Saint Hedwig Club at 14297 FM 1346 in Bexar County was my destination for the weekend and I didn't care to call ahead. 80 miles later I found it to be closed down for good. Another fallen angel. What to do now?
Last night, listening to coyotes howling outside my moonlit silvery RV and with a raccoon finding it’s way over my roof, I decided this is the weekend to get back on the road to explore more of the magic that lies behind swinging doors and a jukebox.
The Suburban is long gone now and replaced by my new compadre Vanessa, an 84 Chevy Van keeping my dreams rolling. We've spent a couple of nights together behind a honky-tonk or two close to my new home in Cedar Creek and here we were, two hours down south and no waterhole to figure out where to go next.
I picked up my old Texas map to see if scribbled notes would guide me when a folded corner told me to flip to page 134. Two old markers I'd almost forgotten about caught my eye, Shady Acres alongside I-10 and the Double Ringer in Zuehl. I didn't have to think long. Last time I spent at this place was in the company of Jimmy Lee, a woodsman with a heart big as a whale. I knew he was in jail now but I didn't know why. In my memory was bikers, barbecue and big speakers standing on a truck bed screaming out hard rock and only occasionally a couple tunes to befit my tender ears. I also remember feeling very uneasy! So, for Zuehl I went.
It took me no more than half an hour to go from defeat to victory. The old tin and wood building was still there and the store front was welcoming. No music coming out the open door, very few cars on the lot and already 2:30 in the afternoon, but it was open. Twenty five steps to the bar and I was greeted with a polite question; "what are you having?" "Lone Star please" I answered. He was just a kid, maybe twenty two, with a round face, friendly eyes but clearly a redneck. If I'd been him at his age, tending bar at a place like this, I would have been proud and maybe he was. I thanked him for the beer and walked out back to see if the place still looked the way I remembered.
This place had kept my memory as intact as it ever could. There's the old Chevy Blazer and the RV, the Blazer still parked on the diagonal from the street with it's hood slightly open, now with a different brand of beer sitting on it. A little more dust too. Rest stop tables on the lawn, in my memory scattered, now in straight lines–and more news–an old Dodge pickup facing the acres behind the property. I'd forgotten about the outhouse. The facilities appeared to be men only and I pitied the ladies for not having this great opportunity of socializing.
The bartender, James, came out to check on my beer supply. I agreed to another one and soon walked around the backyard with fresh cold bubbles pouring down my throat. I found a rusty old barbecue pit when a man came up to me explaining that he'd "fucked up the welding last night". Some one had laid a magnet on the pit for a long time and he couldn't find out how to get around it. "I need some one to come down here and take a look," he said "called a buddy, hope he'll be here later today." Half an hour later he and his buddy are working on welding the pieces together. With Budweiser's in their hands, what else. Barbecue is serious business here in Texas, don't mess with it.
Double Ringer wasn't always the Double Ringer, and it accumulated history long before becoming a bar. Zuehl is of German heritage and there's not one old German town in Texas without a history of ever having a meat market–and this was it. This very building has stood up against dust storms, wild fires, arsons, and progress in general since the 1940's, and the area has been in the midst of Texas history since long before Wilhem Zuehl bought the land in 1870, twenty five years after Texas became a part of the United States. That's old history for south Texas. Not much reason to argue about origin here. Billy told me they tried to keep the meat tradition alive by keeping the old deli counter running for a couple of years. Having the original counter, where the stage is now, didn't help getting people to buy pastrami, fresh brisket or meat packed sandwiches, so they closed that part of the bar down.
Of all the honky-tonks I've ever visited, this is the one where to go to experience Texas cooking. There's always something boiling, frying or smoking here at the Ringer. Always! And always outdoors because they don't have an indoor kitchen and it's not a restaurant, it's a gathering place and Billy, the owner, as it's generous chef, is the head of it all. Kitchen appliances everywhere, from the big smoker in the back to a smaller electric one for fish on the patio, and the old stove and then there's the open fire and what have you. Always some cooking going on somewhere.
“Well I’m going down to Austin, Texas
I’m going down to save my soul
Get that barbeque and chili
Eat my fill then come back home”
“I know a place that got fried okra
Beat anything I ever saw
I know a man that cook cabrito
It must be against the law
We gonna get a big ol’ sausage
A big ol’ plate of ranch style beans
I could eat the heart of Texas
We gonna need some brand new jeans”
The words are from a Guy Clark tune from 1976. The Double Ringer, this very year of 2014, is pretty damn close to the heart of Texas, and Billy cooks it to your hearts delight no matter if it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other day or holiday. This place is open, roughly, near about every day of the year and here, just as at any honky-tonk I ever visited, it seems like I'll find a refernce to a Guy Clark song–this one's for Texas Cookin'. Guy Clark knows his state and I'll keep following his trail. A piece of advice to you readers, don't go to Austin, get your ass out in the country if you want to understand what Guy sings about.
Well, Billy had his hands full this day too, cooking up a whole bunch of perfectly spicy chicken legs in some red sauce I guess was from a secret recipe of his while James ran in and out with beers for the customers. The rest of us just enjoyed a sunny January afternoon in Guadalupe county savoring through even more food–a yummy casserole one of the bikers had brought along.
The sun sets over the fields near Cibolo Creek on the other side of the road from the bar. This road, now known as Gin Road, was already in the early 19th century known as the main road between San Antonio and Gonzalez. And in 1835 the town of Gonzales had in their possession a cannon they had earlier borrowed from the Mexicans to protect themselves from Comanche indians. Soon, the Mexicans felt un urge to retrieve it and sent colonel Domingo de Ugartechea on the mission to do so only to be challanged, with the now famous words; come and get it. This is considered being the starting point of the Texas Revolution. Who knows if that famous cannon didn't pass through here on it's way to Gonzales.
I'm overwhelmed with impressions and decide to go sleep the beer off. I excuse myself and leave the warmth of good company and head on out, covering the distance between the bar and my van with my eyes fixated at a star filled sky. Half an hour after I put my self to rest Billy comes knocking on my window "I left the chicken pot going if you feel like having a snack later" he says. Half awake, half asleep I thank him while I twist myself tighter in the sheets protecting myself from the cold.
I woke up just before sunrise, still half drunk. Remembering the chicken, I fumbled my way into my jeans and boots, walked over to the patio–all the red decorative lights still emblazoning the Double Ringer in the early morning light–and took a second dive into the juiciness of some hot Texas cookin'.
Almost Out of Gas is a platform for projects surrounding Texas culture. Wine, spirits, beer and cook-offs with great food bring people in communities together, and we are compelled to seek out and document the social and cultural impact of the true life of the common man—that is the lifestyle we feature. We know the host of these get-togethers is the main draw, and we are intent on bringing you the same beauty we see in the rickety, creaky and sometimes forgotten gathering spots: the Texas Honky-Tonks.
Y'all welcome at http://almostoutofgas.com for more photographs from the Double Ringer.