Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Recession intermissions: Frank, Lustre Pearl and Liberty

Dina Guidubaldi

On the eve of World War II, when Nazi Germany was busy invading Poland, W.H. Auden drank the day away in a Manhattan bar across the ocean and wrote his famous poem 'September 1, 1939,' in which he describes the purpose of such a place:

Faces along the bar

Cling to their average day:

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play,

All the conventions conspire

To make this fort assume

The furniture of home;

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.

Seventy years later, we still get it. Maybe not how to avoid war, or how to brave economic troubles or how to wake up every morning smiling, but we certainly understand the value of a good drinking establishment. Austin's just been designated (again) the city most likely to bounce back from the recession, and to look around us, not much has changed. The cranes still are high in the sky, the price of ironic T-shirts and household trinkets still almost as high. People still are standing in line at El Chilito and Juan in a Million for hours to get hangover relief on Sunday mornings, and those same people still are drinking their fool heads off on Saturday nights. In their honor, here are three new Depression-defying joints where we can — despite the economy, despite trouble in the Middle East, despite global warming and vanishing honeybees — thumb our noses at Auden's haunted wood and embrace human folly.

Frank

407 Colorado St. 494-6916, www.hogdogscoldbeer.com.

If you go to Frank any time other than happy hour (4 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays), you're liable to spend $50 on a couple of hot dogs and some drinks and walk away feeling very, very confused. You could, of course, avoid the drinks, but who wants to avoid something called the Militia Manhattan ($8), made with bacon-infused Maker's Mark? Despite the vivid imagery (apparently the infusion involves straining bacon fat through cheesecloth), the flavor itself is subtle, adding just a touch of smokiness. Which is good or bad, depending on how much you love your bacon. Their Italian Honey (with prosciutto and honeydew juice, $7) and their Bloody Marys (with cheese and bacon-infused vodka, $8) are also crowd favorites.

On the hot dog front, Frank gets a little crazy — curried brats and foie gras sausage with something called "orange supreme" ($9) repeat on their specialty menu. They've even come up with a meaty tribute to the now-sadly-gone Gene's East 11th Street restaurant, replete with pork and turnip greens on corn bread. In theory, Frank's food doesn't lack creativity, though sometimes the presentation doesn't measure up to the colorful sausages doing the cancan in your head, and you wind up with what is, essentially, just a weiner on a bun.

Lustre Pearl

97 Rainey St. 469-0400, www.lustrepearl austin.com.

According to legend, a down-on-her-luck burlesque singer named Lustre Pearl lived in a little wooden house on Rainey Street, fell in love with some cowboy named Clive across the way, and the two of them, now long gone and slamming shots in that great saloon in the sky, have become immortalized in the form of bars. Though I'm game enough to believe this story, or some version of it, the idea of taking these people's histories and turning them into cash seems a little disingenuous. At the very least, the story serves its purpose by giving street cred to an otherwise oddly named establishment and adds to the spooky feel of the creaky old house where Lustre Pearl (the person) once dwelled and which Lustre Pearl (the bar) now inhabits.

Lustre Pearl is often crowded, with possibly more people than Rainey Street has heretofore seen, and full of Hula-Hoopers, Ping-Pong players (they provide both), guys wearing backward baseball hats, high-heeled, orange-skinned girls wobbling through the gravel to order from the taco trailer and tired dogs. If you're looking to get away from the hipster crowd while still partaking in hipster fun, this is the place to go. Although, as one patron told me, 'Honestly, I'm not really digging any of the guys out here and they've played that same MGMT song three times already.' (They also were playing the Red Hot Chili Peppers' 'Give It Away' and Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline,' if that makes anyone feel any better, which it shouldn't.)

The free koozies they serve with their bottled beers say 1859 (meant to imply, perhaps, that the bar has been there that long, which it hasn't) and, beneath that, any one of a number of suggestive sayings (which imply that the bar has been around since the '90s and is some kind of hip-hop establishment, which it isn't). Perhaps the bawdy phrases were sayings of Lustre's, but my guess is someone's playing fast and loose with her memory. No matter. Lustre Pearl's outside bar is quick (the inside one isn't), the beers are cheapish ($3.50 for a bottle of Firemans #4, $2.50 for a Lone Star) and their aggressively fun vibe (Have fun! Here! Now!) seems to be working.

Liberty

1618 1/2 E. Sixth St. 600-4791.

Liberty is perfect for dreary, rainy nights, when it evokes a basement, thanks to the enveloping darkness and slight step down. (Actually, I went back recently and the step down is gone. Where oh where could that step have gone?) Liberty, in fact, evokes any number of bars in the Northeast/Midwest: dark, cramped, sparsely populated with people coveting their own beer bottles, staffed by efficient, old-hand bartenders, and easy. Easy to get to, easy to park, easy to say hey, I just want a drink real quick-like. No need to get dressed up, no need to make real plans, no need to spend a lot of money (Lone Stars less than $3 and mixed drinks still at old East Side prices). It's got pinball and pool, and it's appropriately named: Though not perhaps the most exciting new bar on East Sixth Street, it's the one you don't have to worry about being too crowded or annoying, the one you can be most yourself in. It's a breath of stale, smoky, nonjudgmental air. It's freedom, in alcohol form.

For people who actually like other people and prefer to be outside, the Liberty's patio is full of picnic tables, mural/stencil artwork, bocce and washers, and it feels as laid-back as a wintry Sunday afternoon.