Ranchera or country music plays on the jukebox, beer advertisements line the walls, sporting trophies loom over the beer selection, an old man plays poker on a free tabletop arcade from his barstool, while others take turns buying small buckets of ice-cold beers and smoking on benches outside.

Similar scenes play out in several small neighborhood bars across San Antonio, especially in the South Side, but this is Kathy’s bar and it has its own story.

“Everyone knows everyone here,” said the daytime manager and bartender, Kay Rose. “Mostly it’s retired gentlemen.”

People call her “Ms. Kay.” Most customers live in the surrounding neighborhood, Harlandale, or from the broader South Side.

During Christmas and Thanksgiving, they host cookouts for their regulars, she said. They also let regulars use the small back patio for larger events. “We can’t stand to see them alone. … I’ve met so many people that I now call friends — most are like family.”

Ms. Kay, 68, a retired widow, was best friends with the bar’s namesake, Kathy Gregory, a widow herself who died of lung cancer last year.

One of Ms. Kay’s fondest memories of Kathy was when they went on a cruise ship to Alaska in 2016.

“We just decided, hey, you never know what’s going to happen; let’s just go,” she said. When they returned, Kathy was diagnosed with cancer. “It was a special trip. Everybody should go to see Alaska.”

(left) Kathy and Kay on their cruise. (left) Kathy and Kay on their cruise.
(left) Kathy Gregory and Kay Rose on their cruise. Credit: Courtesy / Kay Rose

The bar, like most neighborhood bars, is more akin to a community center – but with beer, darts, and pool. “If they don’t show up for a few days, we’ll send somebody to go check on them. … They tell us when they’re going out of town so we don’t worry.”

A sign outside advertises shuffleboard, darts, and pool. There’s no shuffleboard in sight, but they host lively leagues for both darts and pool.

Monday night, the women’s dart league plays. Ms. Kay is the captain (“It gives you something to do.”). Wednesday is pool night – when the bar’s team, Kathy’s Outlaws, meets. Thursday, both men and women play darts. Those are their busiest nights. Weekends are hit-or-miss.

Kathy’s original location was one block south, where a Dollar General now sits, Ms. Kay said. Kathy’s moved to 203 Moursund Blvd., which is attached to a tire shop whose owners lease out the bar, in 2014. Kathy had the bar for 16 years before selling it to Cynde Crittell.

They thought about changing the name when they moved, Ms. Kay said, “but people would have called it Kathy’s anyway.”

The entire interior of the new spot was originally black, but they painted it a refreshing blue to lighten the place up, she said. It holds about 25 people comfortably.

Cynde works as a paralegal during the week and typically stops by the bar on the weekends and when they run out of supplies. Her three sons help tend bar, clean, and keep the bar humming.

“I couldn’t do it without them,” she said.

Cynde, Ms. Kay, and Kathy played darts together before Kathy passed away. It was Cynde’s husband who wanted to buy the place, she said, as he played darts there.

“Initially it wasn’t my idea,” she said with a laugh. At the time, they had zero experience running a bar. “Kathy trained us quite a bit.”

They have since divorced, but “I just ended up taking care of it. I wasn’t going to walk away from an investment. … I never really thought I would get so invested, not just money-wise … as a person.”

She, too, considers customers friends and family. She lives nearby, close to Palo Alto College, and recently started serving brisket tacos and sandwiches on the weekends and on league nights.

Ruben “Del Toro” Longoria, 71, said he’s been coming to the new Kathy’s bar for about a year, ever since a different neighborhood bar closed down.

“Everybody jumped over here,” he said, adding that whenever he barhops, he makes a point to come to Kathy’s. “I’ve never seen a fight here.

“As long as they have beer,” he said taking a sip of his Bud Light, “I’ll keep coming here.”

The bar keeps running tabs for several regulars and even its own bartenders. “The board” has roughly 50 names on it and includes people to whom the bar owes beer.

James Bennett, Cynde’s son, said one customer on the board is in prison but will pay when he gets out – and likely bring tacos when he does.

That does not necessarily speak to the type of clientele they have, though. They are neighbors, veterans, and friends that have built up camaraderie, James said.

“They just know that they’re going to have a good time [here], they’re not going to have any trouble with people,” said James, 32. “They feel safe … and we try to keep it that way”

James Bennett has been helping his mom at Kathy's Bar for over ten years.
James Bennett has been helping his mom at Kathy’s for more than 10 years. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Some of the customers have helped with maintenance and repairs of the building, Cynde said.

“You only need to come here twice” to feel like you’re part of the crew, Ms. Kay said. “It’s not, like, cliquish.”

It’s true. After hanging out there a few times, you feel a sense of knowing the other customers. They start including you in on jokes, yelling across the bar. But newcomers don’t get to know them through formal introductions; it feels more like osmosis – the kind you can only replicate at your friendly neighborhood bar.

Photo Editor Scott Ball contributed to this story.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at iris@sareport.org