A rash (and I use the term advisedly) of Western-themed bars have opened in the past few years. Unlike the stereotypical cowboy bar, these new watering holes are less about old dudes smoking Winstons, and more about Jager bombs and Coyote Ugly. After years of wondering about these oxymoronic "Western" bars, curiosity got the best of me, and I moseyed on down to three of them to find out what all the fuss was about.
500 NE MLK, 233-2211
I know you all have a lot of questions about American Cowgirls. There's a lot of misinformation floating around, a lot of speculation and rumormongering. So let me clear a few things up for you: No, American Cowgirls is not a strip club. Yes, there is line dancing. No, there were no hot girls dancing on the bar (on my visit, at least), but yes, there were plenty of drunken ones getting freaky on the dancefloor. Despite the hundreds of reasons why this place is horrible, I actually kind of liked it. The bartender was super nice, and I got served straight-away despite the fact that my ratty sweater revealed zero cleavage. The dancefloor is reminiscent of a roller rink, with a wood floor and guardrails that spectators can lean on, and a fog machine floods it with smoke every few minutes (even though there was always at least one really dorky couple trying to swing dance in the back). If you're feeling flush, a bottle of Louis XIII cognac sits over the bar (that'll run you $250 a shot)—if not, drink prices aren't too outlandish, there are nightly specials, and the badass "flair" bartenders will twirl bottles around all crazy-like when they serve you.
722 E Burnside, 233-7855
The Bossanova Ballroom was a cool old spot, in all its dingy glory, and even though the place is called Outlaws now, it retains some of the Bossanova's faded, grubby charm. There's still a sweet photo booth in the lobby, pool tables and pinball, and a decent stage downstairs. The menu has been revamped to highlight the glories of animal flesh, and there always seems to be free pool, dollar beers, all-you-can-eat pizza, or some such awesomeness (call before you go for more details). The great balcony upstairs has been turned into a cave-like little strip club called Aces High. On a recent Saturday, the so-called "gentlemen's club" was nearly empty, save for a stripper trying her damnedest to extract some cash from the four customers she did have, and it was almost too depressing for words—so please, gentlemen, if Union Jack's is busy, head over to Outlaws and give these ladies some business. Outlaws' main concession to the Western theme, besides the mechanical bull and the odd Texas hold 'em game, is the giant sequined cowboy hat hanging from the ceiling (Gay much?), which alone might be worth a visit. Otherwise, go for the drink specials, and play count-the-belt-buckles as you suck down your dollar beer.
34 NW 3rd, 234-9431
Above the main bar at the Dixie, there is a mounted elk head with bras draped on its antlers. A sign on the wall informs patrons that if they throw their bra on the antlers, $5 will be donated to breast cancer research. Progressive, no? It's best not to overthink the Dixie, otherwise things like the bra-head elk, the abundance of artfully contrived "rock 'n' roll" decorations, and the TV screen that pulls down over the American flag on the wall might start to seem deeply troubling. The Dixie seems proud to only serve beer in cans, which is not a position I can really get behind (I am not in college, thus I do not want to drink Oly from a can). They do serve a full menu, but—at least based on the nachos I sampled—it's probably not a good idea to set one's expectations too high. On Thursdays, girls ride the mechanical bull for free, whilst popped-collar dudes with misspelled tattoos entertain pedestrian fantasies of chicks riding them instead; there are also rumored to be hot ladies dancing on the bar on weekends, though they were nowhere to be seen on my visit. There is also something called "Sunday School" on Sundays, which apparently involves grown women dressing like schoolgirls. Obviously, I don't understand this place at all—but clearly some people get it, since the place always seems to be packed on weekends. To them I say, "Ride 'em, cowboy!"