the Little Red Reviewer

Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille, by Steven Brust

Posted on: September 10, 2018

Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille by Steven Brust

published around 1990

where I got it: purchased used








After Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory, I needed a unicorn chaser. And by that, I mean I needed a comfort read. Something fun, fast, with witty dialog, a plot that wouldn’t fry my brain, and some sexy romantic scenes wouldn’t hurt either.  You know what bookshelf never lets me down? My Steven Brust bookshelf. As my finger went over the spines of Vlad Taltos paperbacks, I hit on a paperback that looked like it didn’t fit: Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille. Thinking I was going to be reading a fantasy novel, somehow I’d landed on straight up futuristic science fiction!   Nice!


This little paperback is everything I was looking for in a happy unicorn chaser comfort read: it was a fast read full of snarky and witty dialog, the plot is a slow burn that was distracting enough to keep me from remembering all those scenes in The Wasp Factory,  there was some satisfying (although mostly off-page) sex scenes, much of the book was strange to the point of loopy, and overall it was super fun.


When you’re inside Cowboy Feng’s, you’re always in the same place. It’s the outside that changes all the time.  You see, nearly TARDIS like, this bar jumps around the galaxy. Always landing on an populated planet, and always jumping just before a nuclear bomb or other disaster hits the block, the trick is to be inside the bar when it jumps. Cowboy Feng’s serves some excellent food, and they have an excellent house Irish band, so any customers (or musicians) who happen to be in the restaurant when it jumps are along for the ride too.  If a space-jumping restaurant doesn’t sound like your thing, read this just for the heavenly food and meal descriptions!


Libby the bartender and Fred the de facto manager have been with Feng’s for darn near forever. Along the way, they picked up Rich and Eve. One day, as the restaurant was getting ready to jump, the members of an Irish Band where there too.  Billy, Tom, Rose, and Jamie became the house band that night. Even if they wanted to go home, they have no idea how to do that.


The story is told from Billy’s point of view, and starts just as the restaurant lands at a new location. Everyone gets settled, they scout out the neighborhood,  open the bar for business, meet some locals, and the musicians even rent an apartment a few blocks away. And then a murder happens in the bar and the police don’t seem to care.  By the way, this is the kind of story in which murders don’t randomly happen in random bars, and the kind of book in which it sure looks suspicious that the cops don’t seem to care. Seems even more suspicious that the poor sap who got killed bears a striking resemblance to Billy.


Traditional  Irish music, the best food in the galaxy,  a murder mystery, and the possible destruction of humanity. Who could ask for anything more?


If you want a story that gets to  the end in a straight line, this is not the book for you. Meandering like an open ended video game story and taking every opportunity to quote traditional music and make jam band references,  Billy is so infatuated with the beautiful Souci, that he’s less interested in seeing what’s happening right in front of him than he is in finding a reason to go back to her place. It was romantic, it was cute. I should have been suspicious of Souci from the second I met her.



After doing something stupid, Billy would often rhetorically say to the bartender Libby “Why did i do that?” and she’d always reply “because you’re a pin head”.  What I didn’t realize until the end of the book was that she was answering a completely different question than the one he was asking. But she couldn’t tell him that. Because reasons.


Between the chapters are short little asides, tiny prequels of sorts, for each person who now travels with the bar. Through these asides (and through pulling some secrets from Fred and Libby), the reader learns that there is something happening in the galaxy that is purposely trying to kill off humanity.  Our colonies and space cities are systematically being destroyed, and no one knows by whom, or why. All Libby and Fred know is that they were hired by Feng himself to get to the bottom of this, find the homeworld of whoever is doing this, and help Feng save humanity. The deeper why behind what they are trying to accomplish is a huge mystery.


In one scene, the character are just thinking out loud, with people putting together what little information they each have about Feng and his organization, and about the patterns that surround the restaurant, and the murder attempts that are suddenly surrounding Billy. I found myself saying out loud “how do these guys know that they’re working for the good guys?”, and sure enough, a few seconds later was the following bit of dialog:


Jamie said, “ But what’s the job?”

“We don’t know exactly. Doing whatever we have to to save Feng’s people”

“You sure they’re the good guys?”


It’s fun, when characters ask the same questions I do!   But that theme, of people wondering if they’re working for the good guys, if they’re doing the right thing, this is a theme that shows up in a lot of Brust’s books. It’s a theme and concept I really like, it feels real, you know?  Like me, these characters have no idea if they are doing the right thing, they have no idea if every decision they are making is the most correct one, they are filled with doubt. They are just trying to get by as best they can, with humor as a coping mechanism.


For those of you who have read or want to read some more recent Brust, Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grill feels like  a more frenetic, less futuristic, and yet more scifi version of his recent novel Good Guys. They are most certainly not the same story, but they share similar themes and ideas, albeit told in fantastically different ways. (Also, if you’ve not read The Incrementalists, go get a copy, right now. it’s cool, i’ll wait)


Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grill is a book that belongs on any Brust fan’s shelf. It’s also a perfect unicorn chaser for when you need a comfort read.  Oh, and it has a kick ass ending! I read that last chapter, and I was like “WHAAAAAH?????”, and nearly read the entire book again cover to cover to find all the clues I had missed.


9 Responses to "Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille, by Steven Brust"

This book is soooo fun. The dialogue really sold me. It sounded so real.


i am STILL giggling my head off at that scene at the end where they are trying to plan *spoiler* and there is this exchange:
“You keep saying ‘we’ “.
“They speak French here”.

still laughing! and I’m pretty sure there was reference to a Flying Karamazov Brothers t-shirt.

Liked by 1 person

I love Brust – all of his stuff – thanks for a fun reminder on this one. You’re reaching way back here – makes me want to read it again. Cheers, Brian


I was halfway through the book before i realized how old it was . . . but half the time my brain things it’s 2005, so there’s that. You should totally read this again!

Liked by 1 person

PS: Really wish they’d rerelease this in a hard cover edition for us obsessive collectors. 😀




I haven’t thanked you for giving me the push to read Brust (I bought The Book of Jhereg and LOVED it – thank you!!) so this immediately goes on the list. At the top. 😀

Liked by 1 person

The Book of Jhereg is SOOO GOOOOOOD! That book got me into fantasy!

Liked by 1 person

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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