The Officers Club in Patrick Henry Village served at least three purposes that I can recall, each of which I’ll describe below. It was on the south side of the loop formed by San Jacinto Drive (I only know the street name by consulting this Google map), which was in the north half of PHV and what I considered the “fancy” side because it had private homes on tree-lined streets instead of the stark apartment complexes I was more familiar with in the south part of the village. A classmate whose father was a General lived in one of these homes, so I assume they were all reserved for higher-ranking officers. It was also the “commercial” half of the village, as all the various shops were found there. But I’ll go into those details in a different post.
I don’t know if the name “Officers Club” can be taken literally, meaning that only officers were allowed in, but if so, then maybe for some readers I’ll be shining a light into a mysterious building. I suspect that, at least for the Bazaar I describe below, the building was open to all. At any rate, here are my recollections of this multi-purpose building.
When you first walked into the building, you’d find yourself in a large open room with a tiled floor. I have a vague memory of a large, fancy chandelier. I seem to recall a small stage in one corner of this open entry room, so perhaps dances were hosted here? Restrooms were along the right wall, and I only remember this because of the shock I experienced when my mother took me into the women’s room and it had both a couch and a bed! Men’s rooms never had anything like this, and still don’t in the places I frequent. At the time I took this to mean that all women’s rooms were much more fancy, although now I realize that the Officers Club was just a high-class joint.
Off to the left were the wide doorways leading into the restaurant itself. My memory is that this was a very long and elegant room with white tablecloths, tall windows with heavy curtains, and more chandeliers. At dinner there would be live music from the grand piano which I think was near the center of the room, and I recall escargot being on the menu — which I’m sure I remember due to my horror and refusal to sample it. Brunch was a less formal affair, where I recall listening to Wolfman Jack‘s gravelly voice on the piped-in radio broadcast while in the buffet line.
In a hallway outside the restaurant was a staircase leading down with a sign which read “Der Keller,” German for “The Cellar.” Descending these stairs was like entering a cave; I recall it always being somewhat dark with red-tinged lighting down there. Der Keller was a more casual eatery; I suspect it was more of a bar than a restaurant but I was probably too young to make the distinction. We would always get the pepperoni pizza there, but the pepperoni was so spicy! A friend taught us that if you put a dab of ketchup on each disc of pepperoni, it removes the spiciness. Nonsense, I’m sure, but we fully believed it and dabbing ketchup on the pizza became a tradition there.
I don’t know how frequently this event occurred, but sometimes the Officers Club would be converted into something like a flea market, although as I recall it included a lot of high-priced, quality items instead of the secondhand junk you might normally associate with a flea market. The large entry room, as well as several additional rooms deeper into the building, would be filled with booth after booth of merchants selling various things. I recall oriental rugs, large paintings, freestanding grandfather clocks, all sorts of things. I’d guess that at least some of these booths were German merchants from the surrounding towns?
And there were also toys. Looking at rugs and paintings and other “grown up” stuff would quickly bore most kids, but I recall being excited to go to the bazaar to seek out the booths with the fun stuff. We built a decent collection of small rubber Smurf figurines through repeated visits, I think a few years before they became well known in the States. Our collection might have been worth a little money today, if the site bluebuddies.com is any indication.
Overall, the Officers Club was probably more significant to an adult’s experience at PHV than it was for us kids, but it is still a source of many memories from my youth in that fairly unique community.