Bandera was founded by Roman Catholic immigrants from Poland, but these days it’s not polka that the town is famous for, it’s honky-tonk. There’s live music almost every night of the week. But before we paint the town red, I want to pop into the Kronkosky Library on Main Street for a most unusual attraction.
Bandera is a melting pot of Polish, Mexican, Indian and Western cultures; the music reflects that diversity. Inside the library is a computerized jukebox that constitutes the museum; it’s free and plays selections from Bandera musicians, either performing their own work or covering someone else’s. It’s a fantastic glimpse into Bandera’s musical tradition, honoring past and present musicians. Eddy and I take turns picking the songs, and soon we’re in the mood to hit our first watering hole.
Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar is famous in these parts and not just with tourists. We order a couple of Lone Star beers—cash only—and settle onto bar stools. These Texas hills are alive with honky-tonk, which is a straight-up, feel-good, sing-along, dance-to-it sound. Honky-tonk refers not only to the dance halls and bars that play the music, but the music itself. Its roots are in the Western swing music of the 1930s, which exploded after World War II America and through the 1950s. Songs are upbeat and often feature fiddle and pedal steel guitar. Frequent topics include drinking and relationships.
I ask you, what could be more fun? Funerals should play honky-tonk music in celebration of lives lived well.
It’s a good thing Eddy is wearing his cowboy hat, because almost every other man is, too. And the few that aren’t are in trucker caps. Several attractive older couples are circling the sawdust-covered dance floor, twirling in time to the music. They look confident and well practiced and you can tell they are having a blast by the sparkle in their eyes.
I shoot Eddy a glance. He reaches out for my hand. He’s got the liquid courage needed to take a spin around the dance floor.
We’re not as graceful or quick as some partners, but we are holding our own, grinning as we move counter-clockwise around the floor, through one, two, three consecutive songs. The lessons definitely helped.
Our next stop is the 11th Street Cowboy Bar that bills itself as the “Biggest Little Bar in Texas.” There are a bunch of shiny motorcycles parked out front and horses tied to the hitching post. Inside, it’s an eclectic mix of men with stubble and women in fun sparkly jeans. The place is legendary; a Texas Presidential election was broadcast here and a host of internationally known musicians have jammed.
All the dancing has whetted our appetites so we walk across the street to the Chikin’ Coop and sit on the patio. We order Texas-sized “Chikin” Fried steaks with all the trimmings and hit the dance floor while they are being cooked. The night is young and I’ve got some boot scootin’ to do in these red Lucchese beauties.
Eddy winks at me as we spin in time with the music. It’s on.
Our last stop of the evening is the Longhorn Saloon. We grab a drink and chat with our bartender, who tells us that we should stick around for the Funday Sunday ride—complete with horses (bring your own or rent one!), homemade chili and even more honky-tonk. Although we have to head home before the ride this time, we’ll definitely be back for more horses and honky-tonk.