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Inside Austin’s Most Beloved Dive Bar

Largely unchanged since it first opened in 1972, Lala's Little Nugget, a Christmas-themed dive bar in Austin, Texas, remains one of the city's most popular drinking destinations. Deborah Stoll on the bar's peculiar history and loyal community following.

In a red-bricked strip mall in the Crestview neighborhood of Austin, Texas, nestled in between a laundromat and a barbecue joint, is Lala’s Little Nugget, where it’s always the most wonderful time of the year.

“I been comin’ here since 1980 or ’81, I can’t remember,” Pat Painter tells me. Pat owns Pat Painter’s Wigs and Hair Pieces up the road on Burnett and is almost certainly Lala’s oldest regular. “I picked me up an air conditioner guy in here; I picked me up an electrician in here; I picked me up a honey-do man in here.”

“A what?” I ask.

“A man that always calls to see how you’re doin’ and fixes things you need fixin’.”

“I need one of those,” I tell Pat, and she gives me his number.

Drinking at Lala’s is like stepping inside the rec room of your ’80s dreams—assuming your dreams come replete with convivial regulars, cheap drinks and Christmas decorations year-round. As to why the bar is strewn with tinsel regardless of season, the story goes a little something like this: Frances Lala opened her namesake bar in October, 1972, but just before she did, she noticed the wood-paneled walls seemed woefully bare. So she threw up some Christmas decorations, seeing as Christmas was just three months away.

The holiday came and went, but Lala never took the decorations down.

While Lala herself is no longer running the bar (she sold it to FBR Management in 2015 at the age of 87), she has become something of a legend around these parts, described, variously, as “salt of the earth,” a “wee woman who pours a mean drink” and “a padder of bills,” while others include “ornery,” “feisty” and “a 90-pound, 80-year-old woman yelling, ‘Get out of my bar!’”

Lala's Little Nugget

“People were really scared we were going to ruin the place,” says FBR Management co-owner Max Moreland, “but from the day we got the keys, all the neighbors came by and said, ‘Thank you for saving our favorite bar.’”

They aren’t the only ones who love Lala’s. As a whole, the Austin community holds a special place in their heart for the bar, voting it Best Neighborhood/Dive Bar, Best Bar Crawl With Easy Parking, Best Dancing Elves and Best Puppets on a Pulley.

Today, the drink list reads like what would happen if your favorite bartender and your boozehound grandma planned a Christmas party. Alongside the beers on tap are holiday-themed cocktails like the Peppermint Hot Chocolate, made with Rumple Minze Peppermint Schnapps, which comes topped with a tower of marshmallows, and Grandma’s Secret Nog, a lights-out blend of brandy, rum, bourbon, vanilla ice cream and eggnog, plus a graham cracker rim.

From the drinks to the setting, despite the change in ownership, this little bar in Austin has stayed pretty much the same for 45 years—the kind of place where you can sway to the sounds of Connie Francis beneath twinkling lights, drink an Old-Fashioned and, at 2 a.m., wish Santa and all of your friends a Merry Christmas.

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Tagged: Austin, dive bar, texas

Deborah Stoll is a journalist, lyricist, novelist, short story writer, animator, surfer, snowboarder, moped rider and drinker. Her work can be found at www.bubbemaisse.com.