WAYLAND, TX – About 55 miles southwest of Lubbock, just off Highway 93, sits Cormano’s Bar. At first glance, it looks like many of the watering holes that dot the West Texas oil fields. The pool tables are in constant use. A jukebox rotates Hank Williams’ greatest hits. Exaggerated tales of Friday nights past are spun by the regulars. But this bar is different. Cormano’s is legally allowed to serve patrons when they reach 20 years and 3 months old.
The bar’s owner, Frank Pruitt, explained the unique situation, “A little known Texas state law allows for counties with a population under 15,000 to set their own drinking age. We were never a big county and with a few of our oil wells shutting down, we’ve lost enough population to qualify. This country has come to a consensus–that 21 years old should be the legal drinking age. Well, the citizens of Merrick County believe that life begins at conception and passed this ordinance accordingly.”
“As with most of Merrick County, I am 100% behind this ordinance,” Pruitt continued. “As far as I see it, once your dad shoots, the clock starts. Kinda like an official firing a pistol at the start of a track meet. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all for protecting the rights of the unborn until they get here and turn out to be a gay or minority. But in this one instance, we like to be consistent.”
Merrick County has long held traditional, conservative values. This part of Texas has routinely voted Republican in every Presidential election since 1948. Many of the locals say the devotion goes back even further, “This bar is named after Cormano Suárez, a little known soldier in the Mexican-American War,” Pruitt explained. “He rode over 400 miles on a crotchety burro so he could join up with the Mexican Providas Militia after hearing of the atrocities carried out under the command of American Brigadier General Rovey Wade. By the time he arrived, the fighting was already over and the burro had died. But I like to think we honor his spirit in these parts.”
Like many West Texas saloons, business is driven by a mix of dedicated regulars, petroleum engineers and long-haul truckers. Despite his ability to now service a niche market, Pruitt believes his customers are about the same as compared to the time before the ordinance, “For the most part, things haven’t really changed. We’re still a small bar in a small town. The ‘outlaws’ as I call them are only a small part of our business. Have you ever seen a 20 year old try to drink? They hold their liquor about as well as an illegal holds a valid work permit.”
Although he insists it’s been business as usual, one instance stands out in Pruitt’s mind, “The most unusual case I can think of is the time this one fella insisted we serve him at 20 years, 2 months. I initially said I couldn’t. But he was adamant that he was legal under the law. He had with him a copy of his birth certificate showing he was 9 pounds, 15 ounces; and a video from one of those old 90s camcorders with the time stamp in the corner. I watched about 30 seconds before I realized… dammit if that tape wasn’t a recording of his conception.”
So what did Pruitt do?
“The only thing that made sense. I put the tape on the big screens and poured him a beer.”