In our second week taking on local dive bars, we made sure our first stop was one that is treasured among people from many generations and has proven to withstand the test of time. Ladies and gentlemen, we went to THE legendary Toucan Lounge!
Gaby: I have to confess, I was a bit nervous on my way there. I've never been to the Toucan Lounge so I didn't know the way. “Where are you taking me?” I exclaimed to Trisha.
Trisha: To one of the oldest dives in McAllen. “Now, where's that Rose Garden hotel?”
Gaby: Hotel? Wait. What exactly are we doing?
We drove up to the Best Western just off of Expressway 83 and, not to our surprise (well, not Trisha’s), the parking lot was completely full.
We walked in and everyone turned towards the door to look at what the “cat dragged in”. After two quick seconds of what felt like forever, everyone finished staring us down and went back to their individual conversations. As nonchalantly as we could, we made our way over to a booth beside the bar. Toucan Lounge is literally a hotel breakfast area that has turned itself into a bar. The uniform wall decor, tables and booths are definitely a reminder of what its past daytime image. However, throughout the years, one can tell that beer neons, posters and other adult beverage memorabilia has found its way unto the walls, including one neon of the King of Beers with an electric lighted toucan.
Gaby: At first I was feeling as if I were in the Twilight Zone. CNN’s Anderson Cooper was on the big screen staring right at me with his big blue eyes talking about the recent aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, all while Queen B was singing “sufbort” from the Tocametunes.
Trisha: (clears throat) I think you mean Touchtunes?
Gaby: Lo que sea!
We settled in and our waitress, who clearly knew that we were not regulars, named the specials of the day, $12 buckets of domestics, $2.50 house Margaritas on the rocks or $3 Fireball shots, and offered some fresh hot popcorn for us to munch on.
Trisha: “A round of margaritas and keep them coming!” we told our server. Margarita's quickly arrived, we took one sip, looked at each other and realized that these Margaritas were pretty darn tasty.
INSIDER’S TIP: Toucan Lounge offers Botanas, aka snacks, at 6:00 p.m. to all of its guests. Loyal regulars are well aware of this little fact so around 7:00 p.m., or more like 6:45ish, you're not going to find anything. Make sure to get there early if you want to get in on any of that action!
Two rounds of house Margaritas and a couple of laughs later, we paid our bill and headed over to our next stop. Nestled between the streets of mid-McAllen, we came across another McAllen Milestone. That’s right, readers, the beloved Simon Sez.
A king among local dive bars, Simon Sez has has been providing us with live rock music, cheap drinks and a smoky (in more than one sense of the word) atmosphere for more than 20 years. When walking through its doors, you are literally walking through a time portal. Elvis Presley will greet you upon entering, as you make your way down the tunnel and into the bar where you’ll find yourself surrounded by old rock band posters and images of its eternal muse, Marilyn Monroe. To say that Simon Sez’ decor is eccentric is an unjust understatement, there are even 2 or 3 cat scratching poles on the far corner of the stage where once in awhile, believe it or not, when the exit door opens two friendly neighborhood cats come in and play a 5-minute piece.
Now, we must forewarn you, dear readers, like we mentioned before, Simon Sez is one of the few Mcallen locations that allows smoking indoors. While our visit was on a not so typical Wednesday night, we must admit that we did have some difficulty in breathing. No worries, though. That temporary issue was soon forgotten as the evening’s events transpired. We found ourselves laughing and chit-chatting with our bartender extraordinaire, a history professor and a couple of regular barflies. We even came across a friendly face throughout the small crowd which heightened our credibility.
Anyone ever notice that uber-cool wall mural of legendary musicians outside of Simon Sez, facing N. Bicentennial Drive? We thought so! Well, the “friendly face” we came across was none other than our good friend, and rad artist who painted that fab mural, Mr. Reynaldo Alvarado Jr.
Once again, in between friendly exchanges with bar patrons and friends, we found ourselves watching a little bit of TV and caught the final of the US Open men's match with Roger Federer and… oh, we forgot his opponent. Did we mention it was Roger Federer? (dreamy sighs)
Trisha: I still think Andre Agassi was way hotter in his heyday.
Gaby: Do you mean Mr. Andale-asi?!?!
Trisha: Maaan, you're on a roll with those Spanglish jokes tonight! NOT really.
Gaby: sticks out tongue
While Simon Sez normally showcases live, local and regional music on the weekends, our visit during the workweek allowed for our bartender/goddess Patty to surprise us by providing us with credits on their Touchtunes. Cheap drinks with a side of the rockin’ Cheap Trick for free? Girl, you had us at “Hello”!
Even though Simon Sez does not provide food, they do have a variety of snacks available for purchase. Become a regular during week nights and they might just allow you to bring a pizza or some tacos, like our neighbors who were enjoying some Domino’s with their brews. Forget about the inconvenience of running to the convenient store once you run out of cigarettes. Simon Sez sells (woah, say that 5 times fast) cigarette boxes for $9 a pop!
Simon Sez has daily Happy Hours until 8:00 p.m. (except Wednesdays) where you can cand find $4 wells, and $3 wells all day, Hump Day!
The Toucan Lounge is located at 300 East Expressway 83, McAllen, TX. Its Hours of Operation are Monday-Saturday from 2:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. Follow them via @toucanlounge.
Simon Sez is located at 2007 Orchid Avenue, McAllen, TX. Its Hours of Operation are Monday-Friday from 4:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., Saturday from 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., closed on Sunday. Call (956) 618-4178 and follow them on their social media under SIMON SEZ.
Gaby Jones and Trisha Watts work hand-in-hand with the service industry. Jones is in charge of craft and imported beer for L&F Distributors and Watts is the communications director for Visit McAllen. Each week they will have a new adventure and provide an opinion on various locations throughout the Rio Grande Valley.