I Want To Be a Cowgirl’s Restaurant
One benefit of living in New York City is that no one need feel displaced for long. Homes are established, friends made, favorite places found. For those in search of Texas in Manhattan, the Cowgirl Hall of Fame Bar-B-Q restaurant in Greenwich Village is a worthy haunt. Owner Sherry Delamarter has created an atmosphere that warmly welcomes tourist or transplant and is cleverly kitschy enough to attract the jaded native.
The Cowgirl Hall of Fame stands on the corner of Hudson and 10th streets, a rummage sale of a restaurant. Bales of hay and assorted horse tackle are stacked behind the windows, their artless appeal unmarred by other decoration. The window glass itself is plastered with vintage felt pennants, cheering on teams and places known and unknown. Weathered, whitewashed metal tables are dressed in plastic cowprint and set with stacks of plain paper napkins, bottles of hot sauce, and flatware crossed in an “X.”
The denim-outfitted host, who is surely too amicable to be from New York, leads you down a small corridor to the main dining room, past the general store. The wall to your left exhibits nine varieties of T-shirts, with obligatory silk-screened cowgirl images. On the right is a glass display case and counter crammed with an overwhelming array of objects for sale: confections from the ordinary companions of childhood (atomic fireballs and root beer barrels) to the quirky (lollipops in the shape of the state of Texas, or tequila-flavored ones with a real worm imprisoned), cactus jelly and prickly pear marmalade, straw cowboy hats, pottery, plastic farm animals, and the Cowgirl’s own leather postcards, branded to show your friends where you’ve been.
This October marks the 10th year the Cowgirl has been serving Southern-style favorites and white-trash staples. For New York City, where theme restaurants come and go like subway trains, that’s a long time. But the Cowgirl is no run-of-the-mill theme restaurant. Its authenticity and connection to the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame (yes, there is one) promote it from that common rank.
The National Cowgirl Hall of Fame originated in the small Texas town of Hereford (named for the cattle) in the early 1970s. Founder Margaret Formby started her collection of cowgirl memorabilia — and the inductions of women tough enough to make the cut — in a church basement. Eventually, a local rancher donated a house for the Hall of Fame, but that didn’t mean an easy ride. Hereford is in the panhandle of Texas, an hour away from Amarillo, the largest city in the area and still not exactly a tourist destination.
Delamarter first heard about the struggling museum in the mid-’80s. Born and raised in Texas, she had moved to New York City in 1979 and was established in the restaurant business. Delamarter was thinking about starting a restaurant with a Southern barbecue theme, and the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame struck her immediately as the perfect counterpart. She arranged to cater the next induction ceremony free of charge (Hall of Fame ceremonies up to this point had been potluck, and consisted primarily of crackers and processed cheese spread), and also mentioned to Formby some ideas about collaboration.
Delamarter’s brainstorm was to call her new restaurant the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Formby would provide her with information about a different cowgirl every few months to be featured in the restaurant, and Delamarter would contribute a portion of her profits to the Hall. The induction ceremony with Delamarter’s food was a big success. Formby also arranged for Delamarter to meet with the Hall of Fame board members to present the restaurant idea; in two months, Delamarter had a licensing agreement.
For the grand opening of her New York restaurant, Delamarter invited a very special National Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductee: Patsy Montana, the first woman to sell one million records in country-western music with her song “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart” (released in 1935). At the time of her first performance at the Cowgirl, Montana was already in her ’70s, but she continued to appear and delight audiences with her distinctive yodeling at a sweethearts’ dinner nearly every Valentine’s Day until three years ago.
Montana’s last performance at the restaurant was in February 1994; she died in May 1996. A permanent tribute to her is located at the back of the main dining room. The trophies and other artifacts were donated by her family, who came to the Cowgirl for a memorial service soon after her death.