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Astronaut hangout to close after 30 years

Once an Air Force barrack, the Outpost Tavern is closing after three decades as an astronaut hangout. (Outpost)
December 2, 2009

— A former Air Force barrack turned bar that counted astronauts among its regular patrons will close next month after more than three decades serving the NASA community in Houston.

"The Outpost is closing... and this time, it is for good," wrote owner Stephanie Foster in a note added Tuesday to the Webster, Texas tavern's website. "All-in-all, you must admit that it has been an interesting and fun run for this little bar."

The "little bar", located just down the road from NASA's Johnson Space Center, has been a landmark for space history enthusiasts, in part for what its patronage have left behind: the Outpost's walls are lined in space memorabilia ranging from astronaut autographed photos to posters and decals.

The bar's atmosphere, which brought in a stream of space program veterans, also attracted stars. The 1997 comedy "Rocketman" released by Walt Disney Pictures filmed a scene at the Outpost, but the bar's most famous cameo came three years later with Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones in the Warner Bros. film "Space Cowboys."

From barracks to a bar

One of the many space memorabilia-adorned walls inside the Outpost Tavern, as donated by its patrons. (Outpost)

The Outpost did not start out as an astronaut hangout but rather a bunk for pilots.

"The history of the building itself is unique," the tavern's website explains, "it began life as a World War Two Air Force barracks at the nearby Ellington Air Force Base before being moved to its present location in 1965 to serve as a barbecue shack."

The bar first began to attract the NASA crowd as "Fort Terry's The Universal Joint" until it was sold in 1980 and opened the next year as the Outpost.

"I was about eleven-years old when the [bar] first opened as 'The Outpost,'" wrote Foster. "And now I have two kids and just celebrated my something-ith-birthday. Some who have been coming in have been there for longer, since it was Fort Terry's. You know who you are!"

The Outpost came close to permanently shutting its doors in 2000 when its grill -- used to cook burgers and freshly cut fries -- was deemed unsafe by the fire marshal. With bills mounting and other utilities breaking down, the future of the Outpost looked bleak.

A community-driven "Save the Outpost" campaign raised the funds for renovations, including a new grill, and the bar resumed full service in Feb. 2001.

The barn-like building was threatened once more in 2005 when on Jan. 28, an electrical short in the Outpost's neon sign began a fire burning through the roof. Once again the community responded, and the Outpost reopened only a week later.

"[We] have kept the Outpost Tavern going for the last thirty years, it has stayed open," Foster wrote. "Good or bad, whatever anyone thinks of how we did it, we kept it open for you!"

Closing their way

"Like many good things in life, sometimes 'we' are not in charge," Foster explained on the Outpost's website.

The land on which the tavern stands has been sold, which left the fate of the Outpost uncertain.

"Rather than wait, wondering when or if someone would come in and say 'get out by Friday,' I would like to give everyone notice that in January, we close," said Foster.

"This way, we can enjoy the place a while longer, and make plans on how to save what we can," she continued. "I would rather have the Outpost close my way, instead of having someone shut us down one day without so much as a 'fare-well.'"

Continuing in the spirit of the NASA parties and gatherings that were held at the bar over the past three decades, the Outpost plans to go out with a bash.

"To end the Outpost Tavern, we will have one hell of a blow-out thirtieth anniversary party," concluded Foster's note. "Hope everyone can attend!"

Return to collectSPACE for coverage of the Outpost as it closes, including what will become of its memorabilia.

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