Where did I gain my fascination with an idealized, cartoon version of Texas? If I had to answer truthfully, I’d guess it’s a mix of King of the Hill and the shamefully under-recognized David Byrne film True Stories, with a sprinkle of absurdist works by The Art Guys.
That roundup sounds as pretentious as a 30-something hipster in a punk band T-shirt inquiring about the craft beer selection at a Western-themed saloon, yet here we are — that’s me at the Cowboy Corral Bar & Grill in Clearwater, a spot designed seemingly to appeal directly to my quest for the fake Texas, with its barnlike structure, faux saloon doors and ranch fence decorated with wagon wheels.
I don’t mean to imply any inauthenticity. In fact, after a recent road trip through the Lone Star State, I visited everything from a German brewery built in an opulent palace, a bar designed to look like your grandma’s living room in the mid-’90s and a honky tonk with a live band featuring a pedal-steel player who, inexplicably, hailed from Sweden. It’s all there, an endless variety of surprises and cliches alike, just as I had hoped.
Back to the Cowboy Corral, there’s definitely a hint of the West that might make you forget you’re just a half-block from Ulmerton. It’s on a huge lot, with a big grass field out front that doubles as parking for the inevitable behemoth pickup trucks and motorcycles.
Through the saloon doors, you’ll find a cozy dining area, with “corral” spelled out in rope art along the wall. Wagon wheels are transformed into hanging light fixtures in the dining area, as well as at the small bar tucked into a corner near the entrance.
As my bartender explained, Cowboy Corral is a “bar that happens to have really good food.” Opened back in April, it’s built a local following largely because of this feature (based on a perusal of online reviews), but it’s also a heck of a good spot for some truly cheap drinks, a game of pool or as a place to watch the race on Sundays.
There’s country music on the jukebox, barrels and horseshoes scattered around and a full menu of Tex-Mex fare to support my bartender’s claim. If you’re looking for a Western theme, you’ve found it — this place really scratches that particular itch.
True to the theme, there’s plenty to drink but none of it particularly fancy. You’ll find some typical domestics on draft, though the appearance of Woodchuck cider on tap is a surprise. A house wine or two is available, and there’s a respectable liquor selection; certainly enough to keep the drinks going for a long while without getting bored. That’s not a bad way to go.
The big draws at Cowboy Corral are popular bike nights, weekly live music and cornhole tournaments on the lawn. There’s also “life-sized beer pong,” which involves big plastic trash cans instead of Solo Cups.
In the daytime, shutter windows at the bar flip up to convert it into an indoor-outdoor setup, bringing in a fresh breeze and opening up the relatively tiny bar area to the much larger lawn and front patio.
If you’re in the market for a Western theme, look no further, as Cowboy Corral delivers. Whether you’re romanticizing the land of our neighbors across the gulf or simply looking for a spot to grab a cold one, you might consider saddling up at the bar and soaking up some almost-Texas vibes.
— Contact Justin Grant at email@example.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.
6250 Ulmerton Road, Clearwater, 33760. (727) 386-5430. facebook.com/cowboycorralbarandgrill
The vibe: A Western-themed bar and restaurant popular for bike nights and cornhole tournaments.
Food: Appetizers, $4-$10; entrées, $10-$12.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $2-$5; wine, $3-$6; liquor, $2-$6.
Specialty: Go with whatever’s on special. That’ll be a $2 draft and cocktails for $4. Happy hour is 3 to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday, featuring $1 off wells, calls, and crafts.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily.