I'm not so sure my first impression of Cliff's Bar and Grill was a good one. When The Loon closed earlier this year, Cliff Gonzalez warned me the new bar would be different. "You'll never be able to duplicate what's been here for this long," he said, back at the old place before it closed. He's right, and I didn't expect to encounter decades of history faithfully re-created blocks away in Uptown. I just didn't expect his next watering hole to be THAT different.
Cliff's, which is destined to be referred to as The New Loon for months if not years to come, is presently going through a soft opening. Bartenders are still figuring out how to work the point of sales system, communication with the kitchen is achieved via tin cans and string, the menu is still sparse -- those sorts of things. But the sharp corners and rough edges haven't been enough to keep the old timers at bay. Jacquie behind the bar says they've been knocking on the door for days waiting for the place to be open. While The Loon, or whatever it's called, rested through a long summer and fall, The Regulars have been quietly holding vigil.
Now they're slowly trickling through the door as I decide on a fried baloney sandwich. One guy stops in and orders a vodka and tonic just down the bar. Tonight, he's celebrating a wedding anniversary. From behind me, an order for white wine is called out. Some of them slip in, pound a drink and slip out like ghosts. Others sit with more intent. They're staying a while.
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The Loon used to be located in a run-down strip mall. There was a gas station around the corner and the parking lot was pockmarked like a teenager's skin. Cliff's is located in a house-turned-bar just down McKinney Avenue. The throbbing beat of dance music pours out of Urban Taco next door, and to the other side people spend a car payment to have their hair colored just so. Only a few blocks apart, the new and old locations couldn't be any different.
But something intangible bridges the gap. The bar room at Cliff's is sterile and new, but the lighting is dim and strangely familiar. They aren't there yet, but those crispy tacos that got everyone worked up will be back on the menu, along with more of the old favorites. The regulars, all to willing to find a stool and act like nothing has happened, add something, too.
And as they wear down the corners on all of the sharp edges and slowly add a patina to new walls, memories of The Loon will likely fade like wisps of cigarette smoke. Some have already found their new love. I'm already halfway there.
Cliff's Bar and Grill, 3403 Mckinney Ave.,