I remember the first time I visited Luckenbach. We’d been on a family outing to nearby Enchanted Rock, everyone crammed in our gold and white van, me sitting on my grandma’s lap eating Funyuns and drinking Big Red, when it was suggested we swing by the tiny town. I knew of the song by the same name, but what got me chanting, “Let’s go, let’s go,” was the story behind the place.
Originally built in the mid 1800s as a trading post, German immigrant, August Engel, first opened what became the post office / general store / bar in 1886. Fast forward to 1970 when a descendent decided to retire and put the whole town up for sale. Here comes the fun part, in the free spirited, self-proclaimed “clown prince” known as Hondo Crouch. He bought the whole shebang – a couple of abandoned buildings – with friends Guich Koock and Kathy Morgan, and dubbed himself Mayor. Crazy festivals followed, such as the Mud Dauber Fest and Women Only Chili Cook-off. Jerry Jeff Walker recorded Viva Terlingua in the dancehall. For me, five at the time, Hondo sounded like a landlocked pirate or gentleman outlaw and I couldn’t wait to see his wild west kingdom.
It looked like a couple of shacks.
Nestled amidst huge live oaks, majestic with strands of ultra-marine Spanish Moss, it also looked magical. Someone was playing a guitar out back and I quickly found a group of kids, like me, happy to just run around in their cut-offs, kick up some dirt or pitch horseshoes. My Mom and Dad found a shady spot to sit with my brother and enjoy a soothing breeze while my Uncle and Aunt sipped cold beers, Lone Star, of course, with my grandparents at a picnic table. A perfect day.
Luckenbach now looks pretty close to then. The general store is still business up front, party in the back, with the beer joint crammed to the rafters with photographs and memorabilia. But more importantly, it feels like it did then, as if time has slowed and the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Many years later, I’m still under its spell.
An interview with Bobbi McDaniel, Luckenbach General Store Manager
Jacque Lynn Schiller: What has changed around here?
Bobbi McDaniel: Haven’t expanded too much. We are 10 beautiful acres in the Texas Hill Country. We’ve added a couple of buildings in the years past; a rock house that we use for a hat shop, an outdoor stage that is busy during nice weather. The hat shop makes and sells cowboy hats, run by the Snail Creek Hat Company. Our old dance hall and store/bar are over 150 years old and the Luckenbach Dance Hall is one of the few that has been in continual use!
JLS: How many people live there now?
Bobbi McDaniel: Currently, no one actually “lives” in Luckenbach. The Engel’s family, who founded the town, has had family members living here since the beginning. But the last one, John Engel, has just moved in to an elderly care home due to health reasons. The other couple of houses in town are owned by long generations of families, but they live elsewhere.
JLS: What’s on the menu?
Bobbi McDaniel: The food establishment is The Feed Lot. They provide great burgers, dogs, sausages but it’s about the best pulled pork in the state. The most popular item, though, is their wonderful curly fries! Socorro Tanner is the owner and cook, and she does a marvelous job.
JLS: What’s the most common misconception about Luckenbach?
Bobbi McDaniel: The question we hear a lot is: “Is this all there is?” Yep! And that’s exactly the way we like it. We have a huge heart for such a small town! We keep it laid back, relaxed and fun! That’s our goal and we’re darn good at it!
JLS: What would you say makes it special?
Bobbi McDaniel: Our history and our people. We’re a destination for good music, cold beer and a place where you can go and be somebody. Our motto is: “Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenbach” and we take that to heart. We have a long history of musicians who start out here and go on to bigger things, and our reputation is well known throughout the whole world. People come here from all over, just to sit under our 500-year-old oak trees, have a cold beer, shop in our store and listen to the musicians who come out. You never know who will show up around here; and you can have a wealthy lady with her diamonds sitting right next to a big, burly biker, and they are both the same when they are here… just enjoying themselves.
JLS: How would you sum up the regulars.
Bobbi McDaniel: We have regular musicians who come out every week, sit and pick their guitars and sing to whoever is here. They form picker’s circles that can be two or three musicians to 15 or 20 of them. There are lots of regular customers who make this a daily or weekly stop, to listen to some music or just visit with friends. Sometimes we get some pretty world-famous people who stop by, I guess they are more irregulars, but they fit right in.
Luckenbach is located 70 west of Austin.
BOOTS & BOTTLES
by Jacque Lynn Schiller