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D.E.A.L.: The “Father of Austin Country Music” Lives On at Threadgill’s

The D.E.A.L.: Dining, Entertainment, Attractions & Lodging by Jeanne Brei

Southern Style Restaurant Features Good Food & Great Music

After nearly succumbing to the wrecking ball, the original Threadgill’s site was saved and bought by Eddie Wilson, owner of the Armadillo World Headquarters, a Seventies nightclub. Wilson’s idea was to make Threadgill’s a Southern style restaurant, so on New Year’s Eve 1981, Threadgill’s opened as a restaurant. It was an instant success.

It all began in 1933 when bootlegger and country music singer Kenneth Threadgill stood in line all night to be the first person to own a post-Prohibition beer license in the county and opened Threadgill’s Tavern. In the mid-Fifties groups of local musicians were coming every week to play, and Threadgill would pay them with two rounds of free beer. UT students came to the tavern to hear Threadgill and his Hootenanny Hoots play and his open-mic nights helped form the singer-songwriter community in Austin. Later, Janis Joplin became the star attraction for the Wednesday open-mic. In 1980, Threadgill and Willie Nelson appeared together and sang in the movie Honeysuckle Rose before Threadgill passed away in 1987.

It’s been said “Austin wouldn’t be Austin without Threadgill’s” and “No one ever would have said ‘Keep Austin Weird’ if Threadgill’s hadn’t made it weird in the first place.” Even Threadgill’s website says that. It explains, that by “inviting the folkies, hippies and beatniks to his Wednesday night singing sessions with open arms, Threadgill’s love for people and music smoothed out the conflicts that usually occurred when longhairs crossed paths with rednecks, and because of this, a new culture tolerance emanated from the tavern.”

The music continues to this day and I remember popping in for a meal when working a tradeshow in Austin to discover that the band members from Asleep at the Wheel had joined with musicians from George Strait’s Ace in the Hole band and were jamming at Threadgill’s. I may have gone for food, but my soul was nourished by the extraordinary musicians and I left with two indy CDs from the sidemen of country music superstars.

The Southern-style menu features burgers, sandwiches and poboys along with their world-famous chicken-fried steak, Texas Caviar & Chips (chilled black-eyed pea salad served with their housemade chips), fried or bronzed Mississippi catfish served with hushpuppies. Home made desserts include pecan pie, chocolate ice box pie, buttermilk pie, and strawberry rhubarb pie, among others.

In addition to great music and food, the memorabilia and décor stand out as well. In 1996, Threadgill’s World Headquarters was opened in south Austin, right beside the old Armadillo Headquarters. The original location on North Lamar has the theme of Austin between the 1930s and the 1960s. The south location celebrates the history of the Armadillo and the Seventies with a jukebox that contains many of the artists who played the Armadillo, and the piano that hangs from the ceiling which has been played by artists as diverse as Jerry Lee Lewis to Captain Beefheart.

Threadgill’s Old No. 1 is located at 6416 North Lamar Blvd., Austin, TX 78752. Telephone: (512) 451-5440. Threadgill’s World Headquarters is located at 301 West Riverside Dr., Austin, TX 78704. Telephone: (512) 472-9304. For more info, visit www.threadgills.com

This story originally appeared in the July/August issue of Exhibit City News, p. 82. For more pictures and original layout, visit http://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecnflipbook_julyaugust2018_web?e=16962537/62860459

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