By Dave Thomas
You can’t just invent an old bar. Not any more than you can invent a mighty oak tree. It has to grow, slowly, across the decades, weathering the hard times and soaking up the good.
To drink a cold beer in old bar is to give Darwin the finger — to celebrate that which demands the world evolve around it.
You can say the same about an old dancehall. Or an old barbecue joint. Age is not always an indicator of excellence, of course. But it is a pretty fair sign of authenticity. Of character. And that’s something in short supply these days.
Here’s a look at a few of Texas’ oldest institutions. You should appreciate them while you still can.
Texas’ oldest beer …
You can look at this one of two ways. Pearl beer has been around since 1896, easily the oldest beer in Texas. However, Pearl is owned by California-based Pabst and is manufactured in a corporate brewery in Fort Worth. You can get it in 12-packs of cans and … that’s it.
Shiner, however, has been made in the same spot since 1909, with the exception of Prohibition (or not, depending on the legends you believe), and is available in a cornucopia of flavors to accompany the old-school Premium and Bock styles.
One more thing: Don’t fall for Lone Star’s recent “Since 1884” branding on their packaging. That’s corporate fantasy. There was a Lone Star brewery in 1884, but it brewed Alamo beer. The Lone Star Beer you can buy today has only been around since 1940.
Texas’ oldest dancehall …
Gruene Hall claims to be the oldest continually run dancehall in Texas and, built in 1878, it very well may be. Most every German or Bohemian community in Texas had its own dancehall, some older than Gruene, but many are no longer active and others were only recently revived after a long slumber. Luckenbach’s dancehall was built in the 1880s.
Texas’ oldest barbecue joint …
Southside Market in Elgin has been open since 1882, though it has changed hands a few times and locations more than that. Black’s Barbecue (1932) in Lockhart claims, loudly, that they are the oldest in Texas run by the same family, but Patillo’s Bar-B-Q in Beaumont (1912) has them beat by two decades. Also recommended: Martin’s Place in Bryan (1925).
Texas’ oldest bar …
You can look at this one of two ways: Riley’s Tavern in Hunter received the first beer license issued after the end of Prohibition in 1933 (visionary James Curtis Riley, then only 17 according to the bar’s web site, camped out on the steps of the Capitol to be No. 1).
But if you’re thinking of a spot where you could buy beer when the Civil War was freshly over, and where you can buy a beer today, you’re thinking of Scholz Garten (1866). The Menger Hotel was built in 1859, however, the famous Menger Bar was added in 1887.
Texas’ oldest restaurant …
Scholz Garten is holding this title as well, but let’s give props to the oldest delicatessen in Texas, Fossatti’s in Victoria (1882) and the oldest bakery in Texas, Naegelin’s in New Braunfels (1886).
And a bonus historical item …
If you like hunting for treasure, Canton’s First Monday Trade Days claims to be the oldest continually operated flea market in America, starting in the 1850s.