a bit social. I love to fish solo. But traveling alone can be a bit heavy sometimes, and it’s nice to hear someone else’s voice now and then. And that’s how I came to find myself walking across the sandy parking lot of this divey little roadhouse quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Pushed back from the two-lane highway and shrouded by live oaks and moss-draped cypress, this little hole in the wall showed real promise.

But first things first. This little gem isn't a strip club or a brothel. But it is a classic Southern roadhouse, miles from the nearest population center. And when I walked in, the game was on two big-screen TVs and half the bar was devoted to a local pool tournament. Beer is a reasonable $4, the bartender was cute and quick to replace an empty bottle with a full one. On that foggy Monday night, everybody seemed like they were having an excellent time.

Just as it should be, right?

I kept waiting for the first bottle to break or the first fight to bust out. The most exciting thing I can recall happening was when one gal, while staring at her phone, shouted, “You’ve got to be fuc*ing kidding me!” at the top of her lungs. It was loud enough to cause a bit of a stir, and she quickly apologized to the crowd.

“Sorry, y’all,” she said. “But y’all wouldn’t believe what my best friend’s husband just did!”

Not exactly that Porky’s experience. But I’m too old for that crap, anyway.

A good roadhouse is a gathering place for people from all walks of life. It’s a place where bikers and hippies can belly up to the same bar. Where river rats and truckers might have stories to share. Where a western fly fisher might have a conversation with a devout Florida catfisherman and come away with some tips that'll spur a flathead to actually eat a fly.

Roadhouses suffer from ill-earned reputations (thanks Brad Wesley, you son of a bitch!). Sure, a fight or two might happen once in a while, but, for the most part, the folks gathering to play pool or throw darts are just plain good folks.

Yeah, they’re the places we were warned about as kids. Mothers throughout the South clutch their pearls at the thought of their children one day growing up and dropping into the local roadhouse. That’s where, of course, the worst of the worst go to drink – a festering cesspool where the dregs of humanity swim in the filth.

It’s just not true. In fact, it may be where the most real of our species choose to come together. There are no pretenses in any dive bar, and particularly not in a roadhouse that requires commitment to get to. It’s not a wholesome neighborhood pub. It’s not a kitschy chain bar that serves breaded wings and beers in fancy glasses. If you’re drinking at a roadhouse – and let’s be honest, that’s why you’ll be there – you made a conscious decision to make the trip. You hopped in the truck and made a plan. And when you opened that front door and breathed in the stale yet oh-so-perfect smells of beer-soaked cypress floors and acrid cigarette smoke, you executed that plan.

Roadhouses deal in simple currency—cash. Many don’t serve hard liquor in an honest attempt to temper severe intoxication (and the obvious drunk driving that might ensue). Most don’t have beer on draft. You get the bottle or the can. Food? Hope you like pretzels or peanuts. They’re generally spartan – no nostalgic wall-hangings or silly little quotes that you might find on the walls at the chain restaurant bar where Aunt Linda gathers after bunco with the ladies.

But the best part of a good roadhouse? It’s a bar that matches its name. It’s right next to the road, preferably a lonely country lane. And in the South, roadhouses are nestled into the woods, away from the prying eyes of the local bible club (they might be surprised to find the local preacher inside). These are destination dive bars. Simple as that.

And very few, if any, roadhouses are of the Porky’s ilk immortalized in film all those years ago. As I said, I’m too old for something like that, anyway. But I hope I’m never too old to pull open the door of a roadhouse and meet a bar full of new friends.

I love it when a plan comes together.