Here are some of the things that Fremont's Saddle Rack contains, in all of its acre-plus of country-fried glory: two dance floors, a massive stage, an oxygen bar, a game room complete with several pool tables, a full-fledged merch store, a snack bar to rival most actual restaurants, and, at any given moment, between zero and five-hundred of the East Bay's finest plaid enthusiasts, eating their hearts out. There's a lot of neon signage, much of which implores us to "drink responsibly" — a message that's somewhat diluted by the existence of features such as the "hitching post," at which you can pay a nice young lady to literally lean you back in a dentist's chair and pour liquor down your throat as you are physically powerless to stop her.
There's a mechanical bull, and cages for people — women only, actually; it's a written rule — to dance in, and, on Saturdays, a virulently mediocre cover band. There are at least six bars, a women's bathroom that is bigger than many houses, an assemblage of cowboy hats heretofore unseen in the Bay Area, and a soundsystem that veers wildly and wonderfully between the authentic (Dolly, Johnny, Patsy, Willie, and of course T. Swizzy) and the less-so (LMFAO?!). It's basically a self-sustaining city, not unlike Black Rock City or that weird Disney town in Florida, both in terms of size and amenities offered and its position as a bizarre and specific corner of the cultural landscape.
The Saddle Rack has been around since the Seventies, in various forms; now, it sits on an otherwise nondescript stretch of road in Fremont, hopefully for what will be a very, very long time. The bar's website proudly declares it "California's Premier Country Night Club," and it's near-impossible to disagree. Because what it lacks in subtlety or intimacy or racial diversity or non-objectification-of-women-ness, The Saddle Rack makes up for by being basically the greatest place to be drunk in the entire Bay Area. It's one of the only — and hands-down highest-profile — bars in the urban and urban-ish East Bay that's devoted entirely to country music, and maybe as a result of that specificity, or the fact that it's out-of-the-way-enough to require an deliberate trip, there's an elsewhere-unmatched enthusiasm to The Saddle Rack, one that can't be entirely explained by the fact that everyone there is spectacularly wasted. I think I would maybe like to get married there someday — which is totally possible, because there is, of course, a banquet room.