There's something pretty special about bars at Christmastime. About drinking a spiked nog in your finest ugly Christmas sweater. About a miniature Xmas tree proudly peaking above a line of Hot Toddy's at the end of the bartop. About Bing Crosby blasting in every single bathroom stall.
But there's something equally not-not-not-special about what happens come December 26th. Schnapps gets pulled from the well, mistletoe gets tucked back in boxes, and you're in for another heavy dose of Journey for the next 11ish months.
Everywhere, that is, except at THREE MAGICAL BARS where they do the whole Christmas thing 365... days... a year.
These, dear friends, are America's Year-Round Christmas Bars.
It's been Christmas at Lala's in Austin since 1973...
...when, according to Lala-lore, the owner couldn't bare to take down her decorations because the bar felt naked.
And by "It's been Christmas" we mean "No really guys, it's been CHRISTMAS."
Even in 100-degree Texas summer heat, holiday lights are set to permanent-twinkle, fir trees are always in season, and the jukebox is perpetually stacked with Xmas tune-age.
"There's a tackiness to it that works," says Max Moreland, who bought the bar this September from 89-year-old Francis Lala, who stayed on the "nice" list by giving her earnings to her loyal bartenders for their retirement.
Moreland is keeping the Christmas kitsch and even installed a gigantic Santa and accompanying reindeer on the roof after he took over, rationalizing, "if you've done it for 42 years, you're doing something right."
Of course, there are grinches who will question your business acumen when you decide to open a year-round holiday bar.
"When I bought a bar and told people what I was going to do, they gave me three months," says Santa's Pub owner Denzel "Santa" Irwin, who garnered his nickname for, well, obvious reasons (see amazingly above).
Instead of succumbing to that predicted failure, three months after the Nashville bar opened in April 2011, Warner Brothers asked to shoot a Bubba Sparxxx music video at the bar. After that, things exploded -- Santa's Pub has been featured in Maxim and has served Mumford and Sons, Ed Sheeran, Kacey Musgraves and the Alabama Shakes, to name a few.
Santa's Pub is known for it's killer karaoke, a house band called Santa's Ice Cold Pickers -- which plays more than renditions of jingle bells -- and the fact that it's located inside a mobile home, off a small transitional road removed from Nashville's main strip.
In spite of name and decorations, people see Santa's as more Nashville counter-culture than Christmas kitsch.
"Whenever someone comes into town, the first night we'll go to Honky Tonk and the next we'll go to Santa's," says Vanderbilt PhD student Lexa Murphy. "It's off the beaten path and you have to know about it."
But Irwin, who also works as a bartender and ID checker when he isn't mingling, notices that customers are merrier here than other bars.
"I've been in business almost five years and I've never had an argument in my bar," he says.
Of course not all the bars are quite as merry.
"Decrepit chic is the best I could describe Snake and Jake's Christmas Club Lounge," says Dave Clements, owner of the niche New Orleans bar. "It's really a tin shack. I would call it the tin shack shit hole or late night bar."
Clements opened the bar with his business partner Tony Tocco 22 years ago, and its name was born of convenience. When the two bought the location, they noticed that signs with the bar's previous names -- S&J's (short for Snake and Jake's) and The Christmas Lounge (named for owner Sam Christmas, rather than the holiday) -- were still up outside the building. Since the best bar name Clements and Tocca could come up with were variations of "Tony and Dave's" or "Dave and Tony's," they decided to bring new life to the bar's Christmas past.
Except while Lala's offers signature nogs, Snake and Jake's Christmas Club Lounge is known for The Possum Drop -- a shot of Southern Comfort dropped in Schlitz -- named after the time a live baby possum fell from a broken ceiling tile onto a patron's head (which shouldn't come as THAT much of a surprise considering, as bartender Lori Cavagnaro puts it, Snake and Jake's is held together with "nicotine and regret").
But the holiday spirit isn't entirely lost.
Attracting a cross section college students, musicians, late night locals, and, you know, Anthony Bourdain, Snake and Jake's comes in yule tide hot with a Christmas lights-lit interior that also boasts an anti-establishment "Santanista" wearing a sombrero and beads.
And, in prime year-round Christmas bar fashion, Snake and Jake's welcomes guests 365 days strong with a wreath on the door -- a constant reminder that Dec. 26th isn't coming anytime soon.