Looking for “the heart of Saturday night” ‘round Amite. Out here on the frontier, a woman dances with those who’ll dance with her, a man will sing back to the son of Hank Williams and every once in awhile that mechanical bull will get to fling someone across the room.
Looking for “the heart of Saturday night” ‘round Amite
The message on the answering machine said that they have the best steaks this side of Kansas City and that in the saloon there’s a mechanical bull named Alimony.
It didn’t take any more than that to coax my friends Ben and Maureen to head out to the Bear Creek Saloon near Amite with me, even after the party blast that was the Spanish Town Mardi Gras Parade that morning. A country drive sounded nice after that.
“Where the West Begins,” is the tagline the Bear Creek Western Store used to boast on their local TV ads. One of my friends bought a bullwhip out there. “Turns out, I’m a bullwhip guy,” he admitted.
I wondered what kind of guy I might find myself becoming in a true Western supply shop. Pearl snaps? Maybe a saddle in my future?
As it happens we arrived a little bit past closing time for the store, a fact underscored by someone pulling a curtain closed over the glass doors just as we crunched through the vast gravel parking lot. We made our way over to the steakhouse door and found the lights out. The machine said nothing about it not being open either.
However, the band for the evening, Baton Rouge’s country troubadours the 484 South Band were trickling in to the saloon proper—so at least one part of the night was going as planned. The waitresses were polishing glasses and an older couple was perched at the bar, but otherwise, the Bear Creek saloon was vast and empty. It’s a low ceilinged behemoth, a dozen or two upturned and painted cable spools serve as tables around the club. Lights flitted over an empty dance floor laid out before the stage ringed by a log fence. Alimony waited quietly off to one side in the middle of a deflated air cushion.
We asked for places to eat and a waitress said there is a Waffle House in Amite. My friends gulped and were wondering what they’d gotten themselves into, when one of the people at the bar mentioned The Boston. “Great sushi there.”
A sushi restaurant named for a place famous for clam chowder suddenly lit up the dark night with a bit of promise.
On the drive over to The Boston, I thought about Tom Waits’s song “The Heart of Saturday Night,” a contemplative, wistful ramble about the promise of a good time.
Well you gassed her up
And you’re behind the wheel
With your arm around your sweet one
In your Oldsmobile
Barrellin’ down the boulevard,
You’re lookin’ for the heart of Saturday night.
The Boston was hopping. Less than a year old, it is upscale casual dining carved out of what appears to be an old railroad hotel perched at one end of a block of bars and restaurants. We bellied up to the bar to circumvent the thirty-minute wait for a table. Ben stuck to the original plan and got a steak. Maureen, crabcakes. And I gambled on the ambitious wasabi pea-encrusted tuna. Maybe it wasn’t the fare of the Old West, and the sweet wasabi glaze, gorgeous as it was, slightly overpowered the fish, but we were pleased with our findings.
Sated, we took back through the dark to Bear Creek. The 484 South Band’s CD 21 Miles of Bad Road is a winner—southern rock and bar band swagger played with equal amounts of precision and twang.
A few more trucks were dotting the acre of gravel between the western store and the saloon. I imagine when country legend John Conlee played there the week before, or when the Charlie Daniels Band would show up to duel the devil in that corral of a stage, the place was packed. We found ourselves a couple of beers and a spot at a spool near old Alimony. A low-ceilinged place like this distorts one’s perspective. Even as the crowd started to grow, it seemed scattered like a country night sky.
484 South kicked in with covers: Tom Petty, Lynyrd Skynyrd, sandwiching in some of their originals. With each song, a couple of women would take to the dance floor and boot scoot around or vamp for the beads the lead singer would hold out. Maureen remarked that none of the guys were dancing—how different this was from other country bars. The only interface the fellas had with the band was a call-and-response during the cover of Hank Williams Jr.'s “Family Tradition.”
Hank: Why do you drink?
Fellas: GET DRUNK!
Hank: Why do you smoke?
Fellas: GET STONED!
I wondered how many times that same chant had been issued, maybe every Saturday night of these guys lives perched around the spools in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to see old Alimony in action but the crowd was likely too thin that night.
It’s easy to celebrate in the haze of Mardi Gras or in party towns like New Orleans and Lafayette, where the challenge is to just keep up with the night. Out here on the frontier, a woman dances with those who’ll dance with her, a man will sing back to the son of Hank Williams and every once in awhile that mechanical bull will get to fling someone across the room. Those nights keep the momentum going for the slow ones where you do what you can, or as Tom Waits put it:
And you’re dreamin’ of them Saturdays that came before
It’s found you stumblin’
Stumblin’ onto the heart of Saturday night.
Details. Details. Details.
Bear Creek Saloon 36031 Highway 16 Montpelier, La. (225) 777-4868 bearcreekparty.com The Boston Restaurant 100 NE Central Avenue Amite, La. (985)748-5555 bostonofamite.com The 484 South Band 484southband.com