Salomon the bartender grew up in Tampico, Mexico, and as a young boy he’d climb his grandmother’s tamarind tree to collect the fruit. Some years later, here in Texas, he was shopping at Fiesta Mart when he spotted a big bag of tamarinds. It wasn’t long before he’d transformed the fruit of his boyhood nostalgia into a frothy creation: the Tamarind Gin Fizz.
Salomon whips up drinks like the Tamarind Gin Fizz at Vagabond, a friendly, comfortable bar situated on Greenville Avenue. But let’s back up. It was Saturday night, and I was perched at a high table near the front of the room with my companions, a writer and two surgeons. A quick look around the bar revealed a dark-toned space, with walls plastered full of art and photos. There was a framed accordion and a mural of an intriguing, dark-lipped woman named Chippy. (I’d later discover that she was a 1930s prostitute upon whose diaries singer-songwriter Terry Allen based a musical.) There were four more historical faces in a quadrant by the front door: Lyndon B. Johnson, JFK, Jack Ruby, and Lee Harvey Oswald. Nearby, sports skimmed across a huge projector screen. Reggae music filled the air. The patrons were diverse, from parents dining with their grown children to red-lipsticked ladies drinking with their plaid- and/or vest-clad beaus.
Our waitress wore high-top boots and was quick to serve up our drinks—the apple-infused Seasonal Smash for me, Old Fashioneds for the guys. She told me that while Vagabond in its current incarnation opened last March, customers love to reminisce about what the bar was before.
“They always talk about the pool that used to be out back,” she told us.
I had come in through the back patio and noticed a bocce ball court but no pool. I was intrigued. The black-and-white photos and old-timey vibe should’ve tipped me off that Vagabond has a storied past.
Stewart, the general manager, was happy to spread the lore. He explained that before becoming Vagabond, this place had been Greenville Avenue Country Club (with a nearby driving range and that infamous pool), Vagabond Lounge (the first time), Greenville Avenue Country Club again (no driving range this time), Stubbs Barbecue (Stewart pointed to the Stubbs poster on the wall), and J. Pepe’s (most recently).
“It was an old roadhouse bar back in the ’30s and ’40s,” Stewart told me. I wondered if the enigmatic Chippy ever drank here.
Before shuffling off, Stewart recommended Salomon’s Tamarind Gin Fizz. One of my surgeon friends ordered it, and though it was gorgeous (peachy and fluffy in that egg-white way), he was lukewarm about the taste. When Salomon came over to chat, my friend neglected the drink to map a route on his phone to Tampico. He pondered aloud whether he could fly his plane there. Perhaps to remind us that he owns a plane.
But if the tamarind drink didn’t impress us, Salomon had something else to showcase. He disappeared for a moment and returned with five shot-size Bloody Marys—one for each of us, including him. We clinked glasses and gulped them down. It was a spicy spin on the Bloody Mary, rich with a strong barbecue aftertaste.
We left soon after, and as we pushed out through the pool area-turned-bocce ball court, I thought about Salomon’s last creation. It seemed fitting to sample this unique update of a well-loved drink at Vagabond, a place that’s a mix of nostalgia, interesting stories, and good things made better.